Community Transcription-Thirty Months In

October 30th, 2013

In the thirty months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have been steadily adding transcribers. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

We offer here yet another snapshot at our transcription activity.

As of this morning, we have 1,538 users, with approximately 50 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 11,506 saves to War Department documents, which is about 200 additional edits since the last update. Additionally, transcribers have initiated 494 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is  edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 93,069 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, from museum professionals to archivists, from students to veterans, and from writers to hobbyists. Transcribers also include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university.

New transcribers in the last month include genealogists, graduate students, teachers, self-described “history buffs,” and professional research historians. Those who specified an interest or focus included ship building, Native American history, and specific people and military units. Some of our transcribers have no particular interest in the War Department Papers, but are evaluating Scripto to use in their own projects.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Many of them deal with pay for soldiers or officers. Some are short receipts while others are lengthy transcripts of speeches or treaties. There are request from veterans and their widows for pension payments and applications by refugees from Canada for relief.

As we continue forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

What is a Letterbook?

October 16th, 2013

If you are looking at an image that contains multiple documents with unusually neat penmanship, you are looking at a letter book. Letter books are simply copies of original letters bound together in a book and usually organized chronologically. Making such hand written copies was the job of a clerk. Among many other qualities, clerks had to have good penmanship. That’s why these letters are so easy to read.
There are numerous letter books in the Papers of the War Department collections. The letter books of Generals such as Anthony Wayne, for example, furnish us a picture of his Fallen Timbers campaign-both in terms of what he sent to the War Department and what he received from Henry Knox. The letter books of accountants such as Joseph Howell and William Simmons have thousands of entries.

You might have wondered, if there was such a devastating fire at the War Department, where did all these documents come from? One of the reasons is letter books. Recipients kept copies of letters received from the War Department. So, while perhaps the original copy (and the letter book) in Philadelphia might have gone up in flames, a copy of the letter was sometimes recovered elsewhere. And it was for just that reason-having copies of documents in case the originals were lost-that letter books were designed.