How to Transcribe Letterbooks

January 21st, 2016

A letterbook is a bound collection of copies of letters sent and received by one person, usually organized chronologically. Clerks, who often had neat penmanship, were employed to create copies of their employer’s letters. Some early Americans wanted to utilize letterbooks when writing their memoirs; others simply found it useful and practical to have copies of their correspondence on hand. From a technological perspective, letterbooks were quite useful in the event that a person’s original correspondence got lost or, in the case of the War Department, fell victim to fire. From today’s perspective, a letterbook is akin to an email’s sent mail folder.

There are many letterbooks in the Papers of the War Department. If you are unsure of whether or not you are viewing a letterbook, check the document format field found on the document view page. When you come across a letterbook, it is important to note exactly which document is being described in the document view page and then transcribe only that document. Our system is not equipped to show only the specified document in the letterbook, and multiple pages of the letterbook will be accessible via the initial document.

The transcribe view page of the document does not specify which document to transcribe, but generally it is the first document that appears after clicking “transcribe this document.” If it is still not clear, check the date, author, and recipient names in the document information box on the document view page to ensure they match the letter you are transcribing. If there are multiple letters written on a single page within a letterbook, make sure to transcribe only the document described in the document view page. Each document within the letterbook will have its own document page; if an entire letterbook is transcribed through one single document, the metadata associated with the documents within the letterbook will not match up properly.

Community Transcription – Fifty-Six Months

January 5th, 2016

December was the fifty-sixth month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and we continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

As of December 31, we had 2,453 transcribers; we created twenty-two new accounts in December. These new transcribers included students at various levels, members of the Creek nation, as well as a self-described “History lover” and a “history bug”.  Our transcribers’ interests continue to be as varied as their backgrounds. One new transcriber is researching a historic site near their home, another is interested in the lives of the lesser-known officers and soldiers in the frontiers and borderlands of the early United States, and a third works at one of the historic sites which features prominently in our documentary collection.

Our community of transcribers have added 358 transcribed pages to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 16,381. Overall, we have had 295,859 page views.

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