Tips from the Pros: Is It an Original Register or a Transcription? from Paula Stuart Warren, CG

Boddelwyddan Church (exterior), Rhyl, Wales [from LOC Photo Collection at]Congratulations! You have just found a church record book for an ancestral location. Whether it is in “original” form, on microfilm, or a digitized image, you need to look at it with a critical eye. In other words, is it the original record or one that someone copied either for easier reading or to preserve a disintegrating volume? Check to see if there is a title page giving the date the volume was published. Are there event dates that precede that publication date? If there is no such title page, then look for other clues.

The names in the event descriptions such as christenings should not be in alphabetical order. The church members did not show up in alphabetical order to get christened, married, or buried. Is the handwriting the same throughout a record book that spans from 1822-1910? It is unlikely that one pastor or church member entering the events was around for all that time period. Does each family have its own page(s)? How did the record keeper know to save two pages for the christenings of the Johnson family’s eventual ten children and know that the next family, the Joneses, would have only two children?

Read the church history booklet or a county history entry to help determine if a smaller congregation was a mission or satellite church of a larger one. When the smaller church grew and had its own pastor, were the records pertaining to its members hand-copied from the larger church’s books? I found one church record book that stated “people baptized when they had no pastor.”

Were all the pages in the record book typed–including events that took place in 1845? Typewriters did not come into common usage until the 1870s.

Another comment found in a church record book is “perhaps the date is 1870–it is blurred in the original but comes first under the year 1871.” (That is a direct transcription, dates and all!)

Think about the church records you have consulted–what idiosyncrasies have you found?

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2 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Is It an Original Register or a Transcription? from Paula Stuart Warren, CG

  1. I am historian for my church. We trace our history from 1780. My biggest problem with the history has been in seeing the original records.The earliest records of members is 1831. These records are so very frail that they crumble when touched. To have a record of these names, I was fortunate to have the owners lend us the records and copies were made. These copies are encased in archival holders and may be viewed or copied by any one without worring about tears crumbles etc. I have placed these in a fireproof file. All old materials have been copied or typed and may be viewed by any one upon request. The originals are enclosed in archival holders and placed in the fireprof safe. Seldon does any one wants to see the originals. This is quite a job , but one that I enjoy very much.

  2. I have discovered another way to tell if the original image is an actual record or has been recopied.

    In the Quebec Vital Records-the Drouin Collection on, I have noticed that those persons who were in attendance at births, deaths, and marriages often signed the record. An original signature on a record would be a good indicator that the record itself is an original.

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