A revolution in one generation

Penny at podium_croppedI began my publishing career in pre-computer days: manuscript was typed on a typewriter, and editing was done on hard copy. I took a freelance job from a publisher who required that I work in ink, and for that job I acquired a special fountain pen that I filled with green ink.

To change or remove an edit, I used ink eradicator, which came in a little brown bottle with a stopper that doubled as an applicator. The ink rule ensured that every edit was very deliberate; still, I probably used up that entire bottle of eradicator.

Computers have revolutionized not only the process of researching family history but also the writing and editing of it. I can’t even imagine how many green-ink marks I might have made on a hard-copy manuscript of a family history: making wavy lines under names to mark them for boldface; fixing numbering systems; abbreviating words in child text where necessary; styling hundreds if not thousands of footnotes. And how many times would I have leafed through all those pages, checking that a person’s name was spelled consistently on each mention, or that the person’s data matched in the child list and the main text – or that the note numbers matched the notes, and that all the numbers were there! The pages would have been curled, and my fingers full of paper cuts.

Writing on a typewriter was equally challenging. You couldn’t have made the type smaller for your child text. You couldn’t have set up a right-indent tab to line up your child numbers on periods. You couldn’t type in boldface or italics. Instead of italicizing, you underlined titles by backspacing and typing lines under the appropriate word. And the numbering: not only the people but the notes! You would have had to type your notes as a separate section, I think; does anyone remember how hard it was to estimate how much space to leave at the bottom of the page for footnotes, and to avoid having your paper fall out of the typewriter when all of a sudden you were at the bottom of the page? I haven’t even mentioned the difficulty of making a correction using a typewriter eraser, opaquing fluid, or correction tape.

It’s been fun remembering that pre-computer life – and imagining myself back in my little apartment in Cambridge, fountain pen in hand, counting the numbers in an ahnentafel­ – but it’s been even more fun to write this blog post using Microsoft Word.

On my laptop.

On my deck.

About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.

19 thoughts on “A revolution in one generation

  1. Penny, 30 years ago when I first started editing the Register, we got long galley proofs back from the printer (in Vermont then) and had to correct those in the way you describe, and THEN we had to send them off by overnight Greyhound bus to Vermont, which meant a trip over to the terminal on St. James St. The printer would send us a second set of proofs with final pagination. That system pretty much made footnotes impractical, so we used embedded references.. AND, there was only one photocopier in the whole NEHGS building.. Some things have indeed changed for the better!
    Jane F..

  2. Even the early computer life was rough- word processing on a RadioShack TRS-80 meant to correct something, you had to delete all the way back to it and then retype everything that had just been deleted. Fun post- thanks for the memories.

  3. Penny, loved this post! I too was in publishing way back when as a past-up artist. This brought me back to the days of stat-cameras, light tables and yes, the typewriter!

  4. This reminds me of typing college papers on my manual typewriter, praying that I don’t mess up the footnotes at the bottom of the page and have to start over again. Inevitably it was also late, late in the night.

  5. Got my taste working as “a handy boy” afternoons starting early in middle school as Mom worked for a small but very very technical publisher (AVI, sold to Reinhold). When operations “consolidated”, I was introduced to the long-long-long galley proofs by the then only proofreader who did the formulas & equations as well as the words. His advice: to focus on spelling & double-printed words, do it backwards by paragraphs. We once rolled a galley from front to back of office and it was still not half rolled out.

    Later, when in college, I had to keep track of the pictures–those wooden blocks with the etched metal glued on top. Those galleys were heavy but the blocks! Ah!

    I check on eBay to see if/how those books still sell. If the bakery ones or for institutional cooking, GONE! Selenium in Foods, not so much. And by editions, if noted, I know which ones were shipped out by my mother and/or myself. By the time they sold out, just about everything but the central admin ops was farmed out to specialized providers.

    Now my daughter–at Hachette from Penguin–certainly knows how to use a typewriter. Asked for one as a little kid. But a TRS-80? She has no clue even what it is! And as to shipping a galley, why HarperCollins only uses the net, but Penguin and Hachette still use hard copy inside (specialized formats) before “transfer” to a final file for the printer. So when she takes on extra proofing jobs over a weekend, its still lug the package back on the subway.

    Now if my patio only had an awning . . .

  6. 1970 Katharine Gibbs School, manual typewriter, best official test 48 wpm, passing grade 50 wpm, but they let me graduate anyway

    1972 Honeywell Information Systems, IBM selectric

    1973 Honeywell, IBM Mag Card – one line of text in window (really loved this, it was fun, got me over the “tech” fear)

    1979 Mayflower Society, manual typewriter
    1979 Mayflower Society, at my request, Selectric
    1980 IBM electronic memory typewriter

    1983 in business for myself, IBM Displaywriter (loved that machine, but never paid off the $6,000 my Dad loaned me to buy it — and never let me forget)

    198? PC (DOS) Word
    199? PC (Windows) Word
    200? Office Suite 2003, 2005, 2007

    Now PC desktop, 2 PC laptops, HP Envy convertible laptop/tablet, IPad, IPad mini, plus unused Chromebook, Surface, and two more semi-decommissioned laptops.
    Office 365 online

    1. Being allowed to graduate from Katharine Gibbs School with 48 wam means that your certificate was give by “special action.” You must have exceeded all of the other requirements. The school recognized that you would have made 50 wam with another couple of weeks. Being a “Special” was indeed special.

  7. Rose, We were allowed 3 typos per page, remember? I did pass other tests above 50, but when it came to the final exams, I froze. I was soooo ready to get out of school!

    1. Certification was a testing situation apart from anything else in my experience. I say this as a faculty member, not a student. Several of the folks in the book managed that final speed on the last day of testing. People who did not make it sometimes came back in September if they were not close enough to be certified by special action. One student told me about 15-minute timings on manual typewriters!

      1. Rose, I still haven’t had time to order the book yet, but will do so soon. I refused to stay until the last day of certification and somehow talked the teacher into okaying. Going to school post grad one more year after 4 years of college nearly did me in, especially under the strict rules of the school. I stayed in the dorm at 1 Marlborough, but it wasn’t easy being treated like a freshman all over again!

  8. Didn’t any of you have to Paste Up your text onto cardboard sheets so they could be photographed……or something. I’m old! I can’t even remember the vocabulary! Ran the special paper through a waxing machine and lined it up on blue lined card stock. And did our notes with blue pencil because it didn’t photograph.

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