Art of Transcription: A Practical Guide

Here is an interesting and educational article by Sarah Minegar, Archivist, for Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. She writes:

“You schedule a research appointment at your local library. When you arrive, you are handed a large packet of information about your topic, transcriptions of every manuscript you wish to research, and a full description of the potential resources you may want to study.


“The Hollywood research stylings of shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and History Detectives may have introduced the world to the archivist and the special collections repository, but they also speed up and enhance the research process to a misleading degree. As an archivist, I can tell you with certainty that historical manuscripts do not often arrive with background information and they are definitely not transcribed. In fact, often the first mystery a researcher encounters is simply a question of content (i.e. what does the document say?)

“Do not fret, you are equipped with paleography decoding skills! Now let’s take a closer look at the transcription process.”

What follows in a fascinating tutorial on “how to do it right.” You can read the full article at:

My thanks to newsletter reader Dave Green for telling me about the article.


As in many cases, the television version of life bears no resemblance to the reality of life. I’ve just finished transcribing a volume of marriage records that make me wish that some people had never been allowed near those records. Faded green ink, handwriting that makes all the words and letters look alike, make it almost impossible to transcribe. And I’m a retired middle school teacher who can read almost anything!


Sarah Minegar in her excellent observations and helpful remarks points out a larger difficulty that I wonder about. Have the “magical” qualities of the TV genealogy shows impacted libraries, archives, and their scores of staff members and volunteers?


Excellent original article! I wish I had known this when I started researching.


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