The value of transcribing

The value of transcribing documentsWhen I took Julie Miller‘s class at the NGS conference, Anatomy of a Military Pension, I felt inspired and motivated. I went home that night and ordered the pension files from my three Union soldier ancestors. I took her advice on how to process the files. Starting with the first one that arrived (for my 3d great grandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries, 1823-1914), I put the papers in the file in chronological order, created citations for each of the 26 documents, scanned the documents into one file and am now in the process of transcribing them.

When Julie told us to transcribe the documents, I remember thinking that sounded like way too much work. I had trouble picturing myself taking the time to do it. But Julie urged us not to skip that step. She said that when we transcribe, we learn things we would learn no other way. So I decided to take her advice. I’m now in the middle of transcribing this pension file. (I’m on document 19 of 26.) It’s what I’ve been doing daily in my 30 x 30 challenge–I find that it takes about 30 minutes to transcribe one document.

I am so glad I’m making effort! Reading and typing the documents word for word means that I’m not just skimming; I’m digesting what the documents say. I’m memorizing important dates and items that appear on every form. (He fought in Co. D, 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry Volunteers–those words came out of my memory.)

I’ve learned things that I never would have noticed in a simple reading of the file. For example, his first (unfortunately unsuccessful) pension lawyer was a woman. In 1886! It’s also allowed me to really get to know this ancestor. He was a smallish man, 5 feet 8 inches, with dark hair and complexion and blue eyes. I’ve read and internalized in exquisite detail his physical ailments as he’s aged. Each application for an increase in pension is accompanied by a doctor’s report, some of which are quite personal in nature.

The next step, once I’ve finished transcribing, will be abstracting the data and entering it into my Reunion software. The pension file has been really helpful, revealing heretofore unknown-to-me between-census information, like the fact that he lived in the state of Washington for part of the first decade of the 20th century before moving back to Missouri. (Maybe some day I’ll find out how he traveled to and from Washington.)

I have two more ancestors’ files to process–one of them, for G.W. Adams, 1845-1938,  has over 100 individual documents (as opposed to the 26 of R.A. Jeffries). It’s going to take me awhile. But, as I know already, there is gold to mine from these amazing pieces of history. And I know that going to the trouble to transcribe will help me mine it even better.

OYFH’s top five posts

The readership of this blog had grown steadily over its three years of existence, so today I thought I’d list the five most-read blog posts in the event that new readers haven’t discovered them. Combined, these posts have been read more than 32,000 times. Have you read them yet?

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

Reading hard-to-read gravestones. I outline the aluminum foil trick I used to make illegible gravestones readable, like magic. With over 16,000 pageviews, this is my most-read post hands down.

This simple spreadsheet helps me keep an eye on who needs researching.Tracking progress. I created a spreadsheet that allows me to tell at a glance which important records I’ve identified for each direct-line ancestor and which I still need to track down.

My genealogy file cartAre you organized enough? In this popular post, I bring my experience as a professional organizer to the question, “What does being organized really mean?” And then I take you step by step through the process of becoming organized enough.

Top five OYFH postsFree family fan chart. Thank you, Google, for making this post so popular.  Martha Stewart did a post a few years ago on building a family tree that offers a free, downloadable family fan chart. This posts links to it. And that link is still live.

Are yoAre you backing up your genealogy data?u backing up your genealogy data?  I advocate a belt-and-suspenders approach to back up. In this post, I relay the sad story of a friend whose (non-genealogy) files were deleted by Dropbox.

 

Asking again: How do you use Facebook for genealogy?

FB-f-Logo__blue_100In early May, I wrote a blog post asking you how you use Facebook for genealogy. Unfortunately, a WordPress problem caused the comment Submit button to disappear and readers couldn’t answer the question. So I thought I’d try again. Please let me know how you use Facebook for your research!

Facebook has become part of my daily life and, I bet, yours. It’s almost hard to imagine how we navigated the online world without it. I use it for lots of things, but I don’t use it a whole lot to further my genealogy research. I’d like that to change.

I know that Facebook offers a lot to genealogists and I’m wondering how you all use it. I belong to a few genealogy-related Facebook groups that I find really helpful when I take the time to read them. They are:

I’m also a part of one family group, which was helpful when a reunion was being organized last year. And, of course, I have the Organize Your Family History Facebook page.

Are there other genealogy-related groups or communities that you recommend? Do you use Facebook to find cousins or otherwise further your research? I’d love to hear about it!

SHOTBOX can help you digitize documents

One of the RootsTech vendors I was most excited about was SHOTBOX, a tabletop photo light studio. This portable lightbox makes it easy to use your phone to take good-looking, well-lit photos of three-dimensional objects, which is great for those of who blog. It would also be really useful for folks selling items on eBay, etsy or craigslist.

What’s great for the genealogist, though, is that it provides the ability to easily take photos from above, which can be very useful for digitizing documents or photos (or photo album pages). If you have delicate documents you wouldn’t want to put through a sheet-fed scanner, or if you don’t have a scanner at all, SHOTBOX might be the tool you need to use your phone to digitize documents without risk of damage and without shadows.

Right now, SHOTBOX is running a Kickstarter campaign while they work with the factory to finish the manufacturing and ship by October. I pledged and pre-ordered the SHOTBOX plus the SideShot Kit (a lighted attachment to hold the phone or tablet steady for photos taken from the front), for a total of $149. Once the product is in production, the anticipated retail price will be $149 for the SHOTBOX and $89 for the SideShot.

Go to this page to see examples of photos taken with SHOTBOX.

I’m really excited to receive my SHOTBOX this autumn and put it to use!