Skip navigation

As part of our World War I commemoration, we recently invited the public to help transcribe written accounts of World War I soldiers and their first experiences in battles. This series contains remarkable and moving accounts of war through unit histories, station lists, operations reports, messages, and more. 

 

Of the 2,409 records in the series, 6,652 pages were transcribed by our citizen volunteers. We were especially moved by the descriptions of the battlefield by the soldiers who experienced the war first hand, and wanted to find a way to capture their experiences.

 

Now that the transcriptions are nearly complete, we are excited to share how this work transcribing has unlocked the stories within these records, and ensured these soldier’s voices are heard.

 

By performing a "search within" these records in the Catalog, we can now search for events, battlefield conditions, or even emotions that soldiers wrote about within their accounts. For example:

 

 

The word “artillery” can be found in 523 records in this series

“About 4 PM we moved forward to canal under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Were relieved next morning.”

Transcribed by citizen archivist Ndlund

 

The word “afraid” can be found in 23 records in this series

“I was afraid that we would never reach our objective with one man alive but we only had 4  killed and two wounded all it takes is nerve”

Transcribed by citizen archivist LibrarianDiva

 

Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to search within a series:

 

From the Details section of the series description in the Catalog, click on the blue box: “Search within this series”

 

In the top left search box, remove the wildcard symbols *.* and replace it with the word you would like to search.:

 

 

Click on the magnifying glass or press “enter” on your keyboard to start your search. See your results!

 

 

Give it a try, and let us know what you find within these records! You could try searching for “trench,” or “Verdun,”  or even “pigeon.” Have you discovered something interesting or unexpected? How else could you use this feature in you research?

 

There are a few more records in this series that can still be transcribed! Help us finish up these last few records to make these stirring accounts fully accessible.  Get Started Transcribing!

You did it! During last week’s Citizen Archivist Week of Service, more than 430 citizen archivists helped tag and transcribe more than 3,500 pages! Thanks to all of you for helping us reach (and surpass) our goal.

 

giphy (3).gif

 

Didn’t get a chance to participate last week? Not to worry. Our Citizen Archivist Dashboard is updated regularly with new missions and featured records to tag and transcribe. Check back often to see what’s new, and keep up the great work!

At the National Archives, we are committed to making the citizen archivist program a great experience for our virtual volunteers. That’s why today we are introducing our new Resources page on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard. Whether you are a new transcriber, or looking for ways to become more involved, our resource page is designed to provide helpful information, tips and tricks, instructional videos and more.

Resources page screenshot.jpg

We created this resource page based on feedback and frequently asked questions we receive from our citizen archivists, and we hope you find it useful.

 

Check it out and let us know what you think! Do you have ideas for further instructional videos? What else would you like to see on our Dashboard? Let us know at catalog@nara.gov

Looking for some transcription work to do?

We have a group of really easy records to transcribe and we'd love your help.

 

Help us transcribe index cards of Naturalization Records.  These index cards have just a few lines of text on them and they are addictive - we bet you can't do just one.

 

New to Transcription for the National Archives? Learn how to get started.

Get started transcribing Indexes to Naturalization Records.

This blog post is an excerpt from the National Archives Catalog Newsletter. If you'd like to receive the newsletter - please subscribe.

 

Last week we celebrated Public Service Recognition Week with our annual Archivist’s Achievement Awards ceremony. This event provides the opportunity to recognize volunteers and staff of the National Archives for their passion and dedication to serving the mission of the National Archives and the American people. This year, we were proud to present a special award to one of our most dedicated and enthusiastic Citizen Archivists: Alex Smith. 

20170511-01-075.jpg

Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero (center), presents Alex Smith (right) with the Citizen Archivist Award at the 2017 Archivist’s Achievement Awards Ceremony. Photo by Jeff Reed.

We first met Alex in 2015, when the Susquehanna University registrar was preparing to retire and looking for a meaningful way to spend his newly found free time. He read about the National Archives’ Citizen Archivist transcription project and discovered a way to volunteer and, according to Smith, do “something that matters for an organization as important as the National Archives.”

In the first eighteen months of his virtual volunteer work, Mr. Smith made a remarkable 11,100+ transcription contributions to the National Archives Catalog. Several times a week he logs into the Catalog and searches for his next record to transcribe. He often employs a serendipitous method to find the next record. For example, while searching for and transcribing telegrams, he reads about prohibition agents that leads him to search for prohibition. He’s inspired by the books he reads in his leisure – searching for public figures in the catalog such as Sherman Adams, John Bricker, Meade Alcorn, and Ann Whitman.

Alex Smith is not only a diligent citizen archivist and transcriber, he also is an evangelist and cheerleader for records in the National Archives, sharing the stories he’s found with friends. He is full of excitement when he discovers the intriguing, heroic and even the mundane within our records – he finds “happy surprises” within routine and seemingly dry records. Always a storyteller, he recounts what he has discovered while transcribing and has inspired others to become citizen archivists as well.

We were thrilled to welcome Alex to the National Archives and present him with this year’s Citizen Archivist award. We even got to spend some time showing him around the National Archives at College Park and talking about our favorite records.

IMG_1402.jpg

National Archives Catalog Community Managers Suzanne Isaacs (left) and Meredith Doviak (right) with Alex Smith.  Mr. Smith is holding a 19th century example of a wooden box used for the storage of records.

 

Alex shared, “If it weren't for the Archives, I'd be having a much duller time, so I really am grateful for the imaginative ways you have allowed us civilians to take part in your extraordinary work.”

We consider ourselves the lucky ones to have such dedicated volunteers. Will you join us as a Citizen Archivist?

April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. As we commemorate this event, we're asking for help from our Citizen Archivists to make records from World War I more discoverable.

 

We're creating special tagging and transcription missions and challenges using World War I content. Throughout the two year commemoration, we’ll be rotating missions to focus on different aspects of World War I both on the battlefield and on the homefront.  We hope you’ll join us in this special project.

WWI missions 2.jpg

 

We’ve also launched a World War I research portal with the goal of creating a central space for all National Archives resources and content related to World War I for use by researchers, students and educators, and those curious about the War. Here you will find World War I records organized by subject and topic area. Throughout the portal you can find links to more information such as articles, blog posts, genealogy resources, and online exhibits. Read more about our our WWI portal in our newsletter.

 

With more than 110,000 newly digitized photographs, you’re sure to find something you’ve never seen before! Have you found a unique photo or an interesting record? Please share with us! Email us at citizenarchivist@nara.gov.

If you are like me, you've been thinking a lot about John Glenn after hearing about his passing.  My job here at the National Archives is Community Manager for the National Archives Catalog, so the first thing I did was search the catalog for records about Glenn.

glenn.JPG

This has always been my favorite photo, Photograph of Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. in His Mark IV Pressure Suit, 1/23/1962.  Look closely and you can see the NASA technicians in the reflections in his suit.

 

If you love transcribing records - we have an Exploring Space transcription mission going on right now, and it includes records about John Glenn.  Help us unlock history!  How about transcribing this booklet about John Glenn and Friendship 7?

 

Are you new to transcribing records from the National Archives?  Learn How to Get Started.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we invite you to tag selected records and photographs in the National Archives Catalog related to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

 

Pearl Harbor 75 tagging mission.jpg

 

The records in this mission include photographs of the attack, the aftermath, the USS Arizona memorial, and ceremonies. Tagging details found in the photographs such as names, locations, types or names of planes and ships, or other details not found in the title or caption, will help make this content more discoverable in the Catalog.

 

New to Tagging? Learn how to get started. You can register for an account in the National Archives Catalog and begin tagging right away.

 

Looking for more? Browse more tagging missions from the National Archives. Select a mission that interests you and get tagging.

 

Learn more about Pearl Harbor and the 75th Anniversary from the National Archives.

Help us transcribe the millions of digitized pages of records in the National Archives Catalog. Transcription helps us improve search results and increase accessibility to our historical records.

New to transcribing? Our newly designed Transcription Tips webpage shows you how to get started with transcription, and includes some helpful examples of documents so you can see transcription in action.

transcription tips screenshot.jpg

Teachers can download and print a PDF version for use in their classrooms.

By transcribing, you are helping unlock history and discover hidden details of records and the stories they contain.

Check out our transcription missions! We’ve curated groups of records on particular subjects to help you get started transcribing. Take a look at our missions page to start transcribing documents related to exploring space, African American history, and more! If this is your first time participating - read the Transcription Tips and begin with the getting started instructions.

Happy transcribing!

On September 24, 2016, the Smithsonian celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To mark the event, the National Archives is having a transcription challenge for records pertaining to African-American history in its catalog.

 

So why should this matter to you?

 

African-American history is sometimes presented in linear terms. It begins with the horrors of slavery, its abolition at the end of the Civil War, and it culminates with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The reality, of course, is much more complicated, and leaves a more extensive paper trail than you may have imagined. Consider the petitions calling for the abolition of slavery sent to individual state government prior to the 13th Amendment; the reports compiled on the education and welfare of African-American students before and after Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka went before the Supreme Court; and the amount of legislative records that went into the creation of laws such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

History is in the details, and is not just a series of major events. By transcribing and tagging the documents in the National Archives’ Catalog, you are making primary sources accessible for everyone. You (yes, you!) are helping to fill in the gaps, and piece-by-piece and detail-by-detail uncover the long lost stories of the past for the present and future.

 

So your (transcription) mission, should you choose to accept it, is to:

 

First, get instructions on how to get started as a volunteer transcriber.

 

Once you’re all set up, browse through the records in the mission. If you find something that peaks your interest, click on it and begin transcribing and tagging. When you’re done, take a look at NARA’s other transcription missions.


Have questions or need clarification? Comment below. Happy typing!

Eckert_Telegraph_500.jpg

Here's your chance to help de-code secret telegrams sent during the Civil War.

 

With support from the NHPRC, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has launched of an innovative crowdsourcing project to transcribe and decipher a collection of nearly 16,000 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. Roughly one-third of the messages were written in code.

 

The “Decoding the Civil War” project is a partnership among Zooniverse (the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research), North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

 

The Huntington acquired the exceptionally rare collection of telegrams in 2012, composed of a nearly complete archive of Thomas T. Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln. The archive was thought to have been destroyed after the war and includes crucial correspondence that has never been published. Among the materials are 35 manuscript ledger books of telegrams sent and received by the War Department, including more than 100 communiques from Lincoln himself. Also included are top-secret cipher books revealing the complex coding system used to encrypt and decipher messages. The Confederate Army never cracked the Union Army’s code.

 

But you can help by joining in at https://www.zooniverse.org/…/zoonive…/decoding-the-civil-war. They are looking for 75,000 volunteers.

yates.jpg

Through a grant from the NHPRC, the Center for Digital Initiatives at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has published online of the Papers of Governor Richard Yates Sr., the Civil War governor of Illinois. Now they are looking for volunteers to help transcribe the documents at Chronicling Illinois, the Center’s online archive. 

 

The project includes the digitization of nearly 50,000 pages of documents, comprising nearly 15,000 documents from his four-year term. The documents come from the Yates Family Papers and from the Wabash Yates Papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

 

Richard Yates (1815-1873) was one of the most consequential Union war governors. Known as the "Soldier's Friend," Yates worked tirelessly to ensure that Illinois recruit, organize, and supply troops. Thousands of people, both rich and poor, wrote to Yates about a myriad of subjects, including political campaigns, requests for jobs and favors, pleas to have sons released from military service and activity by Southern-sympathizing “Copperheads.” Among his more prominent correspondents were General Ulysses S. Grant, General William T. Sherman, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and, of course, President Abraham Lincoln.

 

Want to help transcribe those documents? Go to Chronicling Illinois at http://alplm-cdi.com/chroniclingillinois/scripto. After creating an account, volunteers can transcribe handwritten documents through a simple interface or review the transcriptions of others to prepare them for online publication. Teachers can use the transcription process as a method of engaging students with primary source documents in a powerful way, while helping to improve the searchability of the archive through transcription.

Not every letter writer of the past had the clear handwriting of a clerk. This letter from L.N. Odell of the Odell Balloon Company shows some variations that you may run into.

 

23870545 all.jpg

 

Take a look at "Dear Sir". This is a really useful part of the letter to use to get your bearings, because "Dear Sir" is used in a lot of letters and doesn't often have any spelling surprises.

 

23870545 dear sir.jpg

 

We can see that the lowercase "e" in this word looks like a mirror-image "3", sometimes called a "Greek e". Knowing that the writer of this letter makes his "e"s like this can help us to puzzle out some words that might not be very clear. We can also see that the "a" in "dear" is open at the top. Maybe the writer leaves a lot of his round letters open.

 

Here's a phrase in the letter that might not be terribly clear:

 

23870545 prices.png

 

Once we plug in "e" where those "Greek e"s are, it might be easier to see that the first word is "very". The second word starts with a clear "l", but the second letter could be a "u" or an "o" with an open top. "lowe*t" is more likely than "luwe*t". What word fits there? That second-to-last letter is just an "s" that's not connected at the bottom, making the second word in this phrase "lowest."

 

How about the last word? If the second-to-last letter is an "e", the third-to-last letter that looks like an "e" probably isn't. What if it's a "c" with a loop at the top? That first letter is a puzzler, though. Take a look at the examples in the Oddly-shaped Letters blog post. The "p" in that post is the same as the first letter in this word. The last word in this phrase is "prices".

 

Ready for another phrase?

 

23870545 asc.png

 

With our knowledge of the open top "a"s and "o"s, the "Greek e"s, the loopy "c"s, and those pesky "p"s, we can see that this phrase is "ascensions and parachute drops". Which is borne out by checking the red print in the letterhead: this company advertises "four parachute drops" and "night ascensions," so it would make sense that those words are in this letter.

 

Read the rest of the letter to see what other wonders the Odell Balloon Company offers, and if you want, add the transcription to our catalog!

One hurdle to using historic records is how handwriting has changed over time. Here are some tips for reading handwritten documents.

 

This Letter to Absent Senators from the Senate, dated 1789, has some great examples of letters that look weird to modern eyes, even if you're used to reading cursive. In particular, the lowercase "p" and the lowercase "long s" may give readers some trouble.

 

Let's look at the whole first page:

 

7726745 page 1.jpg

 

"Agreeably to the Constitution of the United States, eight members of the Senate & eighteen of the houfe--" Wait, what?

 

This letter that looks like a lowercase "f" is an "s." You'll see these in handwritten and printed documents into the early part of the nineteenth century. Since the two letters look very similar, I tend to use context clues. I ask if the word or phrase makes more sense with an "f" or an "s."

 

7726745 house of representatives.jpg

 

Since our options here are "houfe of Reprefentatives" or "house of Representatives," it's pretty clear which is correct.

 

Another letter that gives me trouble is that lowercase "p." The style here is to have a much taller ascender, or vertical line, than we use on our letter "p"s nowadays. The round part (called the bowl) of the "p" may also be open at the bottom, making it look kind of like an "h."

 

We can use context clues again with the "p." Looking at the word "Representatives" above, we can see that the "p" does have the tall ascender and the open bowl. We can apply this to the rest of the document, such as in the following word:

 

7726745 opinion.jpg

 

That second letter is a tall-ascender open-bowl "p." The word is "opinion".

 

Ready to tackle this mess?

 

7726745 asap.jpg

 

Using our knowledge of the "long s" and the "p," we can see that this is a common English phrase: "as soon as possible."

 

I hope this is helpful to folks out there who are looking at historic handwriting! Anyone have other tips to share?

This past Saturday, January 23 was National Handwriting Day!  You can celebrate and fix those cabin fever blues by helping to transcribe handwritten documents in the National Archives Catalog.

4045_001_a.gif

Letter from Thomas Bram to the Warden

File Unit: Thomas Bram, Inmate No. 1516, 1902 - 1921. Series: Inmate Case Files, 1902 - 1921. Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 - 2009

Many handwritten records are now part of the National Archives Catalog, where they can be tagged and transcribed to make them more searchable and accessible to researchers and the public.

Get Started as a Citizen Archivist

  1. Create a username and password in the National Archives Catalog.
  2. Login from any catalog page or on the login page.
  3. Find handwritten records to transcribe.
  4. Select a record to work on from the list of results above.
  5. Click the “View/Add Contributions” button located below all images in the catalog. Select the “Transcribe” tab for the page of the record you would like to transcribe.
  6. Click the “Edit” button and remember to save your work frequently.
  7. Check out this example transcription page and Citizen Contribution Policy for more information.
  8. Read about one of our “Virtual Volunteers” who spends his retirement as a Citizen Archivist