Friday, June 29, 2007

Transcribing records - my new way

Perhaps I am late in discovering this (I won't be surprised by how many will tell me that I am) "new" method to transcribe records that are in digital image form.

I described in my "Back to the FHC" post yesterday the Rhode Island probate records that I brought home yesterday on my flash drive from the FHC - 38 pages of really dark handwritten text. I knew they would be difficult to decipher and transcribe, and I dreaded the task. Last night, I worked a bit with one of my Photo Editing programs and found that I could lighten the images and improve the contrast significantly, and I "operated" on all of the images.

Then I got to thinking about how I could make the transcribing task easier on the eyes and take less time. Here is what I came up with:

My previous method of transcribing documents into the Notes section of my genealogy program (whether from a digital image or from a xerox copy) was to:

1) Obtain a digital image of the document page.
2) Print it out on my printer in 8.5 x 11 size, and put it on my desk pullout tray
3) Open my genealogy software program to the person for whom I will transcribe the document into the Notes. Open up the Notes section.
4) Decipher the words on the printed page (often using a magnifying glass)
5) Type the words or phrases into the Notes section
6) Double check that I haven't skipped or duplicated the words or phrases - this required constantly moving my eyes and head from the paper to the screen and back. I usually cannot reliably remember more than 5 to 8 words at a time.
7) When done with one page, go to the next printed page.
8) Save the Notes in the genealogy program.

My "new" way to transcribe documents into the Notes section of my genealogy software program, from a digital image, is to:

1) Obtain a digital image of the document page
2) Using a Photo program (I used the Microsoft Digital Image Editor that came with Windows XP), adjust the brightness and contrast levels to make the document as readable as possible. Save the adjusted digital image.
3) Open my genealogy software program to the person for whom I will transcribe the document into the Notes. Open up the Notes section.
4) Scale down the screen window with the Genealogy and Notes to the top half of the screen.
5) Open the digital image in a Photo program (I used the Windows Photo and Fax Viewer that came with Windows XP) and magnify it to a comfortable reading level.
6) Scale down the screen window of the Digital Image to the bottom half of the computer screen so that the text you want to transcribe is visible below the window with the Genealogy and Notes.
7) Transcribe the information from the digital image to the Notes. This entails only an up-or-down eye movement. The image is much easier to read since it is magnified.
8) Adjust the digital image up or down (using the vertical scroll bars) to get to the next bit of text to be transcribed.
9) When done with one page, move to the next in the Photo program, magnify as required, adjust for text viewing, and continue transcribing.
10) Save the transcribed Notes in your Genealogy program.

Here is a screen image of my computer screen using this "new" method. (You can make a screen image by pressing the Ctrl key and the Print Screen key simultaneously, then pasting the image into a photo or other program.)

I won't upload the image of this probate record page as I took it off the microfilm scanner. The above image is much brighter with much more contrast than the initial image I came home with - it was almost dark all over.
I used this method for about 2 hours this morning to work through three pages of the will of Nathaniel Horton. Using my previous method, I would have done the same work in twice the time.
Another benefit of using my "new" method is that I don't have to print out the pages and use up my inkjet cartridge contents and paper supply. I printed 38 pages yesterday that were very difficult to read before I used the photo program to brighten the pages. I learn by doing it wrong, it seems!
Another case where this method can be used is in transcribing newspaper articles on web sites that show images (e.g., NewspaperArchives, NewsBank, etc).
Obviously, you can cut and paste from word processing documents, PDF files and web pages right into the Notes section of a genealogy software program, and then edit the text as required.
OK, is this new or helpful to anyone? Anybody have other "efficiency" tips for doing things like this with document images?


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Randy...anything that makes it faster has to be easier LOL. And NO I did not know anything about this method but then I don't do digital computer images yet...I am lucky to type LOL Hope you have lots of fun with your "projects" and that they don't take all of the next 50 years to complete...there are more folks to find!

David said...

You might also want to try this program (freeware) called Transcript:

Anonymous said...

You suggested using this side-by-side transcription technique for images containing printed text. A better way for this case (if you have the software) is to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to transform the image into text directly. Then paste into either the final or an intermediary application for corrections and formatting. I've used this even for documents with usual fonts such as Fraktur, with surprising good results.
Thanks for an excellent Blog - I visit often. bg

Taneya said...

This is exactly what I do as I transcribe newspapers for my indexes! Isn't in wonderful! Glad you found a way to become even more efficient and contribute even more for your colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Execellant! I hope to try this new technique soon