Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What did that really say? Revisiting a transcription

In my time doing my family tree, I have had a number of documents that I have transcribed. Amongst them were copies of two letters written by my mum’s cousin to my cousin some years ago. I had taken care and tried to transcribe them just as they were.

Recently my mum was wondering about her cousins, who she had not had a lot of contact with, and whether they had any children.

I looked again at my transcription to see if there were any clues, and not only were there clues, my mum’s cousin had named her children and also those of her brother. I had typed a question mark next to the name of her brother’s wife. Wondering why I had done that, I revisited my copy of the original letter.

I had put a question mark because I couldn’t quite make out the name. Then I noticed that there were some numbers in brackets next to each of the children’s names that were not on the transcription at all. What were they? Only the ages of the children at the time the letter was written! When I did the transcription I had completely overlooked these numbers; I was looking for specific information, and was so focused on looking for anything about earlier generations that I skipped straight past those numbers.

That’s why it is a good idea to go back once in a while and revisit the information and documents we have gathered. Seen from a fresh perspective, we may pick up on details that did not seem significant at the time.


  1. That happens to me all the time too.

    Transcribing, while painstaking (or even painful) is incredibly helpful. Returning to re examine the transcript or original is an excellent idea. You learn things as you research that may shed light on something that either didn't make sense previously in the original document or that you had overlooked.

  2. Another piece of sound advice. (I really like your blog, which I have just discovered!) I think it is especially important to look at original documents again after we have gained more experience in reading difficult handwriting. It is also worthwhile looking at certificates again, as the names of witnesses may be significant when we have learned more about the extended family.