I am looking for a description of the process that was used to transcribe data in the various censuses (US, UK, etc.). I would like to know some basic statistics about the process:

  1. When was it done for the various censuses?
  2. How many people were involved?
  3. What sort of error checking was performed?
  4. How many records were processed in total? On average per transcriber?
  5. Were transcribers paid or were they volunteers? Were some paid for QA?

In particular, I am interested in the description of the earliest examples of this kind of work.


I am interested in understanding the effort that was required to coordinate a large group of volunteers to convert a set of handwritten documents into an electronic format that subsequently can be indexed. No two collections (or transcription efforts) are the same, so I don't think there is a single answer to each of my sub-questions. Rather, expect that the various censuses were all done differently, but an overall average effort may emerge as the single answer. I would be very happy with some references that document the transcription and QA processes. Does this help clarify some of the issues raised in the comments?

  • 1
    I'm not sure there is any reasonable way to answer this - each transcription (and many of the censuses have been transcribed multiple times) will have different answers.
    – TomH
    Mar 11, 2013 at 0:38
  • I'm still mulling over. Some rough basic thinking. The transcriptions create a database, so the source or reference for the related database is a place to start. In the real world, though, some content providers change database names and descriptions, and they may commingle databases to create a a larger database/collection. How much of that information is proprietary (vs in some form of discoverable agreement with say NARA), I don't know.
    – GeneJ
    Mar 11, 2013 at 1:51
  • I think you need to clarify... do you really mean transcriptions or do you mean the indexing, they are two completely different things. Mar 11, 2013 at 2:27

1 Answer 1


The one transcription effort I've been involved in (on USGenWeb) has people doing both initial transcription and proofreading. It's coordinated online and is volunteer only (no pay). Error checking consists of proofreaders going over the transcription and comparing it to what they see in the original.

No idea on quantity per transcriber. I do a page when I have some time.

On Ancestry, I consistently submit corrections or alternate information to help the searches of other people and have seen quite a few errors. This is the reason for my own genealogy research, I get copies of the original documents and consider transcription or indexes to be hints and not definitive information.

A few tidbits, anyway.

  • Thanks! Do you know when the USGenWeb transcription efforts began? I am curious if the proofreading mechanism is described somewhere... Mar 11, 2013 at 7:23
  • 2
    The home page for the effort is here USGenWeb Free Census Project and there's a link on the right-hand pane to the proofreader page. Mar 11, 2013 at 18:11

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