This transcription project focuses on the Bethlehem Boarding School operated by the Moravians.
My transcription of the Bethlehem Boarding School roster began as part of my early work on students attending the Boarding School in the 1790s. My initial work on the Boarding School focused on the March 1792 the visit of several Iroquois dignitaries to Bethlehem. I wanted an easily accessible document where I could collect basic biographical information about the students and their families. Additionally, I wanted a document where I could add biographical information that I found during my ongoing research. The purpose of the document wasn’t necessarily a true transcription. I wanted a resource that I could consult so I could inject my work with some narrative detail about the students and their families. The beginning stages of this transcription focused on the period between 1786 and roughly 1795. My early work on the Boarding School culminated in an essay that appeared in the edited collection, Liminality, Hybridity, and American Women’s Literature: Thresholds in Women’s Writing.
A Research Intervention
In the early days of my research I came across William C. Reichel’s A History of the Rise, Progress, and Present Condition of the Bethlehem Female Seminary. Reichel’s book is an exhaustive history of the Bethlehem Boarding School. The book includes the history of the school as written by Reichel, and it features a significant portion of excerpted archival documents. During the time I spent working in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, I ran across many of the documents used by Reichel. I have come to rely heavily on Reichel’s book as a work of history and as a source of primary documents. As I saw more of the original documents Reichel worked with for the creation of his book, the more I came to admire his modest editorial touch when it came to textual editing. In short, I trust the accuracy of Reichel’s work. I was more than thrilled to find an inexpensive copy of Reichel’s book for sale at the Moravian Archives.
However, all of the above is not to say that Reichel’s book is not without problems for someone researching the Bethlehem Boarding School. In the course of my research the most significant problem I ran into was Reichel’s transcription of the Boarding School Roster. Here and there were a few missing items or a few minor inaccuracies. The most frustrating thing about Reichel’s transcription was the decision to organize the roster alphabetically by year, thus eliminating some of the most useful information for tracking down subsequent information about the students and their families. Reichel’s omission of significant parts of the roster isn’t a problem if one wants to follow up on information about Ann and Maria Jay, the daughters of John Jay, but his omission becomes troublesome when attempting to follow up on students that were not the daughters or wards of men and women with deep roots in archival resources.
The roster of the Bethlehem Boarding School found in the Moravian Archives is a rolling list of students entering the school. Generally, each entry for a student contains the following information:
- The student’s name
- The guardian’s name
- The student’s hometown
- The student’s date of birth
- The student’s arrival date
All of the fields listed are important pieces of information. However, the arrival date of each student might be the most helpful piece of information in uncovering threads of connection between the families sending students to the Boarding School. When a large group of students arrives from the same location on the same date, it suggests a connection between the students. Having access to the specific arrival date represents breadcrumbs leading to the establishment of a connection, whether it is through direct family ties or through shared business, political, or social connections between families and individuals.
While it is easy to examine Reichel’s chronological and alphabetical rendition of the roster and discern connections between Jays and Livingstons, it is more difficult to discern the connections between less well-known families. For example, in Reichel’s roster Caroline Broome and Amelia Platt are two young girls arriving in Bethlehem in 1793. However, the archival version of the roster informs us that both girls arrived in Bethlehem on the same day; Caroline Broom from New Haven, Connecticut and Amelia Platt from New York. The additional nexus of information regarding the two girls is enough to begin piecing together a connection. In this case, the two girls are related. Samuel Broome and Jeremiah Platt were in-laws and business partners engaging, at various times, in business dealings in both Connecticut and New York. In another example, the roster’s specific arrival dates are helpful in establishing connections between the Bowen and Halsey families of Rhode Island. While someone versed in the genealogies of various early American families might discern these connections through a glance at Reichel’s version of the roster, my transcription of the roster affords the opportunity to find the breadcrumbs of connection between students, thus alleviating the person consulting the transcription of needing to be an expert on the social and family connections of early America.
A Digital Humanities Intervention
The roster of the Bethlehem Boarding School, and its existence in the form of my transcribed spreadsheet, represents data— nearly 20,000 points of data. Not all of these data fields existed in the original roster. Many of the additional fields created for the spreadsheet replicate existing information from the roster, but these points are rendered separately so they can be accessed, read, and used by various digital humanities tools. The spreadsheet proves not only a useful resource for consultation; it also provides an organized and usable data set. With the assistance of the spreadsheet we can map various points of location, we can chart changes over time. If there is a tool—or if there is a code written—the data here can be mined.
Currently, the transcribed version of the roster contains the following fields:
- Student Full Name
- Student First Name
- Student Middle Name
- Student Last Name
- Guardian Name
- Guardian First Name
- Guardian Middle Name
- Guardian Last Name
- Guardian Gender
- Arrival Date
- Admission Year
- Student Birth Date
- Additional DH Specific Fields
My transcription of the Bethlehem Boarding School roster began its life as a reference tool for my personal research. During the early stages of the document’s creation I did not employ any specific transcription guidelines, other than employing best-practices for creating a fair-copy transcription. In other words, I transcribed what was on the archival page. My initial approach to transcription reflects my training in the theory and practice of textual editing. Some entries, in certain cases, were difficult to decipher; in such cases I cross-referenced my transcription with Reichel. In general, my use of Reichel aided me in figuring out letters I couldn’t read. In some cases, Reichel provided alternative spellings for the names of people and locations. I did not transcribe the document with specific guidelines for reconciling the differences between what I saw on the page and what Reichel saw on the page.
However, it is now time for me to work through the final edits and standardization of my transcription. Below you’ll find a description of my guidelines and the reasoning behind them.
The Transcription, In General
In the main, I intend to follow exactly what is written on the archival page. Specific deviations will be detailed below. At the time of writing this document, the most signification editorial interventions occur during the period between 1786 and 1795, representing the time that I’ve spent the bulk of my research on over the past few years. These interventions reflect the information that I’ve gathered from sources like Find A Grave, Founders Online, city directories, and contemporary newspapers. My transcription, regardless of any deviation from the original archival source, remains a usable document. Frankly, in terms of textual editing, the stakes of this project aren’t the same stakes of editing the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the plays of Shakespeare. Any subsequent editorial changes, beyond these guidelines for establishing a document that moves beyond a rough transcription, will be for the purposes of facilitating additional research. In short, the transcription is a usable document as it exists right now, but it is a living document that will benefit from additional research that confirms names and adds omitted information.
Student Names and Guardian Names
Outside of the period 1786-1795, I’ve recorded the student names as they were written in the original roster. My initial research indicates that in many instances students’ first and middle names were Germanized. Based on future research I intend to use Anglicized names, but in cases of students with direct ties to the Moravians, I will use the Germanized names. There is an interesting quirk of the roster that facilitates identifying students that were part of the Moravian community—their names are often written in the German Kurrent script used by the Moravians. While standardizing the names aids in further research using genealogical sites and archival newspapers, guardian names are usually enough to start tracking down students. Additionally, the names of several guardians are abbreviated; I will replace these abbreviations with full names, when possible.
In some cases the roster records the occupation of a student’s guardian. I have included this information if it is indicated. I’ve added this information if I’ve run across it during the course of my research. Many of the men and women that sent students to the Boarding School wore many different hats of the course of their lives. Further standardization of this aspect of the spreadsheet will likely reflect how this document might be used in various DH projects.
I’ve begun the process of standardizing location names by modernizing them. In some instances, locations no longer exist. Some locations were consolidated into other communities. Some locations are specific down to the place of residence— Livingston Manor, for example. Standardization of locations is guided by using modern place names for the purposes of digital mapping. In some instances, I’ve retained locations (Philadelphia neighborhoods, for example) because they can be successfully mapped with tools like Google Maps.
My spreadsheet contains a handful of fields related to locations. First, there is the location listing for the original transcription of the Boarding School Roster. Second, there are the added data fields for municipalities and states. Originally, I proposed to standardize location names. I will still standardize and modernize location names for the added DH-data fields related to locations. However, I’ll record locations as originally listed on the Boarding School Roster. What does this mean? Cities mentioned in the roster, like Philadelphia and New York, will be listed as such; the DH-specific data fields pertaining to location will be updated to include states. Locations listed like Jersey, for example, will be listed as Jersey, but the location DH-specific data fields will be updated to New Jersey.
The fact that I’ve written a great deal about my transcription might suggest that it is currently a mess. However, that is not the case. The transcription as it exists now is relatively accurate and, more importantly, usable as it exists right now. In essence, what I’ve articulated in this document sets the stages for the standardization of my transcription as I prepare to share it with others and use it in other digital projects. Feel free to leave a comment below with any thoughts or observations about the document.