Research Tools

Transcribing Old Documents: A Stroke of Inspiration

I was wrestling with a hard-to-read German baptismal entry the other and was hit with a stroke of inspiration.

“Compare the difficult entry to the easier [non-difficult hand] entry you just transcribed.” I acted on the inspiration and, voila! The “official” language in the difficult entry and the “official” language in the (for me) easy-to-read entry were almost identical!!! Of course the details about the people involved were different, but the standard, boilerplate language was almost exactly the same!

When transcribing a difficult entry from a church book or civil registry record, knowing what the entry usually says, or what it is “supposed” to say is half the battle!!! Two parishes 10-15 miles apart used the same specific wording and format in their christening entries. Almost like filling out a form, though handwriting styles were very different, both scribes used the same verbiage to describe similar events.

Believe it or not, these two entries say almost the exact same thing!

(fig. 1, German baptismal entry, more difficult hand)
(fig. 2, German Baptismal entry, very neat hand)

So, when in doubt, compare to an easier to read entry!

Bryce H. Rogers

Bryce H. Rogers is an Owner and Professional Genealogist at Lost Generations Genealogy. He enjoys life with his wife and business partner Liz and their housefull of children.

Interlibrary Loan

Genealogy is largely the process of answering two questions:
1. What do I want to know?
2. Where can I find the answer?

A few months ago, I was helping a client find a deceased person’s next of kin. Having exhausted other options, we worked on finding obituaries. The newspapers and obituaries we wanted were not online! So, I contacted the local library where the person died (Hemet, California). The librarian there pointed me to the California State Library at Sacramento. A few good old fashioned phone calls and very helpful library staff told me which local newspapers existed and were available on microfilm.

To sum it up:

  1. I was looking for next of kin.
  2. The obituary I wanted was not available online on sites like,, or
  3. I made some phone calls.
  4. I talked to the California State Library at Sacramento.
  5. They told me which newspapers they had for Riverside and Hemet, California.
  6. I contacted my local library.
  7. My local library requested the newspapers and dates I wanted.
  8. After a few weeks, the newspapers I wanted arrived in the form of microfilm.
  9. I searched the newspapers page by page using a microfilm reader.
  10. I found obituaries and death notices that helped answer our question!

#microfilm #obituaries #interlibraryloan #nextofkin