Supporting the Genealogical Document Transcription Process

Supporting the Genealogical Document Transcription Process

Enric Mayol, Maria José Casañ
DOI: 10.4018/ijsodit.2013100101
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Lately, genealogy has been becoming a new popular activity and has increasing interest due to the easy access to heritage documentation on internet and digital documentation. The main interesting information sources for genealogy research are different kinds of genealogical documents (census, church vital records, wills, …). In Spain, several projects to digitalize heritage and genealogical documentation have developed recently, in order to improve its access and to preserve its conservation state. Such digital information is useful, but it would be even more useful to have its transcription in a persistent and searchable support like databases or web repositories. However, there not exist any standard proposal of what must be the contents of these database repositories. In this paper the authors describe main characteristics of a tool to support the transcription process of genealogical documentation. This tool allows for easy, intuitive and fast transcription of genealogical documentation, in agreement with the contents of each different kind of genealogical documents. Given an model describing a genealogical document structure and contents, our tool supports the user to transcribe the document contents. The authors also propose a conceptual schema to model and to describe, in a generic and uniform way, the main contents of such genealogical documentation of interest for genealogy and family history research. This model should be a first step to have a reference model to describe heritage documents, to facilitate the transcription process and to share transcribed data among different researchers and databases.
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1. Introduction

Traditionally, “genealogy” and “family history” have been defined as disciplines of history that analyse relationships between people and his/her ancestors and descendants. The most expected and visible result of a genealogy research is the elaboration of a family tree. But, genealogy is not restricted to relationships between ancestors and descendants. Genealogists and Family History researches try to go beyond and understand where and how people lived, and also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. Genealogists may specialize in their own family; in a particular group; in a specific surname; in a particular period of time or in a small community village or parish.

The first step of this research is to collect information by means of interviews to older relatives, and also by looking through the family documentation and memorabilia at home. But, when the curiosity goes beyond living people, genealogists need to access administrative, civil, religious and ultimately, heritage documentation centres, to find genealogical information. Therefore, the genealogy research goes on by visiting such documentation centres. In fact, several centres must be visited to find different kinds of information or to find information about different ancestors. This may be an inconvenient for genealogist, since this research is time consuming and sometimes involves expensive travel. Moreover, heritage documentation kept on these centres is fragile and must be handled with care. And sometimes, it may have a restricted access even to specialists.

Documentation centres and genealogical associations are sensitive to these access difficulties and preservation needs for their documents. So, they have been starting document preservation and diffusion projects to allow wider and easier access to their documentation. Such projects include strategies to digitalize documentation and to put digital images on the webpage of the centre. In this way, they fulfil preservation of original documentation and they make a broad diffusion of the archive catalogue.

Digitalized documentation is useful and facilitates genealogy research, but it will be more useful to have a direct access to the document contents. The ultimate wish of genealogists, historians and, in general, any person who makes a heritage investigation is to have all information of heritage documentation extracted or transcribed in a digital support accessible online and with powerful and flexible query functionalities. This is a long term, high cost and not easily reachable project.

However, there are some initiatives to provide computer-supported tools to facilitate the transcription task (Jameson & Garwood & Garwood & Booth & Alper & Oliver & Paton, 2008; Pedro, n.d.). There are initiatives on handwriting recognition and digital library research to automatically transcribe heritage information (Gamera, n.d.; Ocropus, n.d.). Moreover, genealogical and documentation centres have started projects to manually transcribe genealogical documents with the collaboration of volunteers (genealogist, students, retired people, …). In this case, information systems, software engineering and database research may provide user-friendly support tools and a clear methodology/guidelines of how to proceed to obtain high quality transcriptions.

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