Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Transcribing Letters

Several years ago I visited the Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Emory University, Decatur, Georgia.  My purpose was to study the Camp Family Papers in their collection and, hopefully, to learn more about my 2nd GreatGrandfather Thomas Lumpkin Camp.

The documents were written by a variety of people and in different handwritings.  I was grateful that the staff at MRBL permitted users to photograph the photocopies in the files available for public research.

After I downloaded the photos to my laptop, I was anxious to transcribe them.  I first tried opening a letter photo in my laptop's photo viewer with the plan to transcribe each letter as a Word document.  I tried using both horizontal and vertical split screens to view the photo and my Word document at the time; I even tried using a second monitor with my laptop.  All of these methods were rather cumbersome, especially with all the "extras" at the top of the Word screen.  Frankly, it seemed to take a long time to transcribe a single letter, and I abandoned the transcription project after a few weeks.

Recently I came across an easy to use freeware program, Transcript, version 2.4.  Transcript 2.4 is just like the web site claims, it really "makes transcribing easier".  With it, I've finally been able to transcribe a number of the Camp letters and have found several interesting stories which I plan to share in future posts.

The screen shot above shows Transcript's clean, uncluttered work surface.  In the light blue box at the top of the screen is the document I plan to transcribe.  The white box below is my transcription area.  The center bar dividing the two boxes can be adjusted to divide the screen just as you want it.

Beneath the "File Edit Format ... " menu row is one ribbon of icons, primarily pertaining to the document you are planning to transcribe.  A box in the middle of the ribbon lists the title or image number of the document you are transcribing.  The small green arrow buttons (circled in green) let you move back and forth through a series of images.  This feature has been particularly helpful when I have had four or five images to cover one letter.

Another nice feature (circled in red) is the ability to zoom in or out of a document.  The brightness of your document can also be adjusted using the buttons circled in yellow.  Sometimes just a change in perspective helps clarify a word.

The actual transcription is done without any of those spelling errors or punctuation reminders that are part of using Word.  I like this because I'm trying to transcribe the actual spelling, punctuation, and capitalization used in each document.  No wiggly red or green lines, no auto correct to get in the way of an accurate transcription.

Each transcription is saved as a Rich Text File.  The RTF, in turn, can be opened in Word for formatting, spell check, or any other type of correction you may wish to make to your document.

Transcript is free for noncommercial use.  If you plan to use it for any transcriptions for which you will receive pay, a pro version is available, costing $15 Euros, about $21 US dollars.  Jacob Boerema, the programmer, will also accept donations from users of the program.  If you have handwritten documents to transcribe, Transcript will certainly make the job much easier.  Visit the Transcript web site  to download your copy.


  1. Wow!! Thanks for the info, works great

  2. Glad you like it. Transcript has really made things much easier for me.