Transcribing

By Tracey Cornish

During my working life as a legal secretary I have always looked at ‘old’ documents, having to ‘read’ old leases and conveyances.  However I was not really reading them as such as they mostly say the same thing and therefore I had to just skim read them to look for anything that was different – which was a very rare occurrence.

Looking at Margaret Baker’s recipes was a totally different ball game.  Firstly there is the question of a recipe.  I had always thought of a recipe as instructions regarding food however Margaret Baker uses recipes in a number of contexts which does include food but also medical recipes.

To say I was a bit daunted would have been an understatement.  Lisa went through all the basics with the class such as thorns which is written as a ‘y’ but we would use a ‘th’ meaning ‘ye’ would be ‘the’.  There were other letters which were used in place of letters we would use today such as ‘u’ could be ‘v’, ‘i’ could be ‘j’ and ‘ff’ could be ‘f’.  As Lisa was explaining I was getting more worried by all the minute!

However, once you begin to transcribe it becomes a lot ‘easier’.  You begin to see how the author writes their letters and words.  Margaret Baker’s ‘s’ looks like a ‘f’ for example.  She also puts two dots over her ‘y’s’ which is a personal thing that she does.  She also, like most people of the time, spells phonetically, for example, ‘hour’ is spelt ‘hower’ so actually saying the word aloud helps to work out what it may be if you are struggling.   If I could not decipher a word I wrote […..] so that i could go back to it once I had finished as I may have come across similar letters or words or just making sense of the sentence.

The two pages I transcribed of Margaret Baker had a variety of recipes.  It started with ‘To make a Bake Puddinge’, and continued with ‘To make a french dish’, To destroye Fleaes’, ‘To make ffrench ffritrs’ and finished with ‘For the consoumption of the longs’.  Five very different recipes on two adjoining pages.

baker

So then came the 9th November 2016,  the day of the EMROC International Transcribathon!  I wasn’t at all sure whether to join in as I was hardly an expert or even experienced come to think of it as I had only ever transcribed two pages! However, I thought I would be brave and give it a go.  The Transcribathon consisted of transcribing Lady Grace Castleton’s recipe book.  I would be joining an experienced group of transcribers from America and people from other parts of the world who logged on virtually.

When I first logged on I was really concerned, Lady Castleton’s handwriting was difficult to read.  However, I found a page that looked relatively ‘easy’.  Well, it was bizarre!  The double page consisted of recipes for aches, pains and toothache, but the final recipe on the page was so difficult as it used such strange ingredients – crabs and snakes skin.  This for me, made it quite difficult to transcribe as I had not heard of some of the ingredients it is then hard to try and decipher words that are not so easy to read.

castleton

I enjoyed being part of the Transcribathon and felt really proud of myself seeing my name alongside other transcribers on the EMROC webpage.

After reading Abbie’s blog it was good to know that  I was not alone in feeling apprehensive in participating in the Transcribathon even though we had been invited to join and Lisa was aware of our transcribing abilities.  Like Abbie, I too went back and corrected my mistakes or words that I was not sure of as my confidence grew.

Learning to transcribe has helped me already as for my dissertation I have found a few letters on the National Archive website which I have to read and since our Paleography lecture and seminar I have found it somewhat easier to decipher these letters.   I am certain that learning to transcribe will help me further in my education and going forward.

To read these recipes gives great insight into how people of the time lived, ate, treated illnesses and shared their knowledge with family and friends.  Sadly this form of family traditions is dying out due to the technology of today which makes these old recipes and the transcribing of them even more important.


3 thoughts on “Transcribing

  1. I’m glad you felt quite apprehensive about transcribing also! I was very worried my modern grammar and spelling would accidentally ruin the transcribing, it was hard to get a grips on at first. I picked up on the variety of recipes on the two page spread also! Isn’t it bizarre how us modern day folk only see a recipe book as one strictly for foods, not just one which was for also clearing your houses of rodents and insects?! It’s very interesting and insightful.

  2. I agree that transcribing old documents is both exciting and useful when studying history. It is bit like learning a new language. I remember looking at old documents in the Essex Record Office and feeling really inadequate not being able to know what they said. It was as if I had never learned to read. Once you get the hang of some letters it becomes easier to piece things together. My favourite when learning how to read wills and marriage registers from the Elizabethan period was to remember that the letter ‘c’ looked very much like a current bun – worked perfectly.

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