In one of the scrapbooks at Jenks Library, there is a page of copied newsprint columns. The date, title, page number, and publication place of the newspaper are unknown, but the page includes, “Diary of Sarah Faulkner. Born March 18, 1756, of Colonel Francis Faulkner and Lizzie Muzzey Faulkner.” Quoted excerpts follow about events leading up to and during the American Revolution. At first glance, the page could seem to be describing a firsthand source about Acton, produced by a young woman at a critical time in its history. The account was originally indexed in our files merely as “Sarah Faulkner’s Diary,” but more investigation showed that our page came from a high school history composition completed in 1936. What struck us was how easy it would have been, if that “diary transcription” had been posted online, for someone’s imaginative exercise to spread as “fact.”
Transcriptions that we find on the internet can be wonderful sources that allow us to search for topics of interest quickly and easily. Sometimes the original can be very hard to track down, but as our example shows, it is worth finding out where a transcription came from. It is especially helpful when transcriptions are accompanied by digitized versions of the original documents. For example, in Acton we are lucky to have online access to our earliest town records, both digital images and indexed and searchable transcriptions, thanks to the efforts of Acton Memorial Library and some dedicated volunteers. (Original, Transcription)
Jenks Library and many other archives have extensive collections of diaries, journals, and letters, many of which have never been transcribed. While they can be frustratingly incomplete when one is looking for a specific piece of information, they are incomparable sources for understanding the actual interests and concerns of people in earlier times.
A small sampling of original sources in our collection:
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