Monday, December 19, 2005

What do Transcribers do?

This is a note for those people about to start, or for people who might volunteer and for checkers who have not done any transcribing.

Nowadays, we are all working from discs. Many of our volunteers have bought their own, but we can now supply free discs, courtesy of the LDS. A new transcriber is allocated a piece or a group of parishes and a lot of information. There are help files with the software and FAQ and other things on the main Free Census web site. Everyone gets a lengthy piece written by me and there are also “hints’ pages on the web site. In spite of this, questions still arise and transcribers and checkers still come across new problems.

I am not complaining about this, for many volunteers this is a completely new field; they haven’t transcribed census returns before and they haven’t got much experience with computers or the the internet. It constantly amazes me how much we are achieving given our wide geographical spread and our inexperience. It is also a fact that the enumerators of the 19th century had many and varied ideas on how they should carry out their task. As the census taking was organised by the government, the instructions to the enumerators were confused and confusing and sometimes downright contradictory.

The original project software is WINCENS. It started off as a DOS programme and was then changed into a Windows programme. It is still DOS of course, under the Windows interface, and transcribers will occasionally see the black DOS screens. However, we are using an alternative to WINCENS - SSCENS.

Because many people did not like the WINCENS programme, especially its inability to allow people to retrace their steps and edit the data, we introduced SSCENS. This is just a spreadsheet with knobs on. But it does allow editing and people can look at a page in its entirety; can look at a whole document. If the rules of SSCens are followed, then this spreadsheet can be converted into a format that will work with the checking software, WINCC. Any spreadsheet will do, although most people seem to be using Excel. It does not matter what platform you are using or which version of Windows. Anybody using an Apple should contact me as I am an Apple user.

A transcriber should aim to combine speed with accuracy. This is a system; transcription, checking and validation. A transcriber should not spend hours on trying to decipher one surname. Give it your best shot and move on. If you cannot resolve a problem, flag it up as a query; leave a note if you think it will help.

On completion, a transcriber should email us their completed spreadsheet. You should try and reformat the file as .csv, but if you can’t, then send it as it is. The SSCENS spreadsheet is reformatted for input into the next stage – checking.

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