Handwritten Documents

If your source text is in German script or poorly legible Roman script, I normally start by making a line-by-line transcription, retaining the exact spelling, capitalization, punctuation etc. of the original, including errors, insofar as legibility allows. I do this primarily for my own use, to expedite translation and proofreading, but I send it along to the client at no extra cost.

Here are some ways you can help streamline my task:

  • Provide reference material or background information
    Supporting documentation or background information may save verification time. The biggest challenge in reading old handwriting is unfamiliar personal or geographical names. For documents in which legibility may be an issue, please provide any relevant information you already know, such as names, relationships, and locations, and especially where the documented event was recorded.
  • Optimize legibility
    Please scan in color or grayscale if at all possible. For originals that are written in pencil or are faded, damaged, or too dark, I prefer JPEG images, at least 200 dots per inch (dpi), which I can adjust and enhance as needed. PDFs are fine if there are no legibility issues, but they cannot be modified. For photocopies, please use a grayscale or color setting if possible. If a page has lighter and darker areas, copy it at different darkness settings to ensure that all areas are legible in at least one copy. Copy oversize pages in two parts if necessary, but send a reduced copy of the entire page in addition (see below).
  • Send entire pages
    The larger sample of handwriting makes deciphering easier. Column headings are also important, and records often contain ditto marks or other references to an earlier entry on the page. The location and year may appear only at the top of the page. So even if you need only part of a page translated, send the entire page, and clearly mark the needed part(s).
  • Margins
    Note that European standard A4 paper is longer and narrower than US letter. Especially if there is writing in the margins or the main text extends to the very edge of the paper, check your copy against the original to make sure that nothing has been cut off.