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Join the AOTUS’s transcription project

His name is David Ferriero, and he goes by the acronym AOTUS.

That’s Archivist of the United States to anyone not in the know.

He’s America’s Collector in Chief, the head of the U.S. National Archives (NARA), and he’s looking for some help.

1000pagesThis week — March 15-21 — is Sunshine Week for government: the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information. It’s “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”1

And, Ferriero thought, how better to promote access to public information than to help transcribe some of the most interesting — and, by the way, genealogically useful — documents of our nation’s history?

So this week NARA’s AOTUS has a Transcription Challenge going on. Citizen-archivists are challenged — okay, invited — to join in the challenge to transcribe any one (or more!) of millions of pages of handwritten or typed documents held by NARA and available through its online catalog.2 By tagging and transcribing the documents, our work will make the information accessible through the catalog system. So the end result will be both text and, in effect, an every-name index to the transcribed documents.

And oh… the documents… they really are fun.

Here are just a few of the things you can choose to get involved with:

Papers of the Continental Congress, including handwritten depositions from men who were there at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Record Books of the Confederate Government, a wide variety of handwritten books from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government that are just chock-filled with information about soldiers and civilians caught up in the Civil War in the southern states.

Harriet Tubman Davis’s application for a widow’s pension based on the Civil War service of her husband Nelson — 100 pages or more of personal and family history of people born in slavery who served in freedom.

Records Relating to the Prosecution of Al Capone… or Bonnie and Clyde… or James “Whitey” Bulger… or a host of other federal criminal cases.

“Spirited Republic” records, from NARA’s exhibit highlight the government’s role in alcohol. Lots of alcohol labels and records for you to transcribe, including a Shamrock Brew Label.

Declassified records, a wide variety of records that used to be considered secrets of the United States. And CIA records too.

The goal is to have 1000 or more pages of historical documents transcribed during the week. The Legal Genealogist thinks this community can knock that goal out of the ballpark. Even the documents called advanced in this challenge are well within the average genealogist’s capabilities — we deal with bad handwriting all the time!

All you need to do is register for an account with the National Archives (it’s just a username and password deal), choose your target document and get started. The documents can all be downloaded or read online, and entering the tags (names, places and the like) and the transcription is really easy.

Just yesterday I transcribed one of the depositions from the Battle of Concord.3 Today I’m going to tackle one of the pages from the Record Books of the Confederate Government — how can you not want to help with a record that reads, in part: “The sentence of death pronounced by a General Court Martial against Private B B Knight Company D 42d North Carolina Infantry is remitted. He will be released from confinement and returned to duty”!?!4

So come on out and join AOTUS — and me — and genealogists and historians across the country and transcribe a page or two.

You can read more about this challenge in Ferriero’s own words at his blog, AOTUS.


  1. See “About,” Sunshine Week ( : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  2. See generally David Ferriero, “Participate in the #1000pages Transcription Challenge,” AOTUS: National Archives ( : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  3. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives ( : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “Deposition #18 of B(rad)bury Robinson, et al. Regarding the Events of April 18 and 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts Bay Colony”; Massachusetts State Papers, 1775 – 1787; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 – 1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765 – 1821, Record Group 360; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives ( : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “A&IGO – Special Orders, 1864”; Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government, 1874 – 1899; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825 – 1927, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
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