Anchorage's Jeanne Ashcraft
Series: Working past retirement in Alaska
September 1, 2023 | View PDF
Jeanne Ashcraft started out as a school librarian, but for the last 10 years she has been operating Ashcraft Historical Transcription in Anchorage. She's 80 years of age now, and periodically thinks about stepping back from the work, but hasn't yet. She seems to be having too much fun.
When and why did you come to Alaska?
Oh, my. I came in 1998, about 25 years ago. My daughter and I drove up. I had three sons up here and a new grandchild, so I came up temporarily to see the grandchild, but then all of a sudden I had another grandchild and then I got a job. I'm a school librarian and they needed school librarians, so I got a job in Kennedy Elementary out on Fort Rich. Then my daughter met someone and got married and had a grandchild, and I just fit. I never left.
How do you describe your business, Ashcraft Historical Transcription?
In general, I just say I transcribe historical documents. And if they look confused, I'll say, "Old letters, deeds, journals, marriage licenses, news, all kinds of stuff, whatever people want typed up in digital form so they can print it out." I have to be really good at reading handwriting.
I'm here [in my home office] in my pajamas at two in the morning, or whatever I feel like, and it's fun. It's not a job that I could have for my permanent income. It's second. But I make enough to pay [her canine companion's] vet bills and take a vacation -things like that. Plus, it's just fun. And the best part about it, honestly, is that it's so satisfying to be doing something useful.
I think that when you retire, you've worked or, even if you haven't had a job outside the home, when you reach a certain age you think, "Okay, now I'm kind of retired." I felt this, and sometimes people feel kind of like useless all of a sudden. I think we have a need to be relevant and to be contributing in some way, whether it's volunteering, whether it's just going to church and having breakfast with people, or we're making a beautiful garden in your neighborhood-whatever.
We want to be relevant. And this honestly gives me a huge amount of satisfaction that way, because I'm helping preserve really important stuff to families and to companies and to businesses. For example, Corpus Christi, Texas. I transcribed all of their city council meeting minutes from the time they started in 1848 until about 1904, when they got their first typewriter.
I only transcribe from written to written. I don't do auditory. Almost everything is sent to me as a scan, emailed as a scan, or a JPEG, or something. Every once in a while-in fact, any day-I'm going to receive in the mail an actual journal, a great grandmother's travel journal, from this client who wants this done. Because the binding is fragile, he doesn't want to have to crack it open to scan the pages, so he's sending me the journal. I'll just work from that. I do that three, four times a year. Once in a while I get a whole box of war letters. It's just too much for the client to take each one out of the envelope and unfold them and scan them. I've never had trouble receiving anything, protecting anything-everything gets back to the owner.
When did you start doing this?
I started in 2013. I had knee replacement surgery and I was sitting in a chair all day, and I got bored. I had an old journal of a great uncle who walked from Hamburg, Germany to Switzerland just before World War One broke out. He kept an incredible journal, so I typed up his journal, which I inherited, just for the fun of it. I had my mom's letters from college. She only went one year, but they were really fun to read. She was 18 or 19. Then I finished that. I thought, "God, there must be other people who have stuff like this sitting around their homes." And I had so much fun doing it. I just had this need festering in me to be doing something other than knitting and gardening and going out to dinner with friends.
Any final words for our readers?
I guess in a more philosophical sense, as you get older you think more about the value of your time. If you're doing something that's become a drudge or not fulfilling, or if you love what you're doing and you feel fulfilled and you're okay with it -I don't know why you would stop unless there's something to fill its place. I guess one other thing I'd say-we're never too old. As long as we have our health, we're never too old to try anything.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.