Monday, March 15, 2010

Madness Monday: Oh Those Transcription Errors!!

Madness Monday.  Demented ancestors?  Well, yes, actually. There are more than a few "loose branches" in my family tree.  But that's not what I want to talk about today.

I want to discuss the one thing in my genealogy research that burns my butt, rattles my cage and drives me buggy--transcription errors in census and other records.

Now, let me state first of all that I have transcribed more than my fair share of original old documents over the past ten years and I know how hard it can be to decipher the loopy, often illegible handwriting styles of the past. And seriously folks, there were a lot of census takers, especially before 1920, who couldn't spell if their life depended on it--and a transcriber had to be some kind of mind reader to make sense of it. And I know that often transcribers were and are volunteers, and that they have the best intentions. But besides all that,  some of the transcription errors I've found are just plain ludicrous.

The worst offender in my own family tree is the surname BRUTON.  You would not believe how many people see this surname in records, and  just can't accept it as a viable surname. So they transcribe it as BURTON.  This erroneous practice continues to this very day, which is amazing considering a quick search on Google would prove that BRUTON is indeed a real surname and not the same as BURTON. Yes it is largely a southern surname, but the errors in transcription don't seem to be specific to any one part of the US!!

Sheesh. now has a way for users to tag & correct transcription errors in the US census index. This is a really helpful tool (That is, when their search engine "decides" to work correctly--ah yes, my love/hate relationship with for another day).

As always, your comments appreciated.




Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

To be fair, some enumerators write the peaks of their "u"s and "r"s the same, so you can't tell where which two peaks are the u and which single is the r, but I can see how frustrating that can be.

FranE said...

I am with you. Good venting. Hope your feel better. :)