Transcription Tuesday 2021: Voices Through Time

Molly O’Doherty and Jo Blyghton of Coram explain how you can help transcribe records of children cared for at the Foundling Hospital

Children at the Coram Foundling Hospital

About the organisation and the project:

‘Voices Through Time: The Story of Care’ is an ambitious new programme from Coram, the UK’s oldest children’s charity, and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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Coram began in 1739 as the Foundling Hospital, founded by Captain Thomas Coram as the UK’s first dedicated home for children whose parents were unable to care for them.

On this project we are digitising and transcribing 112,000 pages of records covering the history of the Foundling Hospital. We will be able to make these completely accessible to all, by putting the digitised records and their transcriptions on a dedicated free website, Coram Story.

As well as the digitisation, we are also working with care experienced young people on the programme to deliver ten creative projects over a period of four years. These projects will help reveal the history of the care system and encourage care experienced young people to engage directly with the archive, enriching the ongoing story of care by adding their own voices to it.

About the records and how to get involved:

This Transcription Tuesday, we need your help to transcribe our first set of records from the Foundling Hospital archive, the General Registers. These are volumes that recorded the details of children admitted to the Foundling Hospital from 1741 onwards.

When children were taken into the Foundling Hospital they would be assigned a number, baptised and given a new name. The General Registers contain this information, alongside information on when the child left the Hospital and for what reason. A lot were apprenticed, but sadly, given the high infant mortality rates in society at the time, a large number of children did die very young.

These registers are an excellent key to unlocking the stories of children at the Foundling Hospital, as they show all their crucial information and movements during their time in care there.

To transcribe the records, we are using the crowd-sourced research platform Zooniverse. You can take part on the day by going to our project page here. We encourage you to register on the Zooniverse site if you’d like to stay involved throughout the day.

To get started you can visit the project page and scroll down to where it says ‘Get started’. There you will be given information about the General Registers and directed to a tutorial to help you begin transcribing.

Below is an example screenshot of the transcription task. On the left you will see an image of a General Register record and to your right you will see a box into which you can transcribe the information on the page.

Voices Through Time Transcription Tuesday screenshot

Our Zooniverse page will include helpful tips, guides and other contextual information about the records too, which will support you through the transcription process. If you have any questions on the day you can email us on voicesthroughtime@coram.org.uk.

Plans for the project and how the records will be used:

Other fascinating materials that will be digitised beyond Transcription Tuesday include letters from mothers appealing for their children to be admitted to the Hospital, books containing fabric tokens mothers left as a symbol of their connection to their children, and the details of the everyday lives of children cared for at the Hospital.

We hope that you’ll be engaged with the material and may even identity individuals that you decide you’d like to try and follow through their time at the Foundling Hospital. You will be able to do this by staying with us over the next three years as we work to transcribe all the records that are being digitised by London Metropolitan Archives, where the Foundling Hospital archive is housed and cared for.

With your time transcribing, the records will be brought to life for new audiences for the first time. Your transcriptions will help us broaden access to this unique collection and offer new and exciting opportunities for people to discover more about the Foundling Hospital and the lives of children in care in the past.

Researchers, people digging into their family history, educators, young people with experience of care, and anyone interested in learning more about the Foundling Hospital and Coram will be able to access these records. As part of the overall project, once transcription of the records is complete, they will be made accessible to the general public online.

If you would like to take part in this project over the next few years, or would like to receive news and updates about the programme you can sign up here.

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We are really excited about transcribing the records and can’t wait for you to join us in discovering the stories of children at the Foundling Hospital.