Extract or Abstract? Both Are Vital Skills 2

In my last post, Ten Tips and Reasons to Transcribe Documents, we discussed transcribing or making an exact copy of a document. Sometimes we need to be more concise. This is where abstracting or extracting comes in. These are skills we use in all aspects of our family history research, not just land and property records.

First, what’s the difference between an extract and an abstract? An extract is a word for word copy of important portions of a document. An abstract summarizes the important points in a document. Abstracts also allow for the use of your own personal style.


How are extracts and abstracts similar?

  • Both require a full citation of the document being abstracted or extracted.
  • Quotations are used in both but are prevalent in an extract.
  • Elipses (…) are used to indicate quoted text that is left out. This is especially true in extracts.
  • Square brackets, [ ], are used to indicate your short comments. Also, [sic] indicates that spelling, facts or other information in the document are incorrect, that you are aware of it, and made no changes to how it appeared originally.


Why do we prepare extracts and abstracts?

  • Some repositories don’t allow photocopies, photographs or scans. Abstracting or extracting allows us to leave with the important information.
  • Abstracts and extracts are good to include in your notes or a report (as is a transcript).
  • It helps you to pick out the important details.
  • It helps in analyzing a document.
  • It helps you to develop a better research plan.
  • Extracts and abstracts are more concise than a full transcription. This is important if space is an issue.


This is such an important subject, Chapter 16, “Transcripts and Abstracts,” in the book, [amazon_link id=”0806316489″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Professional Genealogy[/amazon_link] is devoted to the topic. Whether you are doing land and property research or any other type of family history research, transcribing, extracting, and abstracting are vital skills to have in your toolbox.


© Michelle Goodrum 2012


Michelle Goodrum

About Michelle Goodrum

Writer, family historian, and researcher Michelle Roos Goodrum has been researching her family for over 20 years. Being the caretaker of over 135 years of her family’s papers and photographs, Michelle enjoys piecing her ancestors’ stories together. Michelle is also a Teaching Assistant for Boston University's Genealogical Research Program. Follow Michelle on her blog The Turning of Generations (http://turning-of-generations.blogspot.com/ ) Michelle is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Timeless Territories.

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2 thoughts on “Extract or Abstract? Both Are Vital Skills

  • RoreyCathcart

    Thanks Michelle for the concise run down on extracts and abstracts. I’ve been working on these skills quite a bit lately as I convert all those great GenealogyBank newpaper articles into usable content for my personal genealogy websites.

    It seems so easy until you actually start doing it. I don’t think many folks practice this skill enough.