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What are transcriptions, abstracts and indexes?

What are transcriptions, abstracts and indexes?
index cards in a box
© University of Strathclyde

The information from primary sources we use is often presented to us as transcriptions, abstracts and often can be searched through the use of indexes.

Commercial bodies, volunteer organizations and individuals work to create these tools and they give an ease of access to genealogical data that would be the envy of researchers in the past. It is helpful to know the differences between them so that you know what to expect from a particular source.

Definition of transcription

A transcription is a copying out of words (and information from) a document; this copying out can be done by hand, by using word processing software or onto an internet based platform. There are different styles of transcription, such as full diplomatic, a faithful word-by-word reproduction of what is found in the document including misspellings, grammar errors and so on. Semi-diplomatic transcription style allows the transcriber to expand contractions and update spellings into a modern format.

Definition of abstract

Abstracts summarise important bits of information within a document. Abstracts can contain extracts from documents; these are exact quotes from a document and should be enclosed in quotation marks.

Definition of index

An index in a book is an alphabetical list of names, subjects, etc. taken from the text of the book which serves as a guide to the page(s) on which that name, etc. can be found. In a genealogical database an index is a set of keywords transcribed from documents or records which can be searched to reveal information of interest.

Examples of T & I projects that you can get involved with

You can get involved in creating transcriptions, abstracts and indexes which is a great way to become comfortable reading old handwriting and to get more familiar with different types of documents. It’s a good way to give back to the genealogical community and help make records more available.

We have included examples of such projects in the ‘See Also’ section below.

Give transcribing data a try

In the ‘Downloads’ section below, we have provided images of records from two English census years, 1861 and 1871. If you would like to, have a go at transcribing the information given for the household of Trifel Muddock (the household has been marked out with a purple arrow on the records). In the ‘See Also’ section, you’ll find a link to some freely downloadable .pdf forms which include the 1861 and 1871 UK census years; you could use those to write the information down in. Or you can simply use a piece of paper and a pencil.

Use your study group’s discussion forum to discuss any differences in spelling in names between the two census years, or any differences in the size of the family, changes in occupations, etc. that you notice. Were there any particular letters or words that you found difficult to make out? What do you think about the family’s given names? Are they spelt the way you’d expect?

To access your study group, click on the ‘Study Group’ icon at the top of the page. Once you are there, you can start a discussion on the censuses or contribute to any ongoing discussions already set up.

We’ll share our transcription attempt in the Welcome to week 2 video space.

© University of Strathclyde
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