Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Creating an Abstract of a Document

I've been transcribing John Froman's Orphan's Court file.  Most of the pages are completely handwritten.  The handwriting is beautiful and generally easy to read, but if I want to know the essence of the contents of a page I thought it would be easier if there were an abstract of the information so I could visually scan it instead of having wade through the handwriting or even the transcription.

I had never abstracted a document before and wasn't sure how to do it or what information should be included.  My guess was names, dates, locations, and anything else of importance that I'd want to refer back to for genealogical purposes. I searched and found several helpful articles.

Kimberly Powell's article, "Abstracting & Transcribing Genealogical Documents:  Cutting Out the Fat;  rules & Techniques for Genealogical Abstracts"  recommends including "everything which a genealogist might find significant or helpful - names, dates, places, monetary amounts, land descriptions, witnesses, relationships, etc."

"Transcribing and Summarizing Genealogical Documents.  Abstracts:  Summarizing the Document," recommends looking for names, dates, places, and events.  Further, the article states, "Although there are fill-in forms available for use in abstracting, they are constraining and not recommended.  Trying to conform to the order on the form means rearranging the information from the document.  In adapting the information to fit the form, omissions can occur or clues in the wording and order might be lost...."

"Index, Abstract, Extract, Transcripton, Translation", published by the California State Genealogical Alliance
gives this definition:
Abstract -- A summary that records all the important detail from a whole document.  Generally the abstract would retain the information in the same order it is found in the original.  It should contain all the important elements of the original document including the individuals involved, description of any property involved, dates[.]  An abstract might contain an extract, in which case the extract should be set off by quotation marks.

A section of Hints & Tips Ten:  Palaeography, Part 1:  How to Create Abstracts from Old Documents gave an example of an abstract.  I realized that I hadn't included relationships in the first page I abstracted.  When I looked at the transcription again, I realized that no relationships were listed on that page (but I know that several other pages in the file do mention relationships, which I will be sure to identify.

This is part of the abstract I created for the first two pages in John Froman's file.

I thought it would be helpful to put the abstract at the side of the page I was transcribing so everything would be together.  I also thought it would be helpful to include legal terms that are new to me.  I may change this up completely, but this is my beginning idea.

Have you abstracted documents?  How have you done it?



  1. This is helpful, Nancy, and seems like a good exercise. I've never tried making an abstract before but now I'm feeling rather inspired! :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. It has never occurred to me to create an abstract of my documents. I have transcribed many though. When you think about it, the bulk of old land deeds is POINTLESS -- Spanish oaks and fence lines are long gone. But a quick reference in abstract form would be helpful.


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