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Remembered Today:

War Diary Transcriptions


chris.wight
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For the past year, I've been working on and off doing War Diary transcriptions for units from the C.E.F. and adding them to the War Diary section of the Canadian Great War Project website, link, run by Forum member Marc Leroux. What my question is for those of you who have done such transcriptions is just how accurate do you feel they should be?

Now I know transcriptions should be accurate vis a vis what is written in the original diary - that makes sense. But to what extent should the accuracy be carried? For example, should a page be a virtual reproduction format wise of the original (ie. movement orders, operation orders) or is having the information contained reproduced accurately enough? What about spelling errors? Should they be left as originally written, even if they refer to people's names? How about Regimental Numbers? With most men in the C.E.F. listed on-line courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, it isn't difficult to check for accuracy (on the CGWP site we have the facility to link an individual's record internally to our War Diary transcriptions)? Shouldn't they be corrected?

I am interested in hearing your opinions.

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Chris

I'm not sure if there's a right or wrong answer, here. Must depend on the purpose of the exercise.

When I include war diary extracts in a researchee's biography, I tend to transcribe, say, place names as the original and put the real name in brackets with a note. However, if the orginal refers to, say "heavy MG fire", I normally translate this as "heavy machine gun fire". For me it's a matter of what's going to be easier for the reader.

John

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My view would be to copy as accurately as possible from the original document.

Leave it to others to interpret if they want to, or footnote any suggested corrections.

Brendon.

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GrandsonMicheal and myself have been collaborating on the transcribing of war diaries for over a year and he is now also working one or two other transcription projects.

The first product we produced was a day-date chronological template (corrected for the leap-year) and from which we are working on all of our transcriptions. This was to establish a common format.

Secondly, we chose a near-universal standard word processor; MSWord97. This was to establish a common word processing file type.

Thirdly, and closer to your question, we agreed to carefully transcribe the material as near to verbatim as possible including mis-spellings where this would not create an error or significant confusion. The correct spelling/term can always be placed within a square [ ] bracket. We did not include page-numbering as there appears to be some differences in the sequence of what has been scanned and placed on Internet and what my might get by placing an order through a live person in Ottawa, Canada.

Based on perhaps thrice-weekly email exchanges associated with transcription work and proofing proofing is very important, and subject to any input from Michael when he sees this post, here is a quick summary that I believe we have been following:

1. First person transcribes in near verbatim and the second person proofs the material. There is little point in introducing errors which can multiple and perpetuate themselves in forwarded emails.

2. Words or phrases that could not be deciphered were left blank within square [ ] brackets in hopes the next researcher might have better eyes or a stronger contextual understanding of the subject word or phrase and could insert the correct term.

3. Footnotes. We have not added footnotes yet as the transcriptions are near complete but not complete. If footnotes are to be added, I think they will be for strict clarification of the treatment of the text and not a comment or interpretation of the text. I think Michael will agree that we want the War Diaries to "speak for themselves" as original manuscript material and that subsequent interpretations can happen in articles and books making reference to this source material.

4. Comments (yellow highlights) are used in the MS-Word97 as working notes between ourselves and future readers. The yellow comments do not print out.

5. Lastly and for emphasis - accuracy and proofing are fundamental in the creation of a high quality reference document. One person should transcribe and the second person should do the final proof. Naturally, there will be some debate between the team-pair about the final proof but this debate is resolved before the document is released onto the Internet and into the Public Domain.

Regards

Borden Battery ... and subject to comments and proofing by GrandsonMichael. ;)

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Agree with John Hartley and Borden Battery - square brackets and footnotes to aid clarification without taking away anything from the original.

And on the subject of brackets, Borden Battery don't you mean, "day-date chronological template (corrected for the leap-year)" and "Comments (yellow highlights)" rather than the square bracketed versions? Sorry to be picky.

Paul

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Geez ... okay ... so on the GWF and late at night I am too lazy to hit the shift-key and the "9" and "10" keys to get the parenthesis symbols.

Nevertheless, to be complete, correct and accurate, I did an editch [edit] of my above posting. Any relation to GrandsonMichael? B)

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I'm a Virgo, we can't help it. Little things like that eat away at us.

No relation to Grandson Michael but we have a common "Essex" thread.

Cheers Borden ;)

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Well there is an "Essex" link with me as well.

My late Grandfather was born in England but came to Canada when he was about 10 years old. One of his cousins was a 2/Lt with an Essex regiment and although I have his military photograph I have not had time to research any background on him ... other than the letters he sent my Grandfather's parents (his aunt and uncle on the maternal side).

Borden Battery

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I'm not sure if there's a right or wrong answer, here. Must depend on the purpose of the exercise.

I fully agree with John here, but it is beneficial to transcription work to try to establish some common rules if possible, when the purpose is to actually publish the results of the transcribed War Diaries.

I think the questions posed by Chris and the answers by the other Forum members, should be devided into four separate issues.

- How accurate does one transcribe the content of the original War Diary.

- How does one reproduce the formats used in the War Diaries.

- What format to use to be able to easily exchange work done by transcribers.

- What method to use to assure an accurate product.

Regarding the first issue, I’d say there is a clear consensus till now in this discussion. As factual as possible. We’re talking about original source material of great importance for current & future reference and research. So I fully agree with transcribing as factually as possible, including obvious typos & writos, adding corrections only where absolutely necessary, as Borden Battery described.

The reproduction of the actual entries both in the Word-format and via a website is a different matter in my opinion. I feel it is important to strive to reproduce all the different formats used, but this leads to problems, one of which Chris raised. My ‘partner in crime transcribing the War Diaries of the P.P.C.L.I.’ Cordova (co-member of the CEF Study Group Forum), and I discussed this matter as well.

Our conclusion was that it is near impossible to develop templates for every sort of form or format used in the War Diaries. (Think of field messages, fire tables for Batteries, etc.). So basically, we think one should, once more, concentrate on the contents and not on the format. I think this answers Chris’ question.

The third issue here, what format to use to exchange transcribed War Diaries, has been answered extensively by Borden Battery. The Word format he initially developed is very handy for the reasons he mentioned. I would like to add another one he forgot, but always pointed out: this format is searchable in an easy and quick way, using all sorts of keywords. Very important.

This brings us to the question of names and service numbers.

If only for the above mentioned reason, these mistakes should be corrected in the text, using brackets is an easy way to do it. If we don’t correct these mistakes, searching the content of the transcribed War Diaries will not reveal the information the searcher is looking for. If a soldier is mentioned in any way, wrong name and/or wrong number leads to zilch. If we correct these mistakes (using secondary source material) someone might be very happy in the future, because his or her relative suddenly arises from oblivion…

Borden Battery raised the fourth issue, the method of transcribing and teaming up. This really is absolutely essential in our view. Cordova and I raised the issue amongst ourselves as to how long does one keep on proofing and correcting our own typos, etc. Does our product have to be 100% perfect? Cordova developed a handy way to go about this:

“A 6 step process: 1) Transcribe; 2) Proof; 3) Fix-it: 4) Re-proof; 5) Re-Fix-it; 6) Publish."

This is the way we’re working now. Not completely mistake proof, but at least well proofed. :)

Cheers,

Michael

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The final intention of any war diary transcription is/should be the distribution and exchange of information with as many other researchers as is possible.

Therefore, having a common format, a common file, a common approach to the transcription work and an objective to seek an accurate final product will facilitate the eventual exchange and greater use of this original material as reference sources.

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From my experience with historical documents, a word for word transcription, warts and all, is often very useful. It can also provide insights to the original writer's character and background, all of which is relevant to understanding the events and period.

On the other hand, the document must be readable. If it is riddled with errors there may be problems. I have seen works replicated word for word, complete with all errors, followed by a clean, corrected transcription.

The usual method, where there are few errors, is to use the term [sic] immediately after the error. The reader, providing they know the meaning of the term, is then put on notice that there is a spelling or factual error. A footnote clarifying the error can then be very useful. Footnotes can also be used to spell out words or terms that have been abbreviated in the text.

Another useful point is to include a note or introduction to the transcribed work explaining the method of transcription. Here the reader can be told how the work has been corrected or changed from the original version. If someone is looking to sight the primary source, then a reference to its location is also helpful.

Hope this will be useful.

Chris

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  • 6 years later...

I have been transcribing various war diaries for my own purposes, but in due course there may be some that other people will find useful. I scoured the forum for posts on transcription rules, and found this thread, which has been helpful.

In the last seven years since this discussion have there been any rules published anywhere, to establish some kind of uniformity in transcribed war diaries in terms of editing spelling mistakes etc. ? Should the original layout be retained?

And other similar questions........

William

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  • Admin

I have been transcribing the sixth dli diary by way of a word press blog with each day as a new post and using the comments section to add notes and corrections.

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When I transcribe I do my level best to reproduce what was originally written and add tags to indicate where I am unsure, such as {?} or four words illegible. Having transcribed the British Salonika AA Diaries, I'm now steadily (if too slowly) working my way back through them and bringing the events recorded by each Section together day by day. That's helped me to work out some of the anomalies through comparisons, too. The latest document is intended to be much more digestible than the Diaries so, for example, I'm using standardised place-names instead of the umpteen versions produced by men doing their best phonetically. Any contractions that aren't obvious get a footnote and I'll go through the document when I've finished and produce an index to salient points.

Keith

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It's fairly standard to use square brackets around editorial amendments, things that are unclear and so on

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Some years ago we wrote a guideline for transcribing the online Canadian War Diaries, these can be used for any transcription job.

  • To preserve the historical significance of these documents, typographical errors are to be included as they appear in the original documents. Do not correct names, punctuation, etc., but if you feel it’s historically important to show a correction, for instance because a typo leads to confusion or a name is misspelled, see the next bullet. Do not expand abbreviations, if you feel the meaning is not clear, add the full name between brackets in italics. For instance: Bde. [Brigade], alternatively, you can use a hyperlink to an exhaustive list of abbreviations.

  • Square brackets and italics [ i ] should be used around information added by the transcriber where he/she feels that clarification is required, or surrounding question marks [?] where the characters/words are unreadable. When a name is not mentioned or is spelled incorrectly, add the correct name between brackets and in italics. If possible, use a hyperlink to show what your source is. Example: G.O.C. Canadian Corps [General Arthur Currie].
  • Italics can also be used to indicate where the information was handwritten as in the appendices, as well as handwritten information that appears within the original typed text, for instance signatures.
  • The formats of the documents found in the appendices should be kept as close to the original as possible, while taking advantage of some of the conveniences provided by M.S. Word.

  • When the diarist has crossed out part of the written text, it might be interesting to show that text anyway. This can be done in the following manner, by typing and highlighting the text, then selecting “Strikethrough” from the Format Font menu. If a diarist has added, corrected or inserted text later, use italics to show this was done.
  • If you can’t decipher a portion of text, try magnification either on your monitor or with a good, old, store-bought magnifying glass. There is “Freeware” program that provides a magnification tool that may be helpful, click here. Another alternative is to ask a fellow transcriber – sometimes four eyes are better than 2!

Please remember: The objective is not to correct and thereby alter this historical information in any way at all, but to make it more accessible/readable for everyone. Following are examples of diary input that adhere to the guidelines outlined above.

Cheers,

Michael

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Michael

This is incredibly helpful, and rather chimes in with my thinking that war diaries should be transcribed exactly, spelling mistakes and weird abbreviations and all.

A further question to anyone:

Having transcribed a war diary, in what form should I make it available to others to make it as universally acceptible/usable as possible? In PDF? In some sort of Word document? I have no technical knowledge to speak of, and only free software, but am a quick learner. :unsure:

William

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You have to decide if you are transcribing the diary, in which case it should be word for word as the original or editing the diary and then you should say an edited war diary to avoid confusion. For me, the only way is to transcribe the diary and let others work out if they feel there were mistakes or not.

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Having transcribed a war diary, in what form should I make it available to others to make it as universally acceptible/usable as possible? In PDF? In some sort of Word document? I have no technical knowledge to speak of, and only free software, but am a quick learner. :unsure:

William

Transcribing Canadian War Diaries we use a Word document that has all the relevant dates for 1914 - 1919. (I can send anyone a copy of this Word document.) A lot of people use Word and it is searchable. One can always make a PDF document once the transcription is done, and of course these documents are also searchable. It just depends on what your preference is I suppose.

Cheers,

Michael

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