Historical society beginning project to transcribe colonial-era documents

Oct 11, 2019

The Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society is embarking on one of its most ambitious historical missions to date, and needs the community’s help to make it a reality. 

The project, which officially kicked off at a press conference on October 10, involves transcribing more than 6,000 individual pages of handwritten Quaker records. 

Since last year, volunteers and historical society experts have been digitizing the books by scanning them and creating electronic copies. Most of those files are already available on the Society’s website, dartmouthhas.org. 

The files are stored as images of each page, however, which makes searching the documents difficult. Questionable handwriting can be a challenge to decipher.

That’s why the Society is bringing a professional on board and is seeking volunteers to transcribe the thousands of pages of notes, records, and documents into an easily searchable set of computer files. 

At the press conference, DHAS President Bob Harding announced the group has brought Jane Fletcher Fiske on board to serve as project coordinator. She is an internationally known expert in genealogy, and has family roots and an interest in documenting Quaker Friends. 

“This is a major project with a budget of over $40,000,” Harding said. “There’s over 6,000 pages to decipher and transcribe. When you think of 6,000 pages, that’s a library. We need help.” 

Quakers are thorough record keepers. Since 1699, the Smith Neck Friends Meeting has kept detailed records on the happenings within its Meeting, and in the town. 

The records include a treasure trove of data for genealogists and historians, including listings of births, deaths, marriages transgressions, votes and deliberation, and “removals.” 

Quakers needed to certify in writing they were in good standing in order to move to another meeting. This process created a paper trail documenting where members moved to both locally and across the country. 

“It reflects the whole history of Dartmouth as dated, and certified primary documents,” Harding said. 

Harding said the organization’s goal is to complete the project in under two years. To do that, however, the organization is in need of both volunteers, and monetary donations. 

The group already has a good head start from several sources, and most recently accepted a $10,000 check from the Smith Neck Friends in support of the transcription program, and an in-kind donation of pamphlets to spread information about the project from the Dartmouth Friends of the Elderly. 

For more information on the project, and donation and volunteering information, visit dartmouthhas.org/quaker_project.html.