The diligent and talented contributors to DIY History have now transcribed more than 35,000 pages of manuscript diaries, letters, recipes and telegrams! And this number does not reflect the thousands of pages of proofreading our crowdsourcers have also accomplished, bringing these documents to life and to the eyes of researchers. The transcribed pages tell the stories of Civil War soldiers and their families, of Iowa women making lives for themselves and their communities, of the glories of the kitchen from the 1600s to the twentieth century, of the machinations of railroad barons, and the high ideals of a football hero. Thanks to all of you for the gift of your time and talents.
About Author: Christine Tade
Posts by Christine Tade
We’ve been in touch with one of our most faithful DIY History transcribers, Roger. He didn’t intend to get so drawn into the project when he first visited our site, but now he admits that “things like eating and mowing get in the way but I’ve managed to blow off most other things cause I’m addicted to this.” Besides transcribing the manuscript pages, at which he has become expert, he likes to monitor the “Recent changes” log, which records all the work done by various contributors, and is accessible to anyone who creates a DIY History account. Like other frequent transcribers, he has an eerie sense of entering the private thoughts of writers long ago: “I keep thinking we’re almost invading something private these people from 200 years ago never expected anyone, but maybe a daughter or grand daughter would ever see their writings. It’s a great look into the “olden” times.” Roger has spent a lot of time transcribing recipes in the Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbook collection, and has come across some really harrowing dishes, which make full use of body parts. He knows someone who worked at a meat locker for years, and even she “has no interest at all in the tongue, feet, head or any other questionable parts of meat, like udder. She hated to handle a tongue, no way is she going to eat it.” Ah, how times and palates change. Roger has found a way to multi-task his hobbies: “I use my 46 ” flat screen as my monitor so I can kick back in the lazy boy and start typing and deciphering. I finally decided Sunday I wasn’t able to watch TV and type at the same time and a Nascar race was on. So I did a bit of rearranging so I could watch on the older 27 ” TV while online and if something interesting came up I could jump back on the flat screen to see wrecks or whatever.”
Another of our best transcribers is British; his hobbies include deciphering Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, gardening, and fine cooking. He has dedicated himself to transcribing and proofreading the Civil War Diaries and Letters, and sometimes reports to us his discoveries about old American slang and expressions, such as “wooden nutmegs and flannel sausages.”
We love to hear the transcribers’ stories, as they help us share the stories of these old manuscripts.
A Paradise pudding
If you’d have a good pudding pray mind what you’re taught
Take two pen ‘sworth of eggs when they’re twelve for a groat
Take of the same fruit which Eve once did cozen
When pared & well chopp’d at least half a dozen
Six ounces of bread (let your maid eat the crust)
The crumb must be grated as fine as fine dust
Six ounces of sugar won’t make it too sweet
Some salt & some nutmeg to make it complete
To these you may add if you are willing and handy
Some good lemon peel & a large glass of brandy
On the last page of James Doak’s 1760s Art of cookery, following recipes for ketchup and pickled mushrooms, we find what appears to be a catalog of his library, an impressive collection for the time. He lists the classics: Shakespeare, Pope, Cato, Milton, the Bible, as well as some intriguing titles: Whytt on Lyme water, and A Conversation on the Plurality of Worlds, a French Enlightenment discourse on the Copernican world view. Doak’s book is one of the manuscript cookbooks waiting to be transcribed on our DIY History website: http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe
Please delve in and discover what other gems lie between the interestingly stained pages!
Unless we have rain and that very soon the corn crop in this state will be almost a complete failure … The last rain that we have had to amount to any thing or wet the ground more than to lay the dust fell last April. So you may judge for your self whether we need any rain in Iowa. The women say if we do not get rain that there will be no “inyens nor beens, nor potatoes,” if that be so we will have to live without the vegetable matter, over which they do the principal superintending – the women I believe generally “boss” the affairs in the garden, and I suppose they have a right so to do …
In a twelve-page letter from soldier Sam Clark to his sweetheart Tillie Wise back in Iowa, a paean to the power of correspondence to lift the spirits of the troops:
“I do think it does Soldiers the most good of any other race of beings to get letters. If you could only see them gather around when the camp mail is being distributed, each one trying to be the nearest to the mail man whoes province it is to distribute, and should any of them happen to receive more than one letter on the same day it is more than the mind can digest, until the excitement produces a kind of reaction on their mental digestive organs. It seems to me that I can go through camp after the mail has been disbursed, and by the fallen chops and broad grins, I think I can point out nearly every man who has been fortunate enough to receive a “friendly scratch” from the dear ones left behind. Soldiers are with letters
like gold seekers “If an ounce of diamonds were to fall into their hand every day they would hold out the other hand just as eager for more.” I think that will apply to the Soldiers in regard to receiving letters
During a war conducted without telephones, Skype, or even reliable mail delivery, Civil War soldiers treasured their letters from home – and lucky for us, because they kept them all their lives and passed them down through their families to us. William Titus Rigby expresses his gratitude to his correspondents eloquently:
“I never received a letter in my life which gave me as much pleasure as these two did. You must remember how we are Situated away from home of course & without any mail for two weeks… when we are not expecting them comes those messages from home. It is a poor comparison to say they came like “Sunbeams in a Shower” It is as though a person completely lost in a dark night Should suddenly recognize the light burning in his own home.”
In an interview on NPR May 29, Professor J. David Hacker was interviewed about his census data research which leads him to posit that the accepted estimate for number of Civil War casualties is too low, and instead should be roughly 750,000. This is an enormous number, but to truly convey the magnitude of the tragedy and its impact on the country, Hacker points out that the population of the U.S. in the 1860s was about 10 times less than it is now, so that an equivalent war loss today would be 7.5 million deaths. Reading our Civil War diaries and letters with this in mind, we marvel that any of our writers lived to return to their families, and we are grateful that both the survivors and those who lost their lives took the time to make a record of their experience. Imagine the anxiety of those back home, waiting for the next mail, and wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again.
It’s the Spring equinox, and the flowers are bringing us back to life, perennially a cause for celebration as the Iowa Digital Library illustrates.
For the sake of consistency in the transcriptions of the Civil War diaries and letters, here are a few more guidelines and a short list of some common abbreviations and older spellings:
- Enter line breaks to indicate sections of the letter – salutations, paragraphs, signatures, postscripts
- Do not transcribe text that has been crossed out, and simply transcribe interpolations above or below the line as if they were part of the text without special symbols
- If you are unsure of a word or phrase, please use square brackets with a question mark between them, or your best guess followed by a question mark
- Common abbreviations and their full spellings include: inst. = a date in this month (e.g. the 15th inst.); ult. = a date in the previous month (5th ult.); &c = et cetera; QM = Quarter Master; Capt. = Captain; Lieut. or Lt. = Lieutenant; Maj. = Major; Col. = Colonel; Prov.Gen. = Provost General; Adjt. = Adjutant; Regt. = Regiment; Brig. = Brigade; Cav. = Cavalry; Inf. = Infantry; Vols. = Volunteers; Col. Inf. = Colored Infantry; R.R. = railroad; HdQrs. = Head Quarters
- Common “misspellings” and writing conventions: ware = were; thare = there; very = very; evry = every; evening = evening; perhapse = perhaps; attacted = attacked; fiew = few; greaddeal or great eal or gread eal = great deal; fs = ss (e.g. mifses = misses)