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So I just finished transcribing a letter by Marcel Duchamp about his opinion of art in 1952 for the Smithsonian's Transcription Center.  It was only 6 pages long but the whole time, I'm sitting there thinking "OMG, someone get this man some Prozac".  I mean,  yeah, Duchamp has a reputation as having been kind of a downer (and not just about art - his advice on being a chess player is very much in the same vein) --- but wow.  I don't think of myself as a peppy, cheery person (I'm kind of more like a "whatever, it's all cool with me", easy-going type) but I sure felt like it by comparison as I worked on that letter. 

And... its a good thing I didn't work on this one at work - I sometimes do transcription on my lunch breaks.  I came across a french word I didn't know and my spellchecker recognized it as a real word but wordreference and GoogleTranslate didn't have a translation for me so I tried french wikipedia - turns out it meant erection.  And the article was illustrated so you know the school's web filter software would not have liked me for that.  But, you know, pursuit of knowledge and all that.
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So where have I been for the last two weeks?  Well it wasn't reading fanfiction so no rec posts.  No, I've been doing genealogical research for a family whose grandfather gave a different name on every single document in his entire life (1897-1969).  Every single document.  And it's not like they're completely random - they're all legitimate variations on, broadly speaking, the same name (but plenty different enough to baffle search engines and the casual searcher) so that takes talent.  He didn't repeat even once.  And that's with the surname staying the same (not that that was much help since it's a common one).  Creative fellow, I guess.  His family says he may have been super suspicious of the government so that could explain it.  Good grief it was hard to track him down though (which was probably his intent).  But I did it.  I now have a stack of printouts of census records and draft cards and death and burial records and his parents marriage records that I'm not sure the post office will accept crammed into a single 9x13 envelope. 

Also, Ancestry.com is evil.  I happen to think that stuff members post as public should be, you know, public.  But no.  They want you to buy a membership (which is expensive and apparently very difficult to cancel).  On top of that, you can't save copies of documents to your own tree while you're a paid member and then access them later when you cancel the membership - that would have been nice to know back when I had a membership.  And before you suggest a free trial - you have to give them a credit card and then they automatically charge it when the trial is up and, as I already said, site reviews report that its very difficult to cancel your membership, especially during the free trial period.  So yeah, I ended up doing a lot of searching on Ancestry and then having to google and familysearch for the same documents again.  What a pain.  But done now, I hope. 

So now I have to find some good fics.  It's a shame fancake has been slow lately.  It might take some time to come up with a new rec, but at least I'm back on it now so new recs should hopefully appear soon.



P.S.  Also, I have finished transcribing all 400 pages of the Lafeyette Squadron's flight log book (in French).  Because after a long day of squinting at census records I apparently wanted nothing more than to squint at the handwriting of a man who can't spell atterrir right, doesn't cross a single t when it falls at the end of a word, and likes to write three lines to the rule.  But on the plus side, my French is way better than it was when I started.  I can say "my machine gun jammed" and I now know half a dozen words for bullet, an unflattering name for Germans, that barrage balloons were called Drachens and zeppelins were called saucisses (sausages), plus I learned that the allied militaries first painted red crosses on the roofs of hospitals, ambulances, and hospital trains in August of 1917, and all sorts of other interesting if mostly useless facts.  Also, I learned several very unpleasant ways to die flying.  ... That came out sounding way more sarcastic than it did in my head.  It was actually really interesting reading and I wish there had been a bit more detail.  I might have to look into whether any of the pilots wrote memoirs of this time - I'd really like to read something like that.
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Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Project: Transcription Center

If you're interested in American History, world cultures, Art History, Botany, or other various Smithsonian subjects, you should really check this site out.  Anyone with some spare time can transcribe text so that historical documents and collections will be in  computer-searchable text to make it easier for scholars to use them in the future.  You don't need to be an expert on the subjects, just able to read and copy.  There are documents that are in perfectly legible type that are really easy to do, but there are also some that are more difficult - in scrawling cursive, or using idiosyncratic phonetic symbols (yes, you must reproduce the diacritics!).  Occasionally, there are also documents that aren't in English -- if you know French, there's one up now you could help with: the flight records of the Lafayette Squadron - the group of American pilots that volunteered for the French army early in World War I.  Also, if you're not up for doing the transcription yourself, you can also proofread transcriptions done by others, just checking the typed text against that in the image to make sure it matches.

So check it out and see if anything interests you.

Geek that I am, I'm having a lot of fun transcribing linguistics notes (African and Native American languages), an ethnography of Victorian India, and lately the flight book of the Lafayette Squadron.  I like it because deciphering some of these documents is a bit of a puzzle but unlike sudoku or crosswords where, when you finish, all you have is a filled-in page, when you complete a page of one of these documents, you are one page closer to a fully-digitized, valuable historical document!  Also, it's interesting and informative reading  -- I learned how to say "my machine gun jammed" in French today :)   (Okay, so, sometimes interesting isn't the same thing as useful, but I think it's cool anyways.) 

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