Do you have 10 minutes to help us transcribe a handwritten inscription?

John Ellis AlbumRecently we added two autograph albums to Nebraska Memories. The albums belonged to May Martin Ellis and her husband John Ellis. They contain many handwritten inscriptions with the majority of inscriptions dating from the late 1800’s. While it is fun to read the inscriptions it can also be a challenge to read some of the handwriting. We would like to remove this challenge by providing a typed transcription of each page. Typing the transcriptions is a bit of a daunting task however because there are about 150 pages between the two albums and each page was written by a different person. The quality of handwriting varies from page to page so some are easy to read while others take a bit more effort.

John Ellis Album (page 24)To help with the task of transcribing these albums we wanted to try using crowdsourcing. If you are not familiar with crowdsourcing in this context it is a way to divide up the labor of transcribing the text among a group of people who are willing to give a few minutes of their time to the project. This is not a new concept but it is the first time we are trying it and hope you will be willing to help us.

What do you get out of helping with this project? To start with you get the enjoyment of reading a page or two in the autograph books. While I haven’t read all of the pages yet here is one inscription that I found amusing. This is from page 42 of May’s album.May Martin Ellis Album (page 42)

Dear Friend May:

Remember me and my best wishes
When far away washing dishes.

From your friend.
Eva Miller.

July 26th 1885.

Second, by helping to create a typed transcription we are making both the inscriptions and the name of the person who wrote them legible, searchable and findable. After the pages have been transcribed we will add the transcribed text to the corresponding album page in Nebraska Memories.

Third, if your relatives lived in Nebraska during the late 1800’s maybe you will find an inscription they wrote. Many of the inscriptions include both a date and place name. Some of the place names I’ve seen include: Alliance, Box Butte, Genoa, Hemingford, Osceola, and Grand Lake (According to information on the Nebraska State Historical Site’s webpage Grand Lake was located near Alliance.)

If you are up to the challenge here is how you can help. We have set up a Google form for each album so we can easily collect the transcribed text and then display the text in a corresponding spreadsheet. You do not need a Google account to help us. Everything you do is anonymous. We have no way of tracking who has helped us with this project. Here is what you need to get started.

Links That You Will Need – Please make sure you read the instructions below.

May Martin Ellis Album

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone’s help the May Martin Ellis Album is done.

Album: Martin Ellis Album



John Ellis Album

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone’s help the John Ellis Album is done.

Album: Ellis Album




  1. Open either May’s or John’s spreadsheet. On the spreadsheet you will see a column labeled Page. If a page number is listed in the spreadsheet that means the page has been transcribed. You will see the transcription in the corresponding column. Determine which page or pages need to be transcribed.
  2. Open the corresponding album and locate a page you want to transcribe.
  3. Open the corresponding form. Enter the number of the page you are transcribing and then type the text as it is written.
  • Press the enter key at the end of each line.
  • Do NOT correct misspellings, grammar errors, punctuation, odd capitalization or anything else we may consider wrong. I know this may be the hardest part for some folks but it is important that you type the text exactly as it was written. For example I’ve seen a couple of folks who have written the word tomorrow as two separate words. In May’s book on page 6 her Pa wrote it as “to Morrow”. That’s the way it needs to be typed.
  • John Ellis Album (page20)If you cannot read a word, letter or are unsure of something please put a question mark in the transcription at the point you have the question. The question mark will be a signal to us that someone else will need to look at that text. For example if I was transcribing page 20 of John’s book there is a line where I would need to insert a question mark because I’m not sure what is written between the word in and albums. In the form I would enter: If scribbling in ? Albums:
  • toolbarSome folks wrote at all kinds of odd angles. You may need to rotate or zoom in on the text to make it easier to read. Use the buttons on the toolbar above the image to do this. Put the text in the order you think is most logical.
  • If you see a transcription in the spreadsheet with a questions mark in it and you want to try deciphering that page please go ahead and try. Multiple forms can be submitted for each page. We will be looking at all of the transcriptions before they are added to Nebraska Memories.

John Ellis Album (page 39)Now that you have spent five minutes reading this I hope you will be willing to spend 5 more minutes transcribing a page or two in the albums. You never know what funny saying you may transcribe.

Thank for your help. If you have any questions please leave a comment or send me  an email.

Visit Nebraska Memories to search for or browse through many more historical images digitized from photographs, negatives, postcards, maps, lantern slides, books and other materials.

Nebraska Memories is a cooperative project to digitize Nebraska-related historical and cultural heritage materials and make them available to researchers of all ages via the Internet. Nebraska Memories is brought to you by the Nebraska Library Commission. If your institution is interested in participating in Nebraska Memories, see for more information, or contact Beth Goble, Historical Projects Librarian, or Devra Dragos, Technology & Access Services Director.

This entry was posted in General, Information Resources, Nebraska Memories, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Do you have 10 minutes to help us transcribe a handwritten inscription?

  1. Pingback: Thanks for your help! - Nebraska Library Commission BlogNebraska Library Commission Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *