What is the difference between a "Transcription", an "Extract", and an "Abstract"

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This is one of a series of articles on Genealogical Methods, prepared in association with The Tapestry. See Index for a list of related articles.


Extract or Abstract. The Indepth Genealogist, Michelle Goodrum, 2005



Verbatim Transcriptions, Transcriptions, Extracts, and Abstracts are a set of terms used to describe how information has been taken from an Original Source document.

  • Verbatim transcription: An exact, word for word version of the original document
  • Transcription: Identical to a Verbatim Transcription, except that spelling and grammar may be updated and/or corrected. The spelling of names, however, should not be changed.
  • Extract: A Transcription that focuses only on the relevant portions of the original document. It might, for example, exclude standardized, pro forma, phrases such as appear in land records, wills, etc., but which provide little if any useful information for the reader. Substantive, informative, portions of the original text are still provided. E.g., would include a description of bequests
  • Abstract: A more concise, compact version of an extract, often representing a reorganization of the original information making some use of the abstractors own words, often limited to only essential information E.g., focuses on persons identified in the will, provides minimal information about bequests

In general, the verbatim transcript most closely represents the original document, while the abstract is least close to the original. Two conventions are in common use to help distinguish where information has been left out, or added for clarification.

Elipses (…) are routinely used indicate where information has been left out. Such information is said to have been "elided". Elipses are most commonly encountered in abstracts, sometimes encountered in abstractions, but would never be found in transcriptions, verbatim or otherwise.
Square Brackets ([---.]) are used to indicate where information has been added to help clarify meaning of a portion of a document. Parentheses should NEVER be used for this purpose, as they can be confused for something presented in the original as a parenthetical comment. Prior to the 20th century, square brackets were rarely used, and so can usually be used to reliably distinguish between the original authors work, and that of the extractor.