We had so much fun, we’re doing it again. Library and Archives Canada are starting a second crowdsourced transcription project, after their success with the Coltman Report project using our custom-written transcription tool.

This time: the handwritten diary of Lady Agnes Macdonald from 1867 to 1869, microfilmed years ago but never before available in a searchable format.

The project won’t be officially launched for a few days yet, but it’s been announced by Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume in a recent speech at the Ontario Genealogical Society of Canada conference:

“In June of last year, the Manitoba Métis Federation celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks, a battle which marked the emergence of the Métis nation. To support the anniversary, LAC introduced software that lets people transcribe authentic historical documents. The first document to go through the process was the Coltman Report, handwritten in 1818 by William Coltman. The report provides one of the best sources on the fur trade war and is a key document in the history of the Métis Nation. The entire 521-page handwritten report was transcribed by members of the public eager to make a personal connection to history. A fully searchable PDF is now available in LAC’s database, and we’re about to launch a second initiative, the 91-page diary of Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, the wife of Sir John A. I’m sure you’ll agree that this diary is going to be fascinating reading – what was on her mind in that crucial time in our nation’s history? How did she view the new Dominion of Canada starting in 1867 as her husband hammered out the details of the new confederation? What was her daily life like? What were her social obligations, her private experiences and her thoughts? By providing transcriptions of this material you can be a fly on the wall of history.
“LAC is thrilled to open up these treasures from our collection to those who understand their importance and can add richer and enhanced information to them.”

We’re thrilled, too, to help digital heritage become more accessible, and to encourage citizen participation in our shared cultural history.


The Lady Macdonald diary is long overdue for transcription. Sarah Cole, an undergraduate history student at Carleton University, wrote a project blog about her research in the Library and Archives Canada collections. She wrote that the diary

“provides a unique perspective on the beginnings of post-Confederation politics and life in Ottawa in the mid-19th century. (If the thought of reading the diary of a housewife makes your eyes roll back into your head, go to her April 1868 entries for some amazing descriptions of the trial that followed the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of Canada’s founding fathers.)
“Honestly, if you can get through a page of the diary without puzzling over a word or a phrase or an entire paragraph, you’re better at deciphering handwriting than I am. Her diary has never been published in a transcribed format, meaning that the only way for historians to study it is to look at reproductions, with all the problems that come with them: the cramped handwriting, the distortions and gradual decay of the original document, and the lack of scholarly context that comes with editorial glosses like footnotes.”

Visit the transcription project here and get your typing fingers ready! If you think a crowdsourced transcription project could work for your collections, don’t hesitate to get in touch.