Citizen Archivists

Be a part of historic preservation at the National Archives!

Do you have an interest in America history and an eye for detail? Become a Citizen Archivist! The National Archives is our government’s collection of documents and images that preserves important events in American history.  This organization is continually looking for volunteer transcribers to decipher various types of historical documents. Register, log in, and choose an area of interest to begin contributing to this important project.From tagging to full transcription, there are many options for your level of participation:

After registering, check out the Missions page for a project especially for new volunteers: 


For questions regarding your work, read the Best Practices for Transcription document: 


“The goal of transcription in the National Archives Catalog is to enhance searchability. Every word you transcribe helps improve search results for that document…many of the documents at the National Archives are handwritten records such as letters, memos, and reports.  Transcribing these primary sources helps us increase accessibility to historical records so that all of us can more easily read, search for, and use the information they contain…by transcribing documents, you can help us unlock history and discover hidden aspects of records and the stories they contain.” 

Projects are laid out well for volunteers.  Each page of an historical document is scanned in color and numbered.  Choose a page to work with, not necessarily in order.  Once you start, the page you are working on is marked with a blue flag, so others know someone is already working on it.  You save your work as you go along, and there is also the option to add tags containing other vocabulary words to aid in keyword searches.  Some pages are lengthier than others, some contain legible handwriting, others not so much, and some capital letters of the alphabet are written in an odd way (to us).  When transcribing your first page from a selected document, keep in mind that it takes a little while to become familiar with the way the handwritten alphabet was practiced in previous centuries.  Check Google when needed to look up older words that may no longer be used in modern English.  Do the best you can, and use your best judgement.  

Transcribing is a way to immerse yourself in the reality of history. Help complete documents, tag important data and just get into the flow of another era.  Want a home project? You may have an old box of letters that your grandparents wrote, letters from those serving their country in wartime, letters from your children, love letters, postcards or other handwritten documents. Now is a great time to organize, transcribe and scan those originals! 

As an example, in 2008 a project I was involved with was to transcribe all the letters of Altamont, NY resident Edward Cowley Jr. At the time I was a stay at home mom with a computer and an all-in-one printer/scanner. Ed’s mother kept all 228 letters from her son during his training and later deployment in World War II Europe. I was approached by Ed and his wife Bette to help preserve and present these letters as a historical document for the Library of Congress. Ed’s daughter discovered the letters may hold evidence that her father served with a liberating unit during the Holocaust: 

Ms. Cowley contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. after reading the letters. The 94th Infantry Division has never been recognized as a liberating unit, she said, and she wondered if the letters provided the documentation. 

I carefully transcribed each letter and postcard. I loved the cadence of the letters, the beautiful handwriting, the details about ordinary life. I felt like a part of their story. Each letter was scanned and then placed in an archival binder, making sure to preserve the order, envelopes and stamps. At the end of the project I had created an archival book of all the letters in chronological order. Digital copies of the entire collection were made available for the soldier’s family members. The whole project, including photographs and medals, was presented to the Library of Congress. 

– Edra Nehme 

Read about Ed Cowley and the letters he wrote here: 

For more about Ed’s local connections, check this link:

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