Saturday, 7 March 2009

Transcribing: the First Rule

The more I transcribe, the more I think about the basic rule of transcribing: write down what you see. But then are so many cases where I want to accept that rule with a fair pinch of salt.
I wonder if I should really differentiate between the various ways of describing a religious denomination or the various abbreviations for a birthplace. In 1861 Ontario was officially Canada West. It had had that name since 1848. But almost every well-established household with children aged under twelve reports them as having been born in Upper Canada (or U Canada, or U Can or U C)--the name of the province prior to 1848.

Should I just scribble down UC in every case, or is it absolutely necessary to answer following the householder’s whim? Should I differetiate between Upper Canada and Canada West? Should I decide that the responses should be converted into a series of multiple choices? These are questions that go through the head and keep the boredom away. Certainly, if a householder specifies a town in Britain or Canada or a specific state of Germany or the United States, that is put down in the transcription. I know it may be gold dust to a future family historian.

There is another way in which I have probably personalized my transcription. You may notice it in the paragraph above. I don’t use periods in abbreviations. My first job in the UK was with a book publisher, and my colleagues soon told me that adding periods (“full stops” over here) was very old hat and American and “didn’t follow British Standards”. Britain may not have a constitution but it does have rules for how to print abbreviations. Forty years after leaving that job I have never gone back to using full stops except at the end of a sentence. It doesn’t half save typing time!

I just came across a schedule where I can’t be sure of the names, so I thought I would copy the ages and the sexes first to give me some clues. It turns out to be one of those families where males are listed first, so the ages go 37, 2, 36, 19 (perhaps 13), and 11. But the marital status column reads m, m, s, s, s. What should the honest transcriber do here? What this one does is provide a column for Notes. My Notes column is very full.

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