Successful genealogy research requires familiarity with records and the information they contain. There are several ways to learn more about original records as you pursue your genealogical education. My suggestions include focusing on education opportunities and spending some time perusing the FamilySearch Catalog. One way to learn more also provides a volunteer opportunity. Take a look at online transcription projects.
I remember 20+ years ago learning more about genealogy records via the FamilySearch extraction program. Extraction volunteers would receive photocopies of microfilmed records and then we would transcribe the records into a software program. The benefit to me was I was able to learn more about the genealogy records and the information they contained.
Today you can still help FamilySearch index records. The current process is so much easier now and the bonus is you are helping your fellow researchers to discover their family history.
But FamilySearch isn’t the only repository that needs transcribers. Libraries, archives, and museums around the world have historical records, images, interview recordings, and diaries that need transcribing and indexing. The benefit to the larger community is access to records. The benefit to you is exposure to records, information, and learning more about what could possibly exist for your own ancestors.
If you don’t have the time to volunteer, you should still consider looking into these projects. Many of them allow you to explore documents already transcribed. I find this especially valuable as I learn about records and life in a different time and place.
The following are just a few projects I found online and is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list.
Smithsonian Transcription Project, is probably best known currently for their project transcribing the anthropology notebooks of Ann Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother, but other historical projects might also be of interest including the Behind the Apron Project which looks at African American oyster and clam workers in Southern Maryland. Freedmen's Bureau records from the Records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Georgia, Series 3: Letters Received speaks to the experiences of the formerly enslaved in Georgia.
University of Pacific’s Gold Rush Life transcription project includes letters and diaries from the California Gold Rush.
DIY History is a project of the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. Here you can transcribe materials focusing on Iowa pioneers or dairies and letters from the American Civil War to World War II.
The Royal BC Museum Transcribe project includes historical materials of the Chinese Canadian community to diaries and soldier letters.
Library of Congress’ By The People volunteers have transcribed papers relating to Clara Barton, George Washington, and Mary Church Terrell. Volunteers transcribe, review, and tag digitized images of manuscripts and typed materials from the Library’s collections.
The US National Archives’ Citizen Archivists assist with the tagging and transcribing of materials in the NARA catalog.
North Carolina Genealogy Society has projects that might be of interest to those with North Carolina ancestors. The website recommends contacting them for their current needs but previous projects included:
- Edgecombe Coroners Inquest 1750
- Moore 1815 Tax List
- Edgecombe Road Records 1820s
- Edgecombe Stock Marks
- Halifax 1789 Petition
- Lenoir County Yadkin Baptist Church
- Mecklenburg 1760’s lists of JPs
- Onslow Insolvent Debtors 1850s
There’s So Much More To Do
Looking for other opportunities? Make sure to check with your local library, archive, or museum. The website Conference Keeper has a volunteer opportunity page with transcribing and indexing projects. You can find the current list here.
Transcribing projects benefit all researchers by providing access to records and indexes. But they also provide us the unique opportunity to learn more about historical materials and provide ideas for what might help us in our own research.