Nov 172016

Have you ever transcribed something?  If you are a genealogist, you probably have.  If you are a secretary, you probably have.  If you are a human being, you probably have.  According to the Free Dictionary, there are many different definitions of ‘transcribe’:

1. To make a full written or typewritten copy of (dictated material, for example).
2. Computers To transfer (information) from one recording and storing system to another.
3. Music

a. To adapt or arrange (a composition) for a voice or instrument other than the original.
b. To translate (a composition) from one notational system to another.
c. To reduce (live or recorded music) to notation.
4. To record, usually on tape, for broadcast at a later date.
5. Linguistics To represent (speech sounds) by phonetic symbols.
6. To translate or transliterate.
7. Biology To cause (DNA) to undergo transcription.
Several of us have complained when a company has employed foreign nationals to transcribe writing from their own country (for instance, ‘Taunton, Som.’ in an English census record, which was actually ‘Taunton, Somerset’, was transcribed as ‘Taunton, Somalia’!) Many companies insist that you only transcribe what is written e.g. if it says ‘Taunton, Som.’, then you transcribe it as ‘Taunton, Som.’  That would certainly avoid the transfer of a town from its proper place in rural England over to Somalia… Others say that if it is obvious and you know it (such as ‘Thos’ being ‘Thomas’, or ‘Wm’ being ‘William’) then you should expand the abbreviation.  But danger begins to creep in.  I have ancestors named ‘Tom’ and ‘Ben’ on their birth certificates.  If someone thought they knew, and expanded the names to ‘Thomas’ and ‘Benjamin’ – they would, in fact, be incorrect.
And is it a transcript, or a transcription?  ‘Transcription’ is the act of making a transcript.  So why do many companies and organisations say that something comes from a transcription?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.


© Ros Haywood
School of  Surnames

Next week’s letter is ‘U’. Has anybody got any interesting snippets that marry up U with surname studies?  If so, please send them to Ros Haywood at sos [at]

letter T courtesy of
definition of transcribe from the Free Dictionary at