Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the MHS manuscript transcription crowdsourcing project!

What is a transcription and why does the MHS do it?

Transcription is the process of converting handwritten documents, diaries, or other kinds of manuscripts into readable texts (often stored as electronic files) that are easy for people to scan quickly or read leisurely. Digital files containing transcriptions offer great potential for discoverability via search tools and display via web pages or various devices. This helps further educational and research goals for everyone.

Transcription helps:

  • Turn handwritten manuscripts into a digital format.
  • Provide more available and accessible resources for students and researchers.
  • Decipher text with legibility issues and turn into an easy-to-read format.

What is the crowdsourcing transcription tool?

The MHS has developed this tool to allow volunteers to help in the important work of transcribing our digitized manuscripts. Eventually the text will be searchable and more accessible. A pilot project to test and refine the crowdsourcing tool and review the transcriptions of a small selection of the digitized collections will run from April 11 to June 30.

Funding from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati supported two rounds of testing for this website. Funding from an anonymous organization supported the beta launch.

Why is the MHS asking for help with transcriptions?

The MHS has recently digitized a number of collections related to marginalized communities, including African Americans, the poor, and Native Americans. However, there are no item-level descriptions or transcriptions for the digital images. We have developed a crowdsourcing tool transcription that overlays the fully digitized collections available through our collection guides. Eventually, this project will help to create searchable transcriptions of these documents, and in the future the transcriptions will make these collections infinitely more accessible.

What is the time commitment?

On average, visitors should expect to spend 30-60 minutes per page. However, visitors can save work and leave the page before it is complete. When you return later, you can find the transcriptions you have worked on in the menu under your username in the upper right corner of your screen (click on “My Activity” to see the list of your recent work).

Do I need to register to use the tool?

Yes, you will need to create a username and password to log in to the tool and create transcriptions. Individuals who have logged in can also read transcriptions that others have created. Please visit our digital volunteers page to begin.

How do I get started?

Click ‘Sign up’ in the upper right of your screen to create an account, then log in to access your account. Once you are logged into your account, click ‘Browse Projects’ in the upper left. After the Projects page loads, scroll down to “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals” and click on the blue button: “View this project”

The easiest way to find a page that hasn’t been transcribed is to look for the “Show” dropdown box and select “not yet transcribed” from the dropdown menu. 

Screenshot showing where to choose not-yet-transcribed items.

Look for a small image of a manuscript page labelled “Transcribe” and click on the image or the word “Transcribe.”  The manuscript collections viewer will open.  Click on the blue “Transcribe this Image” button at the top center of the web page.  A text box workspace for the transcription appears with a link to the transcription guidelines for the project. This is what an in-progress page looks like:

Screenshot showing the user interface for transcribing.

If you have questions please refer to the Full Transcription Guidelines or send a message to .

Watch this video for more help:

What do the color-coded labels on the project pages signify?

When you are viewing a project, such as the John Rowe Diaries, or the Luman Boyden Missionary Journals, the browse view shows a grid of pages. Each page appears as a thumbnail with a status bar and status label. If a transcription is unfinished or not started, the status bar will be yellow with the label, “transcribe.” Click on any thumbnail labeled “transcribe” to contribute to that page’s transcription. If a transcription is waiting to be reviewed the status bar will be orange; all users may view these transcriptions, only the designated reviewer may revise these transcriptions. If a transcription is finished and reviewed, its status bar will be green; these transcriptions have been completed and they are viewable to users who have logged into the website.

Can I save a transcription and finish it later?

Yes! At the bottom of the transcription text box click ‘Save and close.’ When you return later, you can find all the transcriptions you have worked on in the menu under your user

NOTE: If you are stepping away from an unfinished transcription, make sure to save your work! The site will eventually time out and your work will NOT be saved automatically.

What happens after I submit my work?

Completed transcriptions will be reviewed by a staff member.  We expect the review process to take between 2 and 10 days depending on how many pages volunteers complete during the pilot project.  Transcriptions that are in progress, completed, or reviewed are all visible to users who log in.

What collections are being used for the pilot project?

We are beginning with the missionary journals of Luman Boyden. A Methodist clergyman employed by the Boston City Missionary Society, Boyden was born in Walpole, Mass. in 1805 to Jeremiah Boyden and Catherine Plimpton. He married Mary Dudley and had three children, Helen, Mary, and Jeremiah. Boyden died in New York in 1876. The collection consists of four manuscript journals of Boyden documenting his missionary work in East Boston, Mass. Detailed, daily entries describe families' poverty and privations; alcoholism; domestic violence and other crimes; suicides; illnesses such as tuberculosis, smallpox, and typhoid fever; and Boyden's attempts at conversion, distribution of Bibles and tracts, and advocacy of temperance. Boyden describes sending people to the Deer Island almshouse (a.k.a. House of Industry) and visiting inmates in prison. Entries list names and addresses, including many tenement blocks. Some entries relate to Boyden's personal activities, such as meetings, school visits, religious rites he officiated, and family matters. Also included are some monthly reports to the Boston City Missionary Society, as well as entries related to fellow missionary Armeda Gibbs, an abolitionist who had helped freedom seekers and became the first female nurse for the Union during the Civil War.

Question not answered?

If you have questions about transcribing, please refer to our full guidelines. For specific guidance on deciphering Luman Boyden’s handwriting, please see these tips from our seasoned transcribers.

If you have a question about creating an account, starting a transcription or otherwise navigating the website, please refer to this illustrated guide.

If you are still having trouble with the website or would like to discuss another issue, please send an e-mail to