Transcription: Unusual Text

Text in margins

Marginalia is text written around the main text block. It is often a comment on the main body text, but can be unrelated. It differs from an insertion, in that it was not intended to be woven into the main text.

Transcribe marginalia within square brackets and asterisks [* *]. If it comments on a specific portion of the text, order it after that text. Put it at the end of the transcription if it appears unrelated. Transcribe all original punctuation within the [* *], including parentheses. Example: We are met on a great battlefield of that war. [*Refers to Gettysburg*]

Non-English languages, characters, and translation

Many languages are found in our campaigns. All text should be transcribed wholly and accurately in the original language.

Use the correct characters when transcribing non-English text. For example, do not substitute C for Ç. You can use alt codes to enter non-English characters. See our Spanish and Latin cheat sheets.

Do not enter translation! If you want to translate a document, you can share it in History Hub!


Do not transcribe shorthand. Some of our campaigns include shorthand text, a note-taking method popular in the early 20th century that substituted symbols for words and phrases to quickly capture text (here's an example).

Many forms of shorthand exist and shorthand transcription can be closer to translation. When you recognize shorthand, just insert [[shorthand]]. You can also add the tag "shorthand."

Other symbols and special characters

Transcribe symbols and other special characters as they are used in the original. Most common are ampersands (&), currency ($, £, etc.), and the silcrow (§, used in legal documents). Here's more help for early American and British Colonial currency.


Text written or printed on thin paper, like letterbooks, will often have bleed-through. Ink from the proceeding page seeps through the paper or is visible through it and appears to be written backward. Ignore backward mirror image text. You can go to the previous page to transcribe it.

Long s or "funny" f

Some historical handwriting and printing uses the "long s", which looks like a lowercase "f". Transcribe this as a lowercase "s".


Some documents contain tables of data, such as accounting records or statistical information. Transcribe these in a way that will preserve the relationships between columns and rows, and reflect the meaning of the original documents. Don't worry about replicating layout, just try to capture the data and make your transcription relatively easy for a reviewer to check. You can use spaces and hard returns, but please do not add characters such as the pipe symbol or slashes to divide the data.


Some letters include "cross-writing" where the author layered text in two directions to save on paper or postage. Transcribe a cross-written page in the order you would read it. You can also add the tag "cross-writing."