Church Records Transcription Project

Hidden Histories actively seeks volunteers to help us with the transcription of our early records. Transcription makes these records much more accessible for scholars and the public, and the transcribed documents can be electronically searched.

We need help with transcribing, editing, and formatting — a number of different skill sets. Some documents are appropriate for beginning transcribers, others for those with more experience. The process is thus open to all volunteers — scholars, students, and anyone who likes a good historical puzzle.

 

As a Volunteer Transcriber, what might I discover?

Transcribing church records involves lists of births, deaths, and baptisms, but it also encompasses the records of pastoral meetings, church councils, and disciplinary cases. Local disputes contested in the records sometimes reveal the seedbeds of national change, such as in the case of the troubled conscience of one deacon in Byfield, Mass:

Abolitionist Stirrings in our Nation's Infancy

In 1781, Deacon Colman's conscience was disturbed. He was certain that given the choice, the pastor's African servant, Violet, would, like the colonists in the newly born nation, prefer to be free. The pastor, Rev. Moses Parsons, claimed that Violet did not wish to be freed, especially in such troublous times. Using the prestige of his office, Deacon Colman took his concerns door to door in the town of Byfield. Furthermore, he went to Violet directly and asked her himself if she would like to be freed.

But Deacon Colman's questions did not produce the effect he had desired. He was brought up on charges of "Injurious Treatment and Abuse of the Pastor." In response, he filed a counter-charge against Rev. Parsons for the crime of "man-stealing". It was left to the church council to decide whether the pastor could "justly be call'd a Thief" — especially in light of the deacon's new evidence, that Rev. Parsons had secretly planned to sell Violet for a sizeable sum…

Frequently, fascinating encounters such as the controversy in Byfield crop up in the records of early New England churches. As a Volunteer Transcriber, there is no telling what you may be the first to uncover in the records of New England's Hidden Histories.

 

Getting Started

  • Contact our transcription coordinator, Helen Gelinas, at hgelinas@14beacon.org and request a relation. Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience with historic documents, and we will send you a high quality digital image to work with.
  • Complete editorial instructions are available on the guidelines reference page. Please follow these carefully.
  • Once you have completed a transcription, email it to Helen. Your transcription will be sent to a checker who will then return the work to you for correction. The corrected version will then be sent to the project editor who will perform a final check.

If you are already an experienced transcriber we can put you to work right away as a proofreader or editor. Please contact Helen if you are interested in serving in this capacity.