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Northern New York Tombstone Transcription Project
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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
A hat
A trowel
Drinking water


How to transcribe:
  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. Put the surname at the top of the data for each lot.
  6. 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.
  7. Make sure to check for the data on the back and write OTB (on the back:) before that data if it exists.
  8. If there is a footstone, I write FS followed by the data.
  9. If there is another stone in the same lot, I write SSSL followed by the data. (Separate stone, same lot)
  10. Leave two blank lines or draw a line between each lot.
  11. Other abbreviations I use in data recording:
    WO = Wife of
    DO = Daughter of
    ND = No Date
  12. Number each page of notes in case they somehow get out of order later!
  13. If a stone is broken or lying flat on the ground, make a notation.
  14. For samples of my note-taking, see Sample Notes 01, Sample Notes 02, and Sample Notes 03.

For difficult to read stones:
  1. 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.
  2. Try looking at the stone in a different light.
  3. 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.)
  4. It is easier to read the stones on a cloudy day than a sunny day.

Other tips:
  1. 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!
  2. I use capital letters for all surnames. It makes it much easier when it comes time to type the list!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Do not bother to copy the words "Perpetual Care".
  6. 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.
  7. Make sure someone knows where you have gone and what time you expect to be home. (In case of #6 above!)
  8. Be careful not to damage any stones!
  9. Be respectful if you see family members visiting a stone or if you see a funeral taking place.