I just received a couple of diaries spanning a few years in the early 20th century from a relative. She told me she would like to see them be donated to the local historical society, but to feel free to share them with the family first.

My first question is: is it better to transcribe the diaries or scan them page by page? I'd like to have them printed and bound by one of the popular online book printing sites (the cost is very low so they'd make great holiday gifts!).

Also, the relative who sent me the diaries also possesses the majority of family genealogical resources (photos, documents, etc.). My side of the family was left with nearly nothing from our ancestors, and for this reason I'd like to ask the current owner of the diaries if I could substitute the originals with copies to donate to the historical society. How should I approach this matter? It would mean a lot to me to keep them in the family.

2 Answers 2


I welcome your plan to preserve the diaries and make them available to others.

If the relative already gave you the diaries, there is some common ground to discuss the other resources. Scanning them is surely not negated and doing so would be my priority. Then you could ask if she is planning to give the documents and photos away somewhen and to whom. Substituting the originals might be an option if she is planning to give away the resources anyway, otherwise it would not be my first proposal (as it is “taking away”).

Concerning preservation:

Scanning is obligatory to me. After transcribing the diaries you will sooner or later discover spelling errors. You need the originals to check. There will be words that can’t be deciphered – you need to come back later or ask (distant) others. Scanning also preserves information that can’t be transcribed, like layout, the handwriting itself, crossed out or otherwise unreadable content.

If you have scanned the diaries you can also decide if you wish to publish just the scanned pages or scanned pages with transcribed content next to it.

Depending on the size and type of book I would either scan it with a book scanner (e.g. available in some libraries and archives) or use a tripod and a good camera to take photos of the pages. A flatbed scanner might also work if there is no risk of damaging the binding, this depends on the type of binding and the thickness of the books.


You have to transcribe it, and publish those transcriptions. Such diaries are like gold dust and have to be shared, as you say. Scanning will help preserve the the written form but sharing needs a textual form. They will undoubtedly reference other people, and for those references to be found by other researchers then you need transcriptions. Google cannot search inside an image but it is excellent at searching text.

There are many best-practices regarding transcription, such as faithfully showing emphasis, corrections, insertions, spelling/grammar errors, unusual/unknown/foreign terms (possibly with notes in editorial brackets), etc. It isn't just a case of using a word-processor to thrash it out, as some people believe.

The company kindex, whom I met at RootsTech 2016, is currently developing tools for this, and using them within FamilySearch.

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