Probate Registries

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Probate documents (that is Wills and Inventories) are hugely important sources for the study of early modern England. For Viae Regiae they are being used to build a picture of the networks of people moving goods across England.


Background

Apart from their appeal to family historians, wills and inventories are potentially a very rich source of economic and occupational data. The deceased may have recorded in their wills an occupation or trade directly connected with transportation (carriers, wagoners, horsemen, or boatmen, for example, or indeed merchants), while their inventories may reveal geographic details of their credit and debt networks.

While the occupations of the deceased are often catalogued, and some of these catalogues are now available online, we are anxious not to overlook the uncatalogued details or the very many records which might appear only in paper or card indexes. Collating all of this information is an enormous undertaking that will only be possible through the generosity of a network of volunteers working in local archives.

The Victoria County History of Hampshire volunteer group has been working on the transcription of 16th- and 17th-century wills, focused on Basingstoke and its surrounding rural area. You can read about their work here.
For an example of a C17th merchant's probate inventory click here.

Draft Probate project charter

Goals

The ultimate aim of the probate team is to place people within the Viae Regiae transport framework, which is examining inland transportation networks in England and Wales, 1530-1680. Goods move with land and waterborne transport by people who manned that transport infrastructure. The eventual goal of this team is to collate all of the probate material relating to people who may have worked in this sphere in England and Wales in this period, from carters to innkeepers.

Deliverables

While the people we research delivered the crucial goods of life to the people of early modern England, our aim remains much more humble. In the first instance the location of all the people in probate record across England and Wales will be listed for their location, dates and trade. In the second instance a detailed project ought to elaborate on each document, the relationships and places within them to reconstruct part of the social world and economic networks. Longer-term the work done lends itself to members of this team or others to use the data collated to consider a range of research focuses including material culture and social networks.

Proposed project methodology

Our approach involves identifying wills and inventories before converting them using Transkribus to text form. With the Recogito software we can then record the places mentioned so that people, their occupations and places can be entered into the Viae Regiae database.

Proposed timeline

Probate will run throughout the Viae Regiae project and potentially beyond with wide implications for our understanding of the movement of goods and transport links. In the first year to two years we aim to provide a skeleton of findings from which further analysis can be conducted in the following years.

Required resources (people)

At the moment we have a core, dedicated team. The nature of probate means that many people have experience of it and could assist in the long run, especially once our processes are put in place during 'seed' project phase in the spring of 2021.

Required resources (technology)

The text-recognition system Transkribus is forming a key part of this project for the collation of probate transcriptions. Also required is the software Recogito. Much of the probate project can be carried out on personal computers. There are however elements of the work that will require physically attending archives, particularly for material held in local record offices.

Project risks

Individuals and societies past and present made the act of dying a complex procedure, with inherent social and cultural considerations for all involved. In early modern England dying ‘had become a cultural ritual' [J. D. Alsop, 'Religious Preambles in Early Modern English Wills as Formulae', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 40.1 (1989), 19]. We should therefore use wills carefully as their simplicity often ‘cloaks a complex of laws and customs and a tenuous link between precept and practice' [Jeff and Nancy Cox, ‘Probate 1500-1800: a system in Transition' in When Death Do Us Part: Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England, 14].


Current project (Spring 2021)

Primary aim: Transcribing wills of all innkeepers in Prerogative Court of Canterbury prior to 1650 to shed more light on the growth of transport infrastructure. Initial work by Jo Sear has found connections along the Great North Road amongst individuals named in the first sampled will, which is an amazing start.

Secondary aim: Producing enough transcriptions of PCC wills from sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to train a Handwriting Recognition Model to assist with further transcriptions.

Method:

Will of Thomas Harryes, Innkeeper of Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk, PROB 11/31/25; dated January 21st, 1546
Will of John Humberstone, Innkeeper of Little Amwell in the parish of Ware, Hertfordshire, PROB 11/61/339; dated August 1st, 1579

Step 1 - Produce full diplomatic transcriptions of the wills using Transkribus lite, following this guidance on transcription conventions: https://readcoop.eu/transkribus/howto/transkribus-transcription-conventions/

Step 2 - Load transcriptions into Recogito to tag named places and individuals.

Transcription Conventions:

We have settled on producing full diplomatic transcriptions, as per the guidance from Transkribus: https://readcoop.eu/transkribus/howto/transkribus-transcription-conventions/ This will help to train a Handwriting Recognition Model, variant spellings of place names for the gazetteer, as well as producing accurate transcriptions in general.

First steps:

  • Choose a will from the list below and edit the list to indicate you're working on it
  • Login to Transkribus Lite https://transkribus.eu/lite/ (ask Justin to given access to our collection, if you haven't before)
  • Open the "ViaeRegaeInnkeepers" collection, and find your will using the Filter tool (most have the testator's name as part of their title, but you might need to use some or all of the PROB11 reference to find the later ones in the list)
  • Open your will and click the pen icon (top right) to enter edit mode
  • Click a line on the image, it will highlight in blue, and you can then transcribe that line in the corresponding blue line below

Key conventions:

  • Lines must correspond between transcription and image - ensure you're transcribing the line that is highlighted on the image
  • There might be some spurious or blank lines - just ignore them for now
  • Transcriptions should be literal - spellings and contractions should be repeated verbatim, capital letters should reflect the original (even if it doesn't make sense!), and line breaks should be respected
  • Punctuation should generally be ignored
  • “et” abbreviations should be transcribed as & (ampersand)
  • “es” flourishes at the end of words should be transcribed as “es”
  • Superscript text, for example representing an abbreviation, should be transcribed and tagged by selecting the text and pressing the x2 button (the resulting superscript shows up in the Edit mode, but not the Preview or Side by Side views)
  • Lines indicating contractions should be ignored
  • Uncertain words should be transcribed as literally as you can, but then tagged by selecting the text and pressing the "?Uncertain?" button
  • Transcribe only the actual will we are interested in - ignore the beginning or end of other wills, and the Latin probate statements

NB:

  • Remember to save your work using the button in the bottom right
  • When you are finished, click "In Progress", above "Save Changes" in the bottom right, and change the document status to "Ready for Checking"
  • Remember to update this Wiki page with your progress!

Sample:

UKDA index to PCC contains 69 records for "innkeeper", "hostler", or "ostler" between 1528 and 1649 (the index is not perfect but is a start).

In the following table rows with a PROB11 reference have been downloaded by JC.

forename surname occupation parish_place county_country date TNA Reference Status Uploaded to Transkribus
William Cole or Cool Innkeeper Sudbury Suffolk 15 May 1528 PROB 11/22/487 Jo done. Joe checked YES
Thomas Harryes or Harres Innkeeper Bury Saint Edmunds Suffolk 21 January 1546 PROB 11/31/25 Jo done. Joe checked YES
Christopher Hickes Innkeeper Boston Lincolnshire 04 February 1567 PROB 11/49/41 Jo done. Joe- checked one issue, agree with Jo's assesment but have left as is tricky YES
James Holte or Holt Ostler Stroud Gloucestershire 08 October 1575 PROB 11/57/434 Jo done. Note first three pages of PDF are another person's will. Joe- nothing to check YES
William Melsell Ostler Bristol Gloucestershire 29 February 1576 PROB 11/58/31 Colin Greenstreet first draft completed. Note first five pages of PDF are another person's will. Joe agree with most suggestions apart from Collen which I think should be Cowen. Have left the Latin YES
Thomas Henesworth Innkeeper All Saints Stamford Lincolnshire 28 January 1577 PROB 11/59/243 Colin Greenstreet. Joe checked YES
John Humberstone Innkeeper Ware Hertfordshire 04 November 1579 PROB 11/61/499 Jo done. Joe checked YES
Launcelot Thompson Hostler Abington Berkshire 14 December 1582 PROB 11/64/559 Jo done. Note this is a Memorandum on p.2 of PDF. Joe checked YES
John Yonge Innkeeper Burington Somerset 17 August 1586 PROB 11/69/451 Colin Greenstreet first draft completed; English checked Tamsin, no queries remaining (except Latin) YES
Edward ap John alias Kinge Ostler Saint Mary Magdalene Surrey 31 July 1587 PROB 11/71/79 Colin Greenstreet. Joe checked YES
Thomas Russell Innkeeper Chipping Barnet Hertfordshire 12 December 1588 PROB 11/73/162 Jo done. Joe checked YES
William Thomas Innkeeper Shaston Dorset 24 November 1589 PROB 11/74/472 Colin Greenstreet. Joe checked YES
John Salwey Innkeeper Almondsbury Gloucestershire 29 November 1597 PROB 11/90/568 Colin Greenstreet first draft completed. Joe- agree with suggestions. have left Latin YES
Morrice Gauntlett Innkeeper Salisbury Wiltshire 06 May 1598 PROB 11/91/352 Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended. JC checked - suggest "behauest"? error for behest, or bequest? YES
Henry Bennett Hostler Saint Thomas Bristol Gloucestershire 07 May 1599 PROB 11/93/314 1st draft done Stephen Gadd (talk) 17:20, 30 March 2021 (UTC) JC Checked YES
Richard Hogson Innkeeper Saint Botolph without Aldersgate City of London 10 September 1603 PROB 11/102/159 JC Done- Joe one issue left. Think it is 'fath' but with only first part of the 'h' not sure how we transcribe YES
Robert Nedle alias Nele Innkeeper Saint Johns Street Middlesex 02 December 1603 PROB 11/102/656 Colin Greenstreet. Joe checked, one issue page 3. 'douiges' as in dowages? YES
Edward Wetherton Innkeeper Marlborough Wiltshire 24 April 1604 PROB 11/103/437 Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended YES
Hugh Evans Head Ostler All Hallows Lombard Street City of London 18 May 1604 PROB 11/104/108 Joe done. Jo checked. YES
John Kynge Innkeeper Wells Somerset 19 August 1608 PROB 11/112/206 Colin Greenstreet first draft started. To be finished. Joe looked at, the lines at the beginning of the transcription on p1 have been mixed up with the ones on the side for the name. Rather than redoing is there a way of taking these lines out and so realinging everything? You'll see what I mean - JC DONE - Can someone check few queries? Jo - I've looked, still one that I can't get YES
William Dixon or Dixson Innkeeper Southwark Surrey 24 January 1610 PROB 11/115/56 Joe done. Jo checked-two surnames are unclear, agree with Joe's transcription but v. odd surnames YES
William Keynes Innkeeper Chipping Sodbury Gloucestershire 25 April 1610 PROB 11/115/365 Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining YES
John Hodge Innkeeper Bampton Devon 06 July 1610 PROB 11/116/165 Colin Greenstreet started. Jo finished YES
William Sherwood Innkeeper Royston Hertfordshire 15 November 1613 PROB 11/122/475 Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining, agree with Jo but would like confirmation YES
Richard Lea Innkeeper Evesham Worcestershire 21 January 1614 PROB 11/123/36 Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining YES
Reginald Cliston Innkeeper New Windsor Berkshire 11 January 1614 PROB 11/123/13 JC done. Joe checked YES
Mathew Browne Innkeeper Colchester Essex 10 May 1615 PROB 11/125/412 Colin Greenstreet started. Jo finished YES
Roger James Innkeeper Hereford Herefordshire 12 January 1616 PROB 11/127/24 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue left, agree with transcription but never heard of it. Jo - agree with 'hurthen', they're 'harden' sheets, made from hemp, have seen this spelling before YES
John Atkinson Innkeeper Islington Middlesex 10 April 1618 PROB 11/131/368 Jo done; Tamsin checked, no queries YES
Richard Barker Innkeeper Saint Giles in the Fields Middlesex 22 June 1618 PROB 11/131/753 Jo done. Joe- one issue left, 'Turmin' or 'Tarmin' perhaps? YES
John Hewes alias Edwardes Ostler Stourbridge Worcestershire 11 May 1619 PROB 11/133/556 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue remaining YES
George Iszarde Innkeeper Ware Hertfordshire 07 June 1621 PROB 11/137/506 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
Owen Conowaye or Conway Innkeeper Hadleigh Suffolk 10 September 1621 PROB 11/138/155 Joe done. Jo checked YES
John Butcher alias Powle Innkeeper Norwich Norfolk 01 December 1621 PROB 11/138/501 Jo done. Joe checked https://viaeregiae.slack.com/files/U01MT9E9HV1/F01S0QU10CT/red_lion_and_white_horse__norwich.pdf YES
Robert Saxton Innkeeper Aylesbury Buckinghamshire 02 July 1622 PROB 11/140/18 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
John Tennante or Tennant Innkeeper London 31 August 1625 PROB 11/146/364 Joe done. Jo checked YES
Tobias Littlepage Innkeeper Little Horwood Buckinghamshire 04 December 1626 PROB 11/150/490 Tamsin done; ready to check (2nd page only, 1st page is Charles Butler). Joe checked YES
Charles Glover Innkeeper Somerton Somerset 24 June 1628 PROB 11/153/727 Jo done. Joe checked YES
John Hellier Innkeeper Taunton Somerset 04 October 1630 PROB 11/158/246 Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended YES
Stephen Pitway Innkeeper Bengeworth Worcestershire 19 March 1631 PROB 11/159/373 Joe done. Jo checked YES
Henry Birch Innkeeper Worcester Worcestershire 24 August 1632 PROB 11/162/282 Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining. Middle page duplicated YES
John Davy Ostler Wells Somerset 09 May 1632 PROB 11/161/577 Joe done. Jo checked YES
John Ratcliffe Innkeeper Farningham Kent 23 September 1633 PROB 11/164/381 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
Richard Windever Innkeeper Saint George in Southwark Surrey 06 December 1634 PROB 11/166/608 Jo done. Joe checked YES
George Baldwyn or Baldwin Innkeeper Saint Saviour Southwark Surrey 26 January 1635 PROB 11/167/68 Jo done. Joe checked YES
Edward Bishopp Innkeeper Bucknell Oxfordshire 02 December 1635 PROB 11/169/425 Joe done. Jo checked. YES
George Berry Innkeeper Wellington Somerset 11 March 1636 PROB 11/170/298 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue YES
Henry Blundell Innkeeper Saint Saviour Southwark Surrey 23 January 1637 PROB 11/173/82 JC done; checked Tamsin, one query remains YES
John Evans Innkeeper Saint Mary Le Strand Middlesex 19 May 1637 PROB 11/174/179 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
Richard Irwin or Irwyn Innkeeper Royston Cambridgeshire 27 October 1638 PROB 11/178/206 Jo done. Joe one issue YES
Edward Buxton Innkeeper Ashbourne Derbyshire 12 October 1639 PROB 11/181/236 Joe done. Jo checked - few queries remain, but I can't improve on Joe's transcription YES
John Wicking or Wickinge Innkeeper Cowden Kent 28 April 1640 PROB 11/182/558 Jo done. Joe checked YES
John Warner Innkeeper Isleworth Middlesex 12 April 1641 PROB 11/185/490 Joe done. Jo checked - one difficult surname remaining, agree with Joe's transcription YES
Samuell Cottie or Cotye Innkeeper Rye Sussex 15 March 1642 PROB 11/188/345 JC working. Jo finished. Needs checking. YES
William Tompson Ostler Dent Yorkshire 27 May 1642 PROB 11/189/304 David Cant ready to check. Joe checked YES
Henry Wills Innkeeper Lambeth Surrey 28 March 1644 PROB 11/192/2 Joe done. Jo checked. YES
William Darwent Innkeeper Saint Clement Danes Middlesex 11 January 1645 PROB 11/192/220 Joe done. Jo checked. YES
James Hunt Innkeeper Saint Martin in the Fields Middlesex 24 October 1646 PROB 11/197/590 Joe done. Jo checked - few issues, but can't clarify these. YES
William Heynes Innkeeper Banbury Oxfordshire 15 June 1646 PROB 11/196/377 Tamsin begun. Jo finished. Needs checking. YES
Henry Potter Innkeeper Claverley Shropshire 15 June 1646 PROB 11/196/387 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
Thomas Homes Innkeeper Hereford Herefordshire 02 June 1646 PROB 11/196/267 Jo done, very challenging, lots of queries, needs a second eye! YES
John Hopkinson Innkeeper Wantage Berkshire 08 September 1647 PROB 11/201/581 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked. YES
Robert Roads Innkeeper Wiveliscombe Somerset 19 May 1647 PROB 11/200/362 Tamsin mostly done but gave up on the addendum, cannot make head nor tail of it! YES
Christopher Bremer or Breamer Innkeeper Saint Martin in the Fields Middlesex 15 March 1647 PROB 11/199/676 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked. YES
William Browne Innkeeper Bedford Bedfordshire 27 January 1648 PROB 11/203/155 Tamsin first draft done. Joe checked The Rose YES
Robert Alwarke Innkeeper Westfield Sussex 22 June 1648 PROB 11/204/559 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES
William Shorland Innkeeper Dunster Somerset 04 May 1649 PROB 11/208/51 Tamsin 1st draft done, Joe checked. YES
William Brundreth Innkeeper Stretford Lancashire 04 July 1649 PROB 11/208/658 Tamsin 1st draft done, Joe checked. YES
Robert Jenkinson Innkeeper Saint Peter in the East Oxford Oxfordshire 13 November 1649 PROB 11/210/120 Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked YES

Executors (the team)

The probate team are always on the lookout for interested new members! We'd be excited to hear from anyone with experience working with early modern wills and inventories. Our team so far includes academic lecturers, PhD students, family and local historians.

Probate secondary reading

For those of you interested in learning more about probate material and its uses for historical study find below a short bibliogrpahy of some secondary reading.

Patrick Wallis, Justin Colson, and David Chilosi, ‘Structural Change and Economic Growth in the British Economy before the Industrial Revolution, 1500-1800’, Journal of Economic History, 78.3 (2018), 862–903 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022050718000396>;

Sebastian A. J. Keibek, ‘Using Probate Data for Estimating Historical Male Occupational Structures’, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure Working Paper, 27, 2016 <http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/occupations/abstracts/paper27.pdf>;

When Death Do Us Part: Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England, ed. by Tom Arkell, Nesta Evans, and Nigel Goose, Supplement / University of Hertfordshire, Department of Humanities, Local Population Studies (Oxford: Leopard’s Head Press, 2000);

Christopher Kitching, ‘Probate During the Civil War and Interregnum. Part 1’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5.5 (1976), 283–93;

Joanne Sear and Ken Sneath, The Origins of the Consumer Revolution: from brass pots to clocks (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020). <https://www.routledge.com/The-Origins-of-the-Consumer-Revolution-in-England-From-Brass-Pots-to-Clocks/Sear-Sneath/p/book/9780367341114>;

J. D. Alsop, 'Religious Preambles in Early Modern English Wills as Formulae' Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 40.1 (1989), 19-27;

Moira Goff, ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4, (2010), 537-542;

Stephen Bernard, ‘Establishing a Publishing Dynasty: The Last Wills and Testaments of Jacob Tonson the Elder and Jacob Tonson the Younger’, The Library, 17.2 (2016), 157-166;

Julia Fernández Cuesta, ‘The Voice of the Dead: Analyzing Sociolinguistic Variation in Early Modern English Wills and Testaments’, Journal of English Linguistics, 42.4 (2014), 330-358;

Leslie Moscow McGranahan, ‘Charity and the Bequest Motive: Evidence from Seventeenth-Century Wills’, Journal of Political Economy, 108.6 (2000), 1270-1291.


Comments


Colin

7 months ago
Score 0++
Worth adding to this page the project team's interest in using Transkribus on an experimental basis to transcribe and/or key spot wills and inventories. The MarineLives project can offer ca. 100 wills with maybe 150 pages of diplomatic (or near diplomatic) transcriptions which can be matched against TNA images of those wills. The MarineLives project can also offer ca. 6 mill words of semi-diplomatic transcriptions of notarial hands from depositions made in the English High Court of Admiralty in the early/mid C17th. These two sources could both be used to train Transkribus.

JoeSaunders

7 months ago
Score 1++
Great stuff to think about here. I have a busy couple of days but will have a look at some editing of this over the weekend.

TamsinBraisher

6 months ago
Score 0++
So - checking - shall we convert the final column from "uploaded to Transkribus" (as everything is now) to a "Checking" column, and people can put who has checked which one and whether issues remain?
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