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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 7, Number 10
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
June 3, 2015
Publisher's Notes
In this article we discuss the abstract vs full text transcription vs original. Each source has its strengths as well as its drawbacks. I usually like to use at least two and sometimes all three in my research. It is so important that we verify our sources and then try to find the reference to the information in more than one source. It can be exhausting, but it is so important to get the details right.  
Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press
In doing genealogical research, one of the first things we encounter is determining the accuracy of the records we have about our ancestors. Do we use an abstracted version of the material, the full text transcription of the material or do we search out the original? Each source has its strengths and at the same time they will have drawbacks. Let’s look for a minute at each of these sources.
The abstract is done by someone long after the original was produced and is their interpretation of what was being said in the original. When someone other than the original author transcribes the material, there is a chance of mistakes in reading the hand written script. With cursive writing being taught less and less, we better get as much transcribed now as possible. A good transcriber will spent time with the hand writing and compare letters that are obvious and use those to read the rest of the text.
We had a diary once that was extremely important for the history it presented, but the hand writing was the worst I have ever tried to transcribe. None of the tricks of the trade helped in this case. I believe he wrote most of it on the back of his horse at a trot or cantor at least. I could spend four to six hours attempting to read a section and would only have a small section typed on the computer. Never have I spent some much time on one project that was never finished.
Most court records are not that complicated. Take for example, deed records. An abstract is sufficient for these as most of them have materials that can be left out with ease. When you read “Beginning at a pile of rocks on the creek bank and going to the oak tree on the top of the hill across the creek.” I dare anyone to find those rocks and that tree after two hundred years. This is the kind of material to be left out. Leave in any names, geographical features that would remain or identifiable as well as the dates, signatures, witnesses, etc. The value of this kind of abstract is that you have a ready index of names that will not be found even in the original court books.
Now look at the full text transcription. This is just a complete transcription of the original court record. I would use this in transcribing the will books in particular or the court minutes. In reading a will, you do not want to see the words, “...and to my children, I leave...” and then there is nothing after this. You want to know what else is said. The full text transcription gives a lot of those little remarks that would be missed in an abstraction. Here again, you will have a great index of names and locations that are important in the scope of research you are engaged with in your efforts.
The original document gives the information to you in a form that you know what was said and done at the time it was written. The main draw back to the originals, is that you have to frequently go to the court house where these are housed and spend time there getting access to them. Most of the time you are not able to make copies as the books are large, heavy, and very difficult to handle. Some states are now making microfilm of these books available for the individual to see in other areas. In Virginia, copies of their microfilm are available on Inter-Library Loan for the cost of the return postage. You do have to work through a local library, however, to gain access. This is a very small price for someone in Seattle who needs to see an Augusta County, Virginia court record and can’t travel to Staunton to view them.
What do we have now? Three different kinds of sources. Which is best? To confuse the issue, all three are or at least two of the three are better than just one. What is good is to look at either an abstract transcription or full text copy and decide if this is the record or type of record that you want to examine more closely. You have determined that this is your family and you want to verify it with a copy of the original. You have an index to the original page number and book number, etc. This is the kind of index that will not be in the original material, especially if the names you seek are not part of the full title of the piece.
You might find a short index in the original that says, “John Smith - will”. You don’t know whether John Smith is within your records at this point. Down in the body of the “Will” is the name of Ambrose Brown. He is the one that you are tracing. He turns out to be a bound orphan to John Smith. Ambrose’s parent died when he was young and the courts bound him out to John Smith. There will be other documents pertaining to Ambrose, but for now, you have a few key leads. But keep in mind that it is always worth double checking the records and trying to find multiple references to each piece of the puzzle.
Happy Hunting!
Books and CDs

Millers Cove Baptist Church Minutes, Walland, TN
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Washington County, TN Records - CD
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Greene County, TN 1805 Tax List - CD
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Coffee County, TN Marriage Records - CD
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Tazewell County, VA Birth Records - CD
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Berkeley County, WV Births - CD
Includes a copy of the original and a transcription  

Ocoee Land District Maps - CD
Includes redrawn maps and a copy of the originals.  




If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.