New York Tombstone Transcription Project
How to Transcribe a Cemetery
What to take with you
Yellow pads or notebooks to record the data on.
Pens (extras in case one quits working)
A gallon jug of water (for the stones)
A spray bottle filled with water
A soft brush (such as a horse's mane brush)
Bug spray & sunscreen
How to transcribe
For difficult to read stones
- When you arrive at the cemetery, mentally divide it into sections. It helps to draw a rough sketch and then label them. Work the cemetery row by row, section by section. For an example, look at Flossie's map. (By the way, she is very artistic, I am NOT!)
- I prefer to write on yellow letter sized pads because it's easy to read in the sun and the pages won't blow away. Some of my helpers have attached them to a clipboard to make it easier. I prefer no clipboard.
- Put the date at the top of the first page each time you start working. I also like to list my start time and ending time that day. It can be interesting to see how long I spent working on a specific cemetery!
- Copy all information EXACTLY as it appears. Do NOT "standardize" dates or change their format. If it says Nov. 6, 1889, don't write out November. If a person takes a printout from the website to the cemetery and stands in front of the stone, there should be no discrepancies. If there is a poem or verse, you should copy that as well.
- Put the surname at the top of the data for each lot.
- When copying the information, put a / where each line ends on the stone. Example: Mother put away his playthings / Mother put his toys away / For the Angels called him home / Forever more to stay.
- Make sure to check for the data on the back and write OTB (on the back:) before that data if it exists.
- If there is a footstone, I write FS followed by the data.
- If there is another stone in the same lot, I write SSSL followed by the data. (Separate stone, same lot)
- Leave two blank lines or draw a line between each lot.
- Other abbreviations I use in data recording:
WO = Wife of
DO = Daughter of
ND = No Date
- Number each page of notes in case they somehow get out of order later!
- If a stone is broken or lying flat on the ground, make a notation.
- For samples of my note-taking, see Sample Notes 01, Sample Notes 02, and Sample Notes 03.
- Take a gallon jug of water with you, a spray bottle, and a soft brush. (Sort of like the brush you would use on a horse's mane.) If you have trouble reading the stone, spray it lightly with water. If you still can't read it, GENTLY brush the water into the creases and look again.
- Try looking at the stone in a different light.
- Take a digital picture of the stone which can later be enhanced in Photoshop to aid in reading the stone. (I can enhance it for you.)
- It is easier to read the stones on a cloudy day than a sunny day.
- If you've never transcribed before, try starting in a newer section where the stones are easier to read. Once you gain a little confidence, you'll be ready to tackle the stones that are harder to read!
- I use capital letters for all surnames. It makes it much easier when it comes time to type the list!
- Take a trowel with you. You may need to dig out some flat stones. If you can see a bit of stone, dig! (carefully) Also, if you see a monument with a surname but no other writing, you should assume there are flat footstones and look for them. They get covered over with grass very easily.
- If you have to stop for the day and return another day, make a note as to what row you are working on and where you need to start.
- Do not bother to copy the words "Perpetual Care".
- Be careful! You do not want to twist an ankle by stepping in a hole. You also need to be careful that you don't knock a stone over on yourself.
- Make sure someone knows where you have gone and what time you expect to be home. (In case of #6 above!)
- Be careful not to damage any stones!
- Be respectful if you see family members visiting a stone or if you see a funeral taking place.