Should we start removing spurious accents from names? [closed]

+2 votes

There was a time when the Dutch Cape Colony project required names containing the letter 'u' to be entered with an accent if the original document seems to have one, although experienced transcribers know that such a mark was used in handwriting to distinguish 'u' form 'n'.

As a result of that policy, the name of the person in the cited profile is displayed as Willem (van Rensbùrg) van Rensburg.

More and more high-quality transcriptions have become available online. These transcriptions, made by experts, do not include those spurious accents. If I search on eGGSA for Child  with Rensburg anywhere in the surname with Willem anywhere in the first name, I get to such a transcription of the cited profile. On the other hand, a search for Child  with Rensbùrg anywhere in the surname  in all the registers resulted in no matches from from 47609 records,

Last time I brought up that topic, a member of the project management team answered thus:

You can see that if you start adding rules or interpretations to the way it was written, then those same researchers with the same resources could end up on different profiles because how will we ever know if each of them is using the same rules or interpretations.

The answer was actually starred as best by another member of the project management team.

A year has passed, during which attitudes may have changed, so I ask once again: is it not time to get rid of these distracting accents?

WikiTree profile: Willem van Rensburg
closed with the note: There is nothing more to be said.
in Genealogy Help by Dirk Laurie G2G6 Mach 3 (35.6k points)
closed by Dirk Laurie

Don't put those professionals on such a high pedestal Here they have the date wrong as well as the surname Link  Should be 1771 and Scholtz

1770 Oct 13
Martha Christina
Baptised: 1770, den 13 Octbr:
Father: Jochem Schotz
Mother: Catharina van Wijk
Witnesses: Gerrit van Wijk, en Jacomina van Wijk, Hermanus Esterhuijsen, en Anna Scholtz
Source: Nederduits Gereformeerde Gemeente (NGK), Tulbagh, Baptism register, 1743 to 2 Feb 1800, page 107, entry number 71. Repository: NG Kerkargief, Noordwal-Wes, Stellenbosch, G4 7/1. Transcribed by Lynn Couperthwaite, Trysie Joubert, Richard Ball as part of the eGGSA Project, from VC 657, Cape Archives Repository

Before responding to that red herring, let me rephrase my point: accents on the letter 'u' in old manuscripts are no more significant than dotting i's and crossing t's. and to reproduce them in transcriptions makes WikiTree (or perhaps just this one project of it) look like a bunch of people who do not know this.

Of course one must check everything, but my experience has been that it happens much more often that I find mistakes in my own transcriptions on WikiTree when I revisit them a few months later, than in the eGGSA transcriptions.

Have you reported that error to Richard Ball?
Dirk even they will tell you to report errors on their own data. The point is you cannot say that because they do not have those special characters in their database that they are right. It is quite possible that they still have a technological limitation like we had on WikiTree.
If that is your reasoning, why does the project not also insist on undotted i's (ı) and long esses (ſ), which characters are also available with current technology?

Ask yourself this question: in printed sources from the 18th century, have you ever seen Rensburg etc with an accent on the 'u'?

I must confess that I suspect you of knowing full well what is right, but just arguing for the sake of argument.
I haven't started arguing. I just pointed out the gaps in your argument.
Causing grievous mental confusion. ☺

2 Answers

+4 votes

Hi Dirk

Dirk for now I don't feel the need to change a system that is in place since we start the CoGH. I am not an expert in this field (transcriptions) but this is what I manage to find online.

" A transcript or transcription is a true word-for-word rendering of a document with the original punctuation and spelling. All notes and marks on any page are copied as faithfully as possible in the presented formatting. Depending on the condition and legibility of an old document, it may require considerable concentration and perhaps comparison with another in the same scribe’s hand. Whether a document was created or hand-copied for legal purposes (e.g. wills, deeds), or written by an agent on behalf of an uneducated party (e.g. letters, petitions, applications), does not necessarily guarantee that it will be literate or easy to read." -(

Just my five cents!!!

Will love to hear more opinions on this subject.

by Susanna Hendrina Elisa de Bruyn G2G6 Mach 4 (42.2k points)
Well, since you are quoting FamilySearch, one should look at their own transcriptions to see what those words mean in practice. I have seen the odd exception, but by and large their transcribers know what they are doing, and inter alia they know that funny accents on 'u' in old manuscripts mean nothing more than that they are not the letter 'n'.

A transcription should in the first place serve its purpose and in the second place be faithful to the original. That is to say, the first question should be: what is this transcription to be used for?

In genealogy, there are only two important questions: (a) who were your parents? (b) are these two persons actually the same? The purpose of a transcription is not served by mangling the surname to the point where answering those questions is made harder.
And this phrase "in place since we start the CoGH" is just the type of attitude that I am arguing against. "We made that error so long ago that it has been enshrined."

Wrong is wrong.


Give me a few days, I did email 2 professional transcribers to hear what they will do in similar situation.

I will share their reply and then we can decide how to take it from there :) 

Ok guys

I have contacted Richard Ball via email, this is his reply

Generally speaking, however, the policy eGGSA is certainly to transcribe as closely as possible the original, including accented letters.

One particular accented letter that is not transcribed as such is ú - this convention was used  (in Dutch) to render easily distinguishable a hand-written u from a handwritten n. Since it does not indicate any particular pronunciation or emphasis we feel it is very adequately transcribed by the letter  u  which, in a modern typeface, is not confusable with n - this, we feel, helps to make the text more legible to a modern reader and alters the sense or pronunciation not at all. 
é should always have been transcribed, as also ç and ö where they are used by the original scribe.

Susan> Image:
S> - Dirk - with LNAB Coetze spelled Coetzë

Richard>: Yes, certainly - I think that should be transcribed as it stands:
Coetzë - also note the first entry on that page 'Radijn' the letter that looks like ÿ is intended to stand for ij and is always transcribed as ij in Dutch.

Susan> Susanna Löefke
yes, although it is a bit difficult to tell if the diaresis is over the o or the e 

Susan> If I have it correct: In the 2 examples I provide, if I transcribe it, I will type it exactly as stated on the image.
Richard> I would certainly do so.

I have also contact a company that specialize in this. 

In a telephone conversation with Magie of TGI, her answer: If you make a transcript of a document, it must be typed exactly as it appears on the original document. I specifically asked her about the issue of the ú and ń. Her feedback was: If it is on the handwritten document, it should be typed like that in the transcription to make it a “true” transcription.(if anyone want to contact her, feel free to google the company or email me for contact details)

So all that said, I think all the funny thingetjies will stay in use. If the members of the CoGH project wish we can have a vote on the issue with the u / n.

I don'r know what TGI stands for, and could not find it on Google, but Magie sounds as if she knows what she is talking about. Richard Ball is of course very well known to everybody in South African genealogy.

You are well within your rights to use your own casting vote. I have been in a similar situation as an editor of a scientific paper and am aware that getting a third opinion begs the question: the choice of whom to ask is tantamount to making the decision oneself.

Thank you for taking the question seriously and getting expert opinion. I shall not raise the matter again.
Hi Susan,

In my opinion there is a difference between doing a true transcription of a document and a transcription for use of a surname as they did at the time. This only concerns the diacritics above the u and n which if it is apparent from the document that the writer used it to distinguish his own handwriting, it definitely does not form part of the name that was written for the purpose of an LNAB transcription. That is the way we also incorporated it into  SA Roots
+3 votes
by Ronel Olivier G2G6 Mach 7 (76.8k points)

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