New England's Hidden Histories actively seeks volunteers to help us with the transcription of the records of Congregational Churches and Congregationalists from early New England. Transcription is a tried and true method to make 18th-century manuscript records accessible for the widest possible audience. Further, transcription can increase the discoverability of digital objects by allowing searches to look within the text of the transcription.

The Congregational Library & Archives needs help with transcribing, editing, and formatting — a number of different skill sets. Some documents are appropriate for beginning transcribers, others for those with more experience. The transcription process is thus open to all volunteers regardless of current skill or experience levels.

Getting Started as a Transcription Volunteer
  1. Please contact the head of our transcription program, Helen Gelinas.
  2. In your introductory email, tell us a bit about yourself and your experience working with 18th-century manuscript materials.
  3. The head of the program will first provide transcribers with the full guidelines and style guide for transcribers. It is important for transcribers to fully understand these guidelines as standardization across all transcriptions is vitally important to the project.
  4. Once transcribers have read the guidelines, the head of the transcription program will deliver high quality digital images to work with. Typically these will be delivered ten at a time.
  5. Once transcription work has been completed, once again email the completed work to the head of the program, Helen Gelinas.
  6. The preliminary transcription will be sent to a checker who will then work with the transcriber for any corrections. At this point transcribers can request additional pages to transcribe.
  7. Finally the corrected version will be sent to the project editor who will perform any final checks and edits before handing it off the project director for compilation.
Getting Started as a Proofreader or Editor
  1. The CLA is always looking for experienced transcribers to work as editors and proofreaders whose work in the transcription workflow is vital.
  2. We ask that all persons interested in the proofreader or editor roles to please contact the project head, Helen Gelinas.


What might I discover?

Transcribing church records involves lists of births, deaths, and baptisms, but it also encompasses the records of pastoral meetings, church councils, and disciplinary cases. Local disputes contested in the records sometimes reveal the seedbeds of national change, such as in the case of the troubled conscience of one deacon in Byfield, Mass:


In 1781, Deacon Colman's conscience was disturbed. He was certain that given the choice, the pastor's African servant, Violet, would, like the colonists in the newly born nation, prefer to be free. The pastor, Rev. Moses Parsons, claimed that Violet did not wish to be freed, especially in such troublous times. Using the prestige of his office, Deacon Colman took his concerns door to door in the town of Byfield. Furthermore, he went to Violet directly and asked her himself if she would like to be freed.


But Deacon Colman's questions did not produce the effect he had desired. He was brought up on charges of "Injurious Treatment and Abuse of the Pastor." In response, he filed a counter-charge against Rev. Parsons for the crime of "man-stealing". It was left to the church council to decide whether the pastor could "justly be call'd a Thief" — especially in light of the deacon's new evidence, that Rev. Parsons had secretly planned to sell Violet for a sizeable sum…


Frequently, fascinating encounters such as the controversy in Byfield crop up in the records of early New England churches. As a Volunteer Transcriber, there is no telling what you may be the first to uncover in the records of New England's Hidden Histories.