Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is it worth transcribing for publication any more?

It used to be that you could become a very well-published genealogist just by transcribing records and publishing them in books.  Genealogists want to leave their mark and add their contribution to the community and this was one way to do it.

I entered the genealogical community in the digital age. Straight transcribing of documents or records seems like a dicey prospect to me.  The problem is if you choose a large project to transcribe, will an organization have it scanned and indexed before you finish your transcription project?  That means you need to very carefully select the project you are willing to take on.

The Alternative to Simple Transcription

I believe the wave of the future where genealogists can make the most impact is with value-added projects.  These are projects where you are forced you analyze or refine the original raw data and present that new grouping for publication.

For instance, consider warning out notices in early New England record books.  It might not be worth transcribing the entire record books because they are already microfilmed and are potential (albeit much later) targets for scanning projects.  However, it may be worth extracting the warning out notices that randomly fall within  the text of the record books.  This too has its pitfalls.  If the entire record book is scanned and indexed then others can find what they need quickly from the index.  To make this effort truly value-added it would be good to provide further information on the people listed in the warning outs rather than simply what is found in the record books.  Perhaps information from vital or census records would add just the needed content to make your content unique.

Think Before Your Start

Before you take on a large transcription project in the hope of publishing it, think about how you can ensure that your project will be worth the effort in the event that someone digitizes it before you finish.

Photo Credit: Photo by kevinzim used under the creative commons license.


  1. Excellent post Marian, designed to get us thinking! Your reasoning is exactly why I chose many years ago to extract information from records, organize them and place them on my website for free.

    I like to take bits that genealogists aren't aware exist (just like your Warning Out notices) such as one set I had for almshouses in New York. Those almshouse records gave names of inmates and their immigration details! Some gave ships' names and dates. It was amazing.

    A huge job but I extracted all the immigration details and organized it for my website at

    That to me is a really value-added way to develop a project that is useful to the genealogical community

  2. I work in a particular corner of transcribing -- Spanish-language records having to do with colonial Florida. Of course, the first obvious "value-added" aspect would be furnishing translation along with the transcription. However, there's another niche within that niche -- doing new transcriptions and translations of that which has already been done -- many of them in the 1930s and 1940s -- in which you find mistakes that need correcting. There are also some translations in which some material was left out from the original. For instance, some marriage records in St. Augustine, FL, were transcribed, but in most cases the names of the witnesses to the marriages were left out. These witness could be family or close friends, and the information deducible from these could be important.

    I think there is still a lot of opportunity left in transcription, translation, and "value-added" projects.

    Great post, and very thought-provoking.

  3. I have a large collection of land deed extract books from Upcountry SC - these are great because indices to these kinds of records usually just index grantor/grantee, whereas these books have all the names listed in the deeds as well as the description of the land and any unusual information contained in the deeds.