State Library of South Australia

Transcribing Tales : in your own write

The State Library has a thriving Transcription Program with twelve dedicated volunteers working on our priority handwritten archival documents-but unbeknownst to the Library, family historians and other researchers are also quietly transcribing our archival documents on their own behalf.

Fancy transcribing this 1872 diary by Charlie Johnston
Fancy transcribing this 1872 diary by Charlie Johnston

At a recent History Month event (related to my hero Charles Todd), while chatting with fellow Todd enthusiast, Elizabeth Macilwain, she revealed that her great grand-uncle Charles Henry Johnston worked with Todd on the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872. The Library holds Charlie Johnston's diary of this time, which she spent weeks transcribing, and would we like it? The next day she emailed me the 65 page Word document, with its historical footnotes, and I was delighted to make the diary accessible through our catalogue.

This transcription was a real labour of love. Every page of the diary is cross-hatched (which saved paper), with entries for 1872 written horizontally in ink, and 1873 entries written vertically in pencil. It is almost impossible to read. I wouldn't have had the courage to ask one of our volunteers to transcribe it, but for a family historian, it was a thrill to do.

Earlier in the year at the book launch of Chequered lives, a history of the Hack family, while chatting with researcher Chris Durrant, (who transcribed our letters of John Barton Hack), he revealed that he had also transcribed other State Library archival items, and would we like them? One was the log of the South Australian, which arrived from Plymouth at Nepean Bay on 23 April 1837. The ship's log is part of the South Australian Company's archival records and is now accessible online.

Chris has not only made a literal transcription of the log, but also created a more readable version where he has corrected the spelling, spelt out the abbreviations, footnoted the maritime terms, and created an index - all adding enormous value to the diary and making it more accessible to today's readers.

The National Trust in Victor Harbor recently repatriated to the State Library a diary of a voyage by James and Mary Ann Hastwell from Bristol to Port Adelaide on the Cotfield in 1853. A great great granddaughter Robyn Upton (nee Hastwell) was excited to come across the diary in our catalogue while doing her family history, and her brother, Peter Hastwell, decided to transcribe it, and would we like it? The transcript of this diary has now made its way into our catalogue.

After these three experiences, the Library would like to let researchers know that we would be pleased to hear about any transcripts of our archival material that you have made in electronic format. You can email them to Carolyn Spooner and have the satisfaction of seeing them become accessible for others to read and enjoy.

Story by: Carolyn Spooner

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