Tortoise and the Hare, and the lost art of Transcribing?

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My old genealogy friend once spent an entire afternoon transcribing 1 document, while I spent the afternoon collecting 7 documents which I would later place in my box at home. Who was the most effective genealogist that afternoon? It wasn’t me! 

Many of so called family historian/genealogist love to collect records. I know I do! When we collect those records and place information in our trees are we putting all the facts? or just the good facts? Many of us will hurry to place the “important stuff” in first and worry about the other stuff later. That was how I was for my early years as a researcher. I was fortunate to have been around several genealogy mentors over the years who taught great skills but along the way taught me great life skills in the way to effectively do your research. One of them was Raymond, Ray was near 90 when I first met him and he was very generous and kind. I used his mind like a sponge and now years later I find myself going back and doing the things he tried to teach me but that I didn’t have the patience to listen to and do. One of those lessons was the art of transcribing and the value it brings you for your research.

Transcribing a document for our records is a lost art. When transcribing a document you will have a list where you can cite to later over the years rather than try and go to the document and find items…that is to say if you remember which document it was. Transcribing was a way my old friend always did his research. He said it was the only efficient way to research. He referred to it after the document was transcrbed as you are “looking at the facts in it’s entirety.” What he meant by that is that once transcribed you now have just the bare facts.The facts then tell the story.. He always liked to transcribing a document as “getting to the facts while getting rid of the filler” He said I may not even bring this document home with me (I can attest to this as I saw him on many occasions leave empty handed) because he had all the information along with the source citation already noted in his transcription. How often do you Transcribe your documents? I know I didn’t do it enough and recently I was thinking about his method. I can look back on my work and although I did great research in finding the documents, I didn’t do nearly as well in transcribing them. It is very time consuming but as you will see once you look at a document from it’s factual information you are left with much more than you realize? Let’s take a look!

This is my Great Grandfather’s death certificate. What do you see when you look at it?


Here is what I see now that I transcribed it.

25 October 2016   


Pennsylvania Death Certificate #414915

Name of Deceased: Ralph Donald Sheaffer
Place of Death Usual Residence of Deceased
Township: Swatara
County: Dauphin County:
State: Pennsylvania
Name of Hospital: Dauphin County Hospital
Length of Stay: 6 months
Usual Residence of Deceased
Address: 442 Boyd St
City: Harrisburg
County: Dauphin
State: Pennsylvania
Personal Information
Age at Death: 59yrs 0m 25dys
Marital Status: Widowed
Race: W
Sex: M
Birth Place: Shippensburg
State: Pennsylvania
Birth Date: 21 April 1887
Industry: Self

Occupation: Cabinet Maker

Social Security: None

Name of Father: John Sheaffer
Birth Place: Shippensburg
State: Pennsylvania
Name of Mother: Maggie Perkins
Birth Place: Pennsylvania
Informant: Unreadable
Informant Address: Harrisburg,  RD1
Informant State: Pennsylvania
Burial Information
Buried or Cremated: Buried
Place of Burial: Shippensburg
State: Pennsylvania
Date of Burial: 20 May 1946
Funeral Director: Frank Seidel
Address: Harrisburg
Date Received by Registrar: 17 May 1946
Registrar Name: Unreadable
Medical Information
Date of Death 16 May 1946
Time of death: 11:48am
Attended From: 16 Nov 1945
Attended To: 16 May 1946
Cause of Death: Degenerative Myocarditis
Contributory: Arterio Sclerosis
ICD Code: 93d
Physician Signature:  W.R. Dailey MD

Source: Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963,

1946, 040501-043350

By: Michael S Sheaffer

There are 41 Facts placed into this death certificate! When you find a death certificate do you place 41 facts into your tree??
Now I must say do we know if these “facts” are actually factual? That’s what cross referencing is for. When we have other facts or when a fact from this certificate conflicts with a birth certificate then you as the researcher have to decide which is factual. Most likely a Doctor signed time and date of birth=Fact.   When you have Uncle Joe’s Daughter in Law giving the personal information on a death certifcate is that credible evidence??Probably not! This is just an example but transcribing each document and then citing that document when you place information in tree will lead to a more quality tree.
 Here is another example, this time an obituary
Transcribed 25 October 2016
Date of Obituary: Friday, July 16, 1982
Name of Newspaper: Harrisburg Patriot News
Personal Facts
Name: Mrs, Ada E Sheaffer
Age: 79
Address: 2 Lodge Road
City: Mechanicsburg
Day of death: Wednesday (July 14th)
Place: Polyclinic Medical Center
Marital Status: Widow
Husband Name: Melvin E Sheaffer
Church Member of: Grace United Methodist Church
Place of Church: Lemoyne
Children: 3
1. Daughter: Mrs. Ora I McLaughlin
Residence: Carlisle, Pa
2. Daughter 2: Mrs. Myra A. Deckman
Residence: Camp Hill
3. Son: Melvin H Sheaffer
 Residence: Gainesville
State: Virginia
Sibling Name: Velma Sharp
Residence: Carlisle
Grandchildren: 10
Great Grandchildren: 8
Great Great Grandchildren: 1 Great Great Grandson
Day of Funeral Services: Saturday
Funeral Home Services: 11am
Funeral Home Location: 324 Hummel Ave
Funeral Home Town: Lemoyne
Officiant of Services: Rev. Howard A Kerstetter
Location of Burial: Franklin Church Cemetery
Town of Burial: Dillsburg
 Transcribed By: Michael S Sheaffer
There are 32 facts placed into this obituary!
To wrap up my post about transcribing is that it is indeed a lost art. It takes patience, just like a good genealogist needs. As my friend used to say as I was running around trying to get as many documents/records that I could get “The records aren’t going anywhere, So I’ll take my time transcribing the facts” It was sort of like I was the hare and he was the tortoise! In the end the tortoise was the wiser of the two and was in it for the long haul. After hurrying around trying to gather all the documents/records I could find, I would realize my youthful ways and learn I really wanted to be in this for the long haul. In the meantime I am still pouring over all those documents trying to catch up!
Transcribed By: Michael S Sheaffer


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