Transcribing the Freedmen's Bureau Papers

Thank you for being a digital volunteer! It’s very important that this work is performed in a standardized manner, so please make the effort to read and follow these instructions. Reach out to us anytime with questions by emailing the TC team at or the Freedmen's Bureau team at 


*Please note that given the historical time period in which the Freedmen's Bureau records were produced, and the wide range of experiences and topics included within these documents, you may encounter racially or culturally insensitive language, outdated terminology, and descriptions of violence and injustice. Transcribing these materials - and all of the language and information included within them - helps to ensure this history is not forgotten. Please remember that participation in the Transcription Center is entirely voluntary, and we encourage you to engage on a level to which you are most comfortable. Please refer to the additional information and resources below to learn more about the historical background and context of these records, and reach out with any questions regarding sensitive content 



General Instructions

Freedmen's Bureau records should be transcribed following the overall general transcription guidelines below. You can access a printable PDF version of these instructions here, and explore additional information on our TIPS page. Hosting a transcribe-a-thon on the Freedmen's Bureau records? You may find this one-page info sheet helpful!


Type what you see: transcribe grammar, punctuation, and spelling as it appears in the original document. Do not correct it. And please transcribe ALL content on a page - even information included in the 20th century by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA - where the original records are stored). 


Do not indicate font style, italicized, bolded, or underlined words. There is also no need to indicate the difference between handwritten and pre-printed or typed text on a document.


Avoid superscript. Instead type "2nd" or "McDonald."


Stamps or seals: you may encounter stamps from the Freedmen's Bureau or other federal offices, including the National Archives and Records Administration. Please transcribe what is on ALL of these stamps, such as dates and department names, and indicate that the information is included on a stamp by typing [[stamp]] and [[/stamp]] before and after your transcription.


Insertions in the text: type these out in the sentence in the order you would read it aloud. Do not use brackets or the caret symbol to indicate an inserted word.


If you cannot read or decipher a word, simply type [[?]] so other volunteers can continue working on it. If a page contains more than 2 [[?]] please DO NOT click the "Mark as Complete" button. 


Crossed out words: please indicate these by typing [[strikethrough]] or [[crossed out]] before and after [[/strikethrough]] [[/crossed out]] the word or text that has been marked through.


Ditto marks in the text: Please do not type the ditto symbol ( " ) instead, please type out what the ditto mark stands for in the text. Often, the "ditto" was written as "do." in Freedmen's Bureau records.


Margin notes: You may encounter footnotes and margin notes within the Freedmen's Bureau records. Please choose EITHER option A or option B below to transcribe these:

Option A: Margin notes can be transcribed after or before other linear text is transcribed (at the end or beginning of the main transcription text) & tagged in a way that indicates they’re additional notes/marginalia ex: [[left margin]] or [[margin note]] or [[note]] etc. See example page.  

Option B: If there are multiple margin notes, or footnotes (as is particularly common in Freedmen's Bureau Records), you can transcribe the marginalia or footnotes in the order they appear, following the ending of the letter or main entry in the original text. See example page

Remember, don't get bogged down on perfection and formatting. The main objective is to make this information searchable and readable, and to ensure that it is clear to anyone reading this transcription that a margin note is in fact, a margin note, or additional entry in the text. 


Columned Data and Tables:

Please remain consistent in your transcription of columned data across a project, and limit the use of brackets as much as possible. 

All transcriptions of pages containing tables should include, at the top of the transcription box, bracketed information on how many columns are included in the table.  For example: [[4 columned table]] 

Then begin transcribing the table by indicating the column headers. To start transcribing a table, type the column headers first, separating these using the pipe (|) symbol (press the shift + backslash key). Then underneath the column headers, type three or more hyphens (---) to separate the headers from the columned information, again using pipes (|) to separate each column. You can optionally add pipes on either end of the table. This format for transcribing tables follows markdown guidelines (or plain text). Transcribing tables in markdown allows for this information to be shared seamlessly from computer to computer, and system to system--maximizing the potential for these transcriptions to be adapted and used by a wide range of researchers.


For example: 

[[4 Columned Table]]

| Date | Name | Age | State |

| --- | --- | --- | --- |

| Aug. 7, 1865 | John Smith | 32 | Virginia | 


To demarcate between cells in table, use a vertical bar/pipe (|). Use this only to mark transitions left-to-right. No special mark is necessary for line breaks or new rows. Please include empty cells where appropriate, but do not feel the need to add empty rows. To transcribe empty cells, please simply use two vertical pipe bars (|) with three empty spaces in between. 

For example: |   |  (and refer to transcribed example page below, which contains multiple empty cells).

See example page here


Transcribing Numbers in Tables:

While transcribing and reviewing almanac tables, you may see numbers on their side. Please transcribe these as though they were upright with standard numerals: 1, 2, 3, etc.




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