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Conditions of Use and Copyright Notice:


Transcription Standards

It should be noted that the ancient documents(1) which most genealogists research are at best physically degraded and at worst totally illegible. This is the nature of ancient documents. There are various reasons why this is so -

  • the very age of the documents
  • the manner of creation of the documents, and
  • the physical nature of the materials used to create them

Honest transcribers spend many long and arduous hours poring over these documents in order to provide you, the reader, with as accurate as possible an account of exactly what those documents contain.

With the best will in the world, at any stage in the process from the original data capture(2), to the final display on your screen, there are liable to be mistakes. These can fall into three main categories:

  1. Original mistakes in data capture
  2. Mistakes of misapprehension by the transcriber
  3. Typographical errors by the transcriber

So far as (a) is concerned, there is little that can be done unless two(3) or more documents, other than the one in doubt, can be found delineating the same data in an unequivocal manner. In the event that any transcribed data can be proven to be incorrect then the original should not be changed(4), but an annotation inserted outlining the correcting sources. With (b) the only way to avoid (not eliminate) such things happening is for there to be more than one transcriber who can worry at a problem of partial illegibility until it is resolved. Given the number of documents out there, and the number of people prepared to give their time to such projects, the chances of this occurring must asymptotically approach zero. However if any such errors are provable, then they should be corrected. Finally (c) - this is fortunately rare, is to be regretted and should be corrected.

  1. For the purposes of discussion of this document, "ancient document" is defined as any hand-written document, before approximately 1900CE.
  2. Data capture in times gone by was not what it is today. People were not as well educated, census takers were probably not as rigorous and office help were almost certainly not as reliable as they are nowadays.
  3. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the OED standard for including the definition of a new word is three unambiguous, agreeing and unconnected sources.
  4. Any such changes would abrogate the validity of the transcribed document.

Thus a website author may be willing to note your "correction" as an ERRATA, but they are not obligated to modify the source. The source or extraction must stand inviolate. Nor can you reasonably ask the parish council or other agency to correct their original records or a monument inscription in order to suit your wishes.

Additionally, spelling and word usage have changed over the centuries. Surnames were often phonetically recorded until the introduction of more universal schooling in the mid-1800s and the more wide-spread publication and use of dictionaries. Even the names of early saints and villages have morphed over time to fit more modern usage. St. Wolfrim in one village may be St. Walfram in the next. Both are considered correct.