Sunday, 13 December 2009

I can't read that



As transcription goes on I have decided that the word "illegible" can often cover too wide a variety of problems. For this reason I find myself using one of four different words, each of which will describe the specific situation more distinctly.

Unreadable. This usually relates to the quality of the writing or the writing instrument or the paper which has made it impossible for the microfilming camera to pick up a smooth image. A copperplate nib might be responsible, so might ink thickened through lack of use, or paper exposed to damp before or after it has been written on.

Invisible. This infers that the writing is so pale that it is impossible to see anything at all. Occasionally one can pick up a given name or initial. This most often occurs in the Names and Occupation columns. Often the ages and sexes are visible, so that the transcriber can tell how many people will be missed and whether it was a straightforward family or a boarding house. These entries were probably made in pencil, although some are so bad that I wonder if a dirty nail was used instead. Did the enumerators of St John's and St Patrick's have an arrangement that they would rub out families' names if they were slipped 50 cents or a dollar? Many other families have had their entries crossed out and rewritten when there appears to be nothing wrong with the original.

Unrecognizable. This usually refers to birthplaces, particularly where the householder has written a specific place in Ireland, England or Scotland which I just can't make out. If he has messed up the initial letter there is no point in staring at a gazetteer to solve the problem.

Queried. I use this when I have made an attempt at reading a name but am not sure I am right. The word is scattered liberally over my transcription. Anyone is welcome to have another go.

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