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How are transcriptions, abstracts and indexes created?

How are transcriptions, abstracts and indexes created?
piles of old documents
© University of Strathclyde

Graham and Emma Maxwell run a genealogy research company based in Scotland called Scottish Indexes.

They began transcribing Scottish censuses in 2001 and realising that these resources would be useful to other people, have made them available online. They have also indexed prison and court records and are hard at work transcribing never-before-indexed parish records from southern Scotland. Their Quaker registers and mental health institution records cover all of Scotland. You can visit their online indexes at:

How do you choose which record sets to transcribe/abstract/index?

The first consideration is which unindexed records do genealogists consult most frequently? Then we look at the practicalities of indexing the records, this includes considering how long it would take to index a record set and what we would be able to charge, the question being; is it profitable? Another consideration is how easily we can access a record and if we can have permission to index/transcribe the record.

What type of software do you use?

Much of the indexing is done in Microsoft Excel or Access, although we have made use of Google Sheets for collaborative projects with volunteers.

Do you take images of the records to work from or work from them directly?

We have done both. We find it much more efficient to take photos in an archive then index them later, it also makes proofreading much easier. Through good communication we have been able to come to agreements with some archives to do this.

How do you decide what to allow people to search by in your indexes?

We have three ways to search on our site to cover the levels of our differing clients. Our home page has just three search boxes, forename, surname and keyword. This works well for quick searches and is also useful to people who are just starting out. We also have a more detailed search for all our records, the results are shown in categories.

The third search option is to search by record type. This option allows the most control as you can search by specific record set and is particularly useful for more challenging searches. On our site it is therefore possible to make very specific searches which are appreciated by advanced users but the home page is kept simple for those who have just found our site.

What is the process of creating a transcription?

We have three ways of indexing/transcribing. For the commercially viable records such as prison records we set aside time to index them ourselves and then make the indexes available on our website. For records which are slower to index, such as the paternity cases found in the Sheriff Court records, we use volunteers. We also have a ‘sponsor an index’ option, which allows people to pay for us to spend a set number of hours indexing a specific record set. We have been able to index more complex records, such as deeds, under this programme.

What is the process of creating an index?

The first stage is to decide which data will be transcribed/indexed. Occasionally we will transcribe all information on a record (e.g. census returns), but in many cases we select key information which give the user the best possible opportunity to determine whether the individual is the person they are looking for. Key information such as age, birthplace and residence is always indexed if available.

The next step is to create an input form or a spreadsheet in which the data can be entered, using fields determined from the decisions made in the first stage.

Finally, the data has to be imported into our online database, and integrated into the existing search facilities on our website. We also create a new search page on the site for that specific index, with accompanying help pages.

How have you found it working with archives? Are they generally happy to have you index and transcribe their records?

Communication is the key to success. Archives have various projects of their own and there is no point in two indexes being created simultaneously. By discussing our plans with archives we have built up good relationships with them.

Any tips for our readers on using online indexes?

Don’t fill in every search box and use wild cards! Taking a few minutes to wade through some extra results is a far better use of time than eliminating the correct result by filling in too many search boxes.

Many thanks for your time and all your hard work! We’ll explore what wild cards are and how to use them in Week 2…

© University of Strathclyde
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