Everyone who loves genealogy knows it's fun to find family members and learn family history. But who would think it would be fun to transcribe old town or vital records that don't involve your family? Well, it actually is fun. I just finished transcribing The Vital Records of Durham, Maine for the Maine Genealogical Society (MGC) and I had a great time and learned a lot. The project took about two years and it was worth every minute!
As president of the Maine Genealogical Society, I wanted to be a part of their mission to transcribe and publish as many early vital records of Maine as possible. The Durham vital records is the 81st special publication of MGS. People can buy them at various MGS events and at www.maineroots.org. We offer these publications at a significant discount to our members and at a reasonable price to everyone. MGS volunteers have worked tirelessly to transcribe early vital records from the original town records and from images now available on www.familysearch.org. These records include births, marriages, deaths, some family records, church records, warnings out of town, cattle marks, and some town records. By looking at indexed records, users can find all names in seconds versus hours of scrolling throw rolls of microfilm. The Durham records also include a name and subject index which lets readers discover how many other places are mentioned in the records besides the actual town.
There are many benefits to transcribing town records. First, it makes a major contribution to genealogical research. The vital records, often unused because of difficulty in reading or access, became available, readable and easily searchable. In transcribing the records, the transcriber cannot help but learn about the history of a town and its people. One finds that old handwriting--initially an unintelligible scrawl--becomes easily readable. This helps in reading any old document. Most of all, you get a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
Shannon Plourde, Town Clerk of Durham, was delighted to receive a copy of the Vital Records of Durham Maine. As guardian of the told town records, she knew how much work had gone into the project and the amount of effort and skill involved.
Why did I choose to transcribe the records of Durham? In my many years of researching families of Maine, I had had many clients with families who lived in Durham. I felt like I knew people from the past. I had researched the Bragdons, Larrabees, Wilburs, Douglasses, Allens, Orrs, and Getchells and more. Durham families often inter-married and I had found where they lived on old cadastral maps of Durham. Many families moved through Durham from other places in Maine such as Scarborough, Bowdoin, Freeport, and Harpswell. Furthermore, I live about 10 miles from Durham and could easily visit the town office to check on original records. Moreover, the images were available and quite readable on www.familysearch.org.
For those of you considering transcribing old vital records, what might help you choose a town? Do you live in or near the town? Do you have family roots there? Do you have an interest in families who lived them? Was the town of historical important or a cross-roads? Are the images available on www.familysearch.org?