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Transcription Tuesday: outcomes already!


UPDATED 17/12/2019 – The Transcription Tuesday data is now available! Find out more here.


We wanted to provide you with a quick update on this week’s Transcription Tuesday event, as it’s been a frenetic few days, with some real achievements – down to the goodwill and expertise of everyone who got involved.

The first and most important thing is: a massive thank you to all. That counts whether behind the scenes at Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine & the project partner institutions (the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick (MRC), the National Railway Museum & the University of Portsmouth), or one of the many transcribers trying to decipher Edwardian handwriting and plug details into the spreadsheets. What’s been achieved wouldn’t have been possible without all of your hard work, and as a project we’re immensely grateful.

So, what has been achieved? We set out to transcribe an entire volume of material produced by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) between 1901 and 1905. It detailed legal cases and accidents in which the Union had an interest – chiefly because a Union member was involved. It was handwritten, with entries added as they occurred; there was no index, and whilst it was publicly available, if researchers wanted to consult it, they had to visit the MRC in person. We hoped we’d get it finished during the day, but it was hard to know what might be possible.

It turns out that the brilliant transcribers managed to polish the volume off by about 3pm on Tuesday 5th! We’d released the records at 6pm GMT on Monday 4th, timed to coincide with 7am on the 5th in New Zealand, and then to allow others to join in as they reached Tuesday 5th. We know that we had a number of transcribers from Australia, certainly, so opening the records up at a time convenient for those in the east was a good plan. Things got very busy in the morning of the 5th, UK time, and people carried on transcribing late into the night – presumably some of the north American contingent.

We didn’t know quite how many records we’d have in the volume, but it looks like around 2,300 cases. To have all of that detail in a more easily useable format is an amazing accomplishment and will make life a lot easier for all sorts of researchers.

Just one case, as an example. Case 1092 tells us that on 27 February 1903, South Eastern & Chatham Railway signalman J Bax, a member of the Gravesend branch of the ASRS, was killed at Hoo Junction in Kent. He fell down the steps of the signal box. Whilst the inquest wasn’t attended by a Union representative, there was a state enquiry, run by Railway Inspector JH Armytage. Bax’s interests were represented by John Dobson. The volume – and now our spreadsheet – tells us that it was decided that Bax had two ‘partial dependents’ (though sadly doesn’t give more detail on this point), who were awarded a proportion of the £228.3.11 compensation it was decided was due. Helpfully, the book gives us some additional detail from the inquest: the jury added a rider – that is, an additional recommendation or condition – that ‘steps of the [signal] box should be reversed to other end of box or box removed to Down side of line’. Presumably it was felt that the location of the steps had in some way contributed to Bax’s accident and that they should therefore be altered.

We’re currently cleaning the data, before we release it in a format a bit easier to handle than was used on the day (released on 17/12/19, available here). As we’d expected, there were some parts of the volume that were difficult to read or interpret, especially if they used particular terms or locations that were railway specific. Whilst we did have some transcribers familiar with the railways, we had many who didn’t come with the specialist knowledge – a real positive that the project could be this inclusive and that so many people really came to it out of the goodness of their hearts.

As it became clear we might finish the original volume, we lined up further records – we thought that if people were still willing, it might be possible to make inroads into more sources. These are all sources that we were hoping to tackle in our current project extension taking place at the MRC, but we knew that it was going to take a fair while to do everything there, so this has really speeded things up.

We’re delighted to report that over the 48 hours from 5th Feb, all of those additional records were not only transcribed, but a number of super-transcribers (or rather, even super-er transcribers) also went back over the data and tackled as many of the queries as possible. That really was above and beyond the call of duty! What this means is for 1908 we’ve now got around 1,500 records detailing compensation claims (for both fatal and non-fatal accidents), grants made in the event of deaths, and disablement claims.

Altogether this is a huge resource. We’re still working on tidying the data up and standardising the files, but we’re going to try to get this done as soon as we can, so that we can release the final run of data to you. All of this means that with just these sources it’s possible to find out more about what happened to Union members and often their families in the event of an accident at work on the railways in the early 20th century.

This is all a starting point – we want people to make use of this data and to follow their own research leads, combining these records with others. Indeed, one of the exciting things that will come out of our other project extensions (at the NRM and The National Archives of the UK) is just that – we expect to find common cases across different types of source, enabling us to put together a much better picture about railway work and accidents. And that’s before we’ve thought about other sources, like census and genealogy records, personal testimony or newspaper reports.

On that note – we’ve a guest blog post coming out on Monday, written by Gordon Dudman, one of the volunteer transcribers, about the transcription process and one case he’s followed up on in other records to get more of a sense of the individual’s life and times. This is excellent, as it really shows people getting involved in the project research – and we’re definitely open to more, so do drop us a line if you fancy putting something together. We’d love to hear from you!

Given the success of Transcription Tuesday, we’re keen to explore how we might use this kind of open-access transcription to involve more people, across the world. The basic process seemed to work very well, so we’re now looking at copying more documents and making them available in the same way. It’s been great that a number of people have already contacted us saying that they’d like to continue beyond the one-day-only event – we’re keen to have them on board. If you would like to join in, then do please let us know, via the form below – and thanks in advance!



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