Monday, March 19, 2012

Reading the Doctors' Handwriting - Military Monday

When I began to scan and transcribe Ellis Bickerstaff's Civil War Pension File it honestly hadn't occurred to me that I would be spending most of the time transcribing the handwriting of doctors who examined Ellis. Of the 15 documents I've transcribed, 5 of them have been Surgeon's Certificates. There's more handwriting in one of those certificates than in any other document. All five surgeons have nearly-illegible handwriting! (Click on the image and you'll be able to see what I mean.)

As I work on this file I find myself wondering why I decided to transcribe every document. Is it
  1. because I want to find genealogy information: the names of Ellis's wives, the dates of their marriages, addresses, and any other dates and and places? Or
  2. because I want to learn about the final years of Ellis's life and the challenges he faced?
I've decided it's for both reasons. I'm beginning to get a picture of Ellis's last years. He was given a pension of $8.00/month. Every several years he requested an increase which (as far as I've transcribed) was always denied. How frustrated he must have felt as his health deteriorated and he was unable to work to earn a living.

Because Ellis's widow is not my great-great-grandmother, I think I will only transcribe the documents from her file while are specifically genealogy-related.

It's slow going. Transcribing is slower than scanning. I think I was hasty to expect (and/or ignorant of the time it would require) to finish the file in one month. I could do it if I set aside the rest of my life for the month. Transcribing this file may be one item on my to do list that I don't finish in March.


  1. I have personally examined the applicant Ellis H Biggerstaff of Co D 157 Ohio Infantry Vol on this 10th day of December 1890.

    I find him with history and present existence of Ctarrhae trouble and chronic bronchiae trouble.

    Symptoms, headache, discharge from the nose, cough and almost constant throat iritation, and reports constant tendency to take "cold" Inability to withstand exposure, Has had trouble with his stomach and bowels--gives history of lung trouble unable to work any whatsoever for several months at a time.

    There is some dullness on percussion over left lung.-

    Applicant states that he suffers constantly with this lung---

    That is the one on the top.

  2. Thanks, Claudia. I've managed to read and transcribe most of the surgeon's reports so far except for occasional words/sections that are indecipherable. Maybe I'll post the really troublesome words -- and maybe you'll be able to decipher them! Sometimes it just takes a different set of eyes. Thanks again.

  3. OK, I will give it a shot. The problem is a lot of words are in Latin or some derivative of a medical word. It is easier when you have an idea about what they are writing.

    Since I have started my volunteer work reading old church records it has gotten much easier.

  4. Wow, that sounds like a quite a challenge, Nancy. Good luck and I hope you find lots of useful information in the paperwork.


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