LETTER COLLECTIONS IN FAMILY HISTORY USING

ERASTUS SNOW'S FAMILY LETTERS AS AN EXAMPLE

©2013 by Donald R. Snow

Sections of the Class Notes This page was last updated 2013-02-04.
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    WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
  1. Instructors are Donald R. Snow ( snowd@math.byu.edu ) of Provo and St. George and his daughter Jennifer Snow Jackson of West Valley City, Utah.
  2. These notes with the active Internet links are posted on http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html and are in the syllabus of the Family History Expo for St. George, 2013-02-22 & 23.
  3. Tips:  (1)  Easy to put an icon on your desktop for the URL to get to these notes.  (2)  To keep your place in these note while going to a link from them hold down the Control key while clicking the link.
  4. Today's presentation will discuss ideas for digitizing and analyzing a letter collection and will use our online Erastus Snow Family Letter collection to illustrate.

  5.  THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE ERASTUS SNOW FAMILY LETTERS
  6. Our Erastus Snow letter transcriptions are currently posted on the Internet on two websites:
    1. The UVTAGG website -- Personal Letters of the Erastus Snow Family -- The context of the letters is easy to see here since they are shown in tablular form; these are the latest edited versions of the letters; can search this collection by using a Google site search; that is, in Google enter "site:http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/ [search terms]" (without the quotes)
    2. Our new Erastus Snow website -- http://erastussnow.org/ -- Don and his grand kids are setting this up -- This site has a built-in search engine and there will be a list of everyone mentioned in the letters.  The latest edited versions aren't posted there yet, but will be eventually.
  7. Short PowerPoint of some things we learned about Erastus Snow and his family from these letters.

    LETTER COLLECTIONS
  8. About letter collections
    1. Emphasis here is on handwritten and family letters, but some comments will apply to typed or printed letters which can be scanned and run through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to form a searchable database
    2. Letter collections only discuss events and family life when someone is away, so they don't give a complete picture of the family.
    3. You never know if your collection of letters is complete since you may not have found them all, some may not have been saved, and some may have been destroyed on purpose.
    4. Letters
      1. Give glimpses into the lives, events, and personalities of the people
      2. Preserve things like reactions to historical events, language, and sayings of the times
      3. Give genealogical information
      4. Turn the hearts of the children to the fathers
  9. Where to look for letters
    1. Start with your own files, boxes in the "attic", etc.
    2. Helpful to place originals in a library for preservation and easy access by scholars, e.g. the BYU Special Collections Library -- http://lib.byu.edu/sites/sc/ -- they will give you good photocopies of anything you donate
    3. Spread the word to family members at reunions, get-togethers, social networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), and post information online -- family members may not want to give you originals, so just ask for copies 
    4. Check libraries related to the person, his religion, locality, relatives, occupation
    5. Do online searches for letters -- Google, National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) http://www.loc.gov/coll/nucmc/ -- historical societies, newspaper archives for published letters (local news) -- Here are examples of websites:  Utah Digital Newspapers http://digitalnewspapers.org/ , Chronicling America http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ , Pioneer Utah Library http://pioneer.utah.gov/digital/utah.html , and Mountain West Digital Library http://www.mwdl.org/
    6. Record where you get the letters so you can give credit later -- Libraries may grant you permission to publish them.

  10. ORGANIZING AND SCANNING THE COLLECTION
  11. Photocopy and scan the letters so you have hard copes and electronic copies to work with
  12. On the photocopies write in pencil in the upper right hand corner the date and page, e.g. "1874-04-19 Page 1 of 3" -- Include copy of envelope, if there is one
  13. The date format YYYY-MM-DD is the International Date Format and allows inserting additional letters in chronological order without having to renumber everything.
  14. Save the originals in archival sheet holders or a spring-binder without punching holes in them.
  15. Scan the photocopies (or the originals) to pdf with a flat bed scanner at about 150 dpi (dots per inch) resolution -- can use these pdf's to transcribe, print, study, make jpg's, and include in slideshows
  16. Many FHC's have good sheet feeder scanners now that scan directly to a flash drive without being connected to a computer.
  17. Name the pdf files "1874-04-19.pdf", the same as you wrote in the upper corners of the photocopies -- This makes the scans sort in order regardless of when you scan them; can add to the file name later.

  18. TRANSCRIBING
  19. Transcript -- helpful freeware program that works like FamilySearch Indexing with image at top and panel for you to type the text into below -- download Transcript from  http://www.jacobboerema.nl/en/Freeware.htm 
  20. Save the text into a common word processing format, e.g. .rtf, .odt, .doc, or .html -- several freeware programs are compatible with MS Word and will save files in any of these formats, e.g., the freeware program  http://www.libreoffice.org/
  21. May be helpful to have other family members transcribe some letters
  22. Can read the letter into a microphone and use voice recognition software to transcribe it (We haven't tried this, but others say it works well.)
  23. In the transcriptions my procedure is to include a line at the top "YYYY-MM-DD,From,[name],[location],To,[name],[location]" and then copy this to use as the file name; the commas allow forming a csv (comma-separated-variables) text file of all the file names to import into a spreadsheet for analysis of the collection later -- can analyze it to find things like the number of letters, who from, to whom, when, etc.
  24. In the transcriptions can include [Page xx] to show where the next handwritten page starts
  25. For helps in reading old handwriting (paleography) try these -- http://genealogy.about.com/od/paleography/tp/examples.htm and http://www.cyndislist.com/handwriting
  26. If letter was written on letterhead, type that in too, since that gives clues to names and locations.
  27. Do most of the transcriptions before the final editing since seeing the whole collection in context helps you understand events and names you didn't before

  28.   FINAL EDITING
  29. It helps to have one person do the final editing to make the work uniform and see things to correct and clarify throughout
  30. Can use any text format you want -- I use the html format so the collection is ready to post online and there are good global search-and-replace programs that allow editing a word in all the files at once
  31. Make notes of interesting things as you go through the letters, save these in a text file -- I use the format "YYYY-MM-DD [Snippet of item]" -- These can later be sorted by topic
  32. Need to balance correct spelling vs showing what the original was like -- For major misspellings include correct spelling in brackets [ ] so it will be readable and searchable -- For other types of errors, e.g. duplicate words, use [sic], but use it sparingly
  33. See helpful general information about editing transcriptions on the Joseph Smith Papers Project website -- http://beta.josephsmithpapers.org/editorialMethod
  34. Type dates as they are in the letter, then include fuller version in brackets as [Sunday 1873-11-13] -- makes the date searchable later and you may begin to see patterns of when the letters were written, e.g. maybe the mail went out Monday mornings so they wrote on Sunday evenings -- To get day of the week for any date do a Google search for things like "calendar 1873" (without the quotes) and keep this calendar open in a window as you edit the letters
  35. Inserting editorial comments for people and places
    1. Use square brackets [ ] around explanatory information and editorial comments so the text is readable, understandable, and searchable 
    2. To identify people I insert comments like [Georgiana Snow (Thatcher) 1862-1929]
    3. Include full name after nicknames or references such as "your mother" so they will be searchable and so readers will know who the person is
    4. For locations can include note so they are uniform and searchable, e.g. [Salt Lake City, Utah]   
    5. Can form a list of names and location notes to insert
      1. If there are only a few names and locations in the collection, just use a text file or a clipboard extender such as Clipboard Magic -- http://www.cybermatrix.com/clipboard_magic.html to store the list
      2. For a long list of names and locations (Our ES letter collection has several hundred.) I use a freeware notes program like http://www.resoph.com/ResophNotes/Welcome.html or http://www.phraseexpress.com since they alphabetize the list
    6. Can include Internet links inside the square brackets, if person or location is particularly interesting or info was hard to find
  36. Helpful tools and databases for information about places and people, particularly LDS people
    1. Your own genealogy database
    2. Google -- http://www.google.com
    3. Wikipedia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
    4. FamilySearch Historical Records -- https://familysearch.org/
    5. IGI -- on https://familysearch.org/ > All Record Collections > IGI
    6. FamilySearch Family Tree --  https://familysearch.org/ 
    7. Earlylds.com LDS -- http://earlylds.com/
    8. Nauvoo Databank -- available at a few FHC's
    9. Susan Easton-Black LDS Membership compilations -- http://worldvitalrecords.com/ -- free at FHCs and in Nauvoo Databank
    10. FindAGrave -- http://www.findagrave.com
  37. Can use a freeware programs like TextCrawler -- http://www.digitalvolcano.co.uk/content/textcrawler/tcdownload -- to search and replace words, phrases, names, dates, and locations globally through the entire text file collection so it is uniform -- Can also find typos in the entire collection by searching for misspellings or using wildcards
  38. For proof reading can have one person read the original and another check the transcriptions -- An idea we haven't tried is to use a freeware voice-reader program to read the transcription and you compare it with the original

  39. ANALYZING THE DATABASE
  40. To generate a spreadsheet of file names
    1. Put all the files in a folder -- the naming system "1850-07-04,From,Snow Erastus,Denmark Copenhagen,To,Snow Artimesia Beman,Utah Great Salt Lake City" makes them alphabetize in chronological order
    2. Form a text file of all the file names by using a program like the freeware Karen's Directory Printer ( http://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptdirprn.asp ) -- will form a csv (comma-separated-variables) file because of the commas in the files names
    3. Clean up this csv file by using a word processor (e.g. http://www.jarte.com/download.html ) to edit out extraneous characters
    4. Import the csv file into a spreadsheet, e.g. the freeware http://www.libreoffice.org/ -- To do this in a LibreOffice spreadsheet go to Insert > Sheet From File, select the directory-listing text file, set "comma as separator", and import the file -- the commas make sure the data goes into the correct columns
    5. Can now sort the spreadsheet on the columns for date, from, to, locations, etc. 
    6. This spreadsheet is also very helpful to pick up typos in the file names and headers, analyze the collection, and make charts and graphs to illustrate dates, authors, recipients, and locations
  41. What to do with the "Interesting Item" text file you made as you edited
    1. Examine the file, decide on major categories, and move the snippets into those categories 
    2. You now have an overview of interesting things in the letters and you can easily find the full quotes due to the format "YYYY-MM-DD [Snippet of item]"
  42. Can search through the entire collection for words, names, or phrases by using a freeware program like TextCrawler (see earlier paragraph)

    CONCLUSION
  43. Letter collections give a summary of the life of the family, especially if family members were apart and the family wrote many letters
  44. Provides a database that can be searched for names, events, locations, etc.
  45. May lead you to family history information about other family members mentioned
  46. Turns your heart to your fathers

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