Transcribing Historic Documents for the Smithsonian Transcribe-a-Thon

The Smithsonian is currently working on a project to digitize over 2 million historic images from the Freedmen’s Bureau to make them key-word searchable for individuals around the world. In support of this project, and in honor of Black History month and Frederick Douglass’ birthday, the Smithsonian hosted a Transcribe-a-Thon at over 46 locations around the world. The event took place on February 14, which is also Frederic Douglass’ birthday.

We found group transcribing to be quite helpful.

Dev Technology is supporting the Freedman’s Bureau Project through data analysis and preparing images for transcription. To further support this historic effort, we participated in the Transcribe-a-Thon across our offices in Reston, VA, Washington, D.C. and Egg Harbor Township, NJ. We had over 20 people who volunteered their time to log on to the Smithsonian Transcription Center, check out the process, and try out transcribing a few documents.

Our group quickly discovered that reviewing—rather than transcribing—was the best way for a beginner to become familiar with the often difficult to read handwritten documents. It was also useful—and more fun—to have a group transcribing together, as getting someone else’s opinion on what a word might say proved useful on many occasions. We even learned a bit of history along the way.

With over 2 million individual records in the collection, the Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project will be the largest crowdsourcing project ever sponsored by the Smithsonian. The information in these records will provide a unique view into social conditions in the south at the end of the war and enable many families to trace their ancestry beyond 1870 for the first time. This will mark the first time historians will be able to have statistics about this time period and the experience of freed slaves becoming citizens. Learn more about the project here.

To make this project a success, the Smithsonian needs volunteers across the country. Start transcribing documents today by visiting the Freedman’s Bureau Project at the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Documents are being added, so continue to check back for new projects.

We celebrated Douglass Day with a birthday cake in his honor at our Reston office.