My Recent Experience with England Probate Records and Automated Handwriting Interpretation

A recent webinar motivated me to search my family tree database for deaths lacking probate information.  One of the first after 1858 was Lucy Derby, nee Buckingham. The portrait, by her husband William, is ca 1820.

As I had her year of death, 1862, finding the calendar entry for her probate at was simple and free. You can also access it through Ancestry, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

The next step is to get a copy of the will. It gives more detail, possibly mentioning relatives you didn’t know about. Is there at indication there were favourites among the children, or had they received their share previously?

Using the information from the calendar and paying £1.50 online, it’s little challenge to place the order with the PRO from the form in the righthand column. The response isn’t instant. For Lucy, the will image arrived 40 hours later. Here’s a snippet.

As you can see, in this case, the image was clean.

Another option, if the will was probated by 1925 and at the Principal Registry, is to view the image on a digital microfilm available from FamilySearch.

The 35 mm microfilm reel collection, 1025 of them, is at Record copy wills for the Principal Registry, 1858-1925. It’s only for the Principal Registry. If the calendar entry indicates the will was probated elsewhere, and there were more than 50 of them, FamilySearch can’t help.

You can use the link above to find the correct file. Unless you’re at a Family History Centre or affiliate library, you’ll see a key above a camera icon on the right-hand side. That means a trip to access the images, which will likely cost more in bus fare than online ordering. An advantage is you don’t have to wait.

Some of the calendar entries have a handwritten number against them. For Lucy it’s 656. They correspond to those at the top right of some of the record copy wills page and are in sequence, so help locate the will you want. With practice, you can find a will in 10 – 15 minutes, then download a copy to a USB drive; I chose to print a PDF to file.

Below is the image I found from FamilySearch corresponding to the Lucy Derby one above. Notice the bleed-through and fuzzy definition. It’s greyscale rather than the processed b/w image you get from the PRO. Could that be why the different styles of “I Lucy”!

Beyond the arcane art of paleography

Once you get an image of the original will there remains the challenge of interpreting the stylized handwriting. Here’s my experience using Transkribus and Gemini on the Lucy Derby will, using the copy received from the PRO. I’m following the procedure outlined by Mark Humphries in this article. Here’s how.

First, I had to convert the pdf to a jpg which I did using the Windows snipping tool.

Second, I fed the resulting jpg to Transkribus, That requires a free registration. I used the free public AI model for handwritten text recognition called The English Eagle. You can drag and drop the jpg file to upload, It took a while, but eventually produced the following transciption.

npre dtea Deibri of a 9q emuaburga Street Nlegents Part d in ths darisk of Sount ofaurias in the County of Sigbloor Vecow bo Sorlare tais to be my last wll and Eostamout o will and brotucatas to baugator Eliso Charlotte Doity tae waole of my coutcdols fumuture books plate cama glos and linen for ae own use and boufit aboolutely and I oqucate all my paintings ant Grawings to my fou Alfrob Edomas Dorby fictae will that all mnouies belonging to me waitder standing in mot mame we tt public funts or lout on mortgage or inestos in any oar way of tue and tayable to lur seall te cofually Givioes among my oi Mllilbron namesy alfres Tlomas dorby Charles Heury deiby Carolius n bactdoffuer Romea sloom Eliea Charlotte dorby and qnatiloa Dacad Dorby commonly calles Matilba Saraa Chatfiols after all funoral and an steos mosssoly espoures are fai tao amount of toe zoobaitive portions mng tois taughtoss Garolune due optratiloa stazall to to acls in tuust for them by my Eecutors and pais to taem (witaout interest eeveially by annial sustalmonts of twouty pounss or in any other way that my lod rwhose way foom mow atvisable for waira paycuouts tae sroipts of my on saud Baugators phall to a sufficient Gisraargo of appoint my fou Edacles oboury Derby my Executor and my dangater Eliba Caarlotte Forby mn Exccutis to rarry out tao provisious of tais my last will and Eestamont Auwitcesss wassoof a eave aorounto not my danb and beal tdisteraty sovoutd bay of ercarrd in Ade your out taoutans oigal auntis and onty one in te prosure of Louisa Higby 9 Usnaburgh Street Lucy Derby Ps. James Part M. D.7 Camden Road Villas In Her Majesty’s Court of Probate The Principal Regishy Ie the Goods of Lucy Derby deceased. od Louisa Rigli of Aumber 9 Benaburga Atroot Regentoa Baik in the County of Orciolesoss offinstor make oata that I am out of the onbsrrting witnesses to tae last Will ane Eestamout of dury an oty lats of Smbor 9 Osuatinga Stroot Dlegonts Saik in tac Bauoao Saint curcas in AaE County of Sioolosa Witow Screases the oar will Boing nos accounts amusors boaning sate the twouty oovouta say of an Splated ine te ytar one touoans eight Eunoros and pixty one ans re tho paid costatus coorutot the raw Will ou tas day of tas bats facceof by oigining or name at the foot or our tasoof ans offeccing hos sode taruto at tale pams now alspoas taosson in the provoure of me aut of Jtamnts ofart the other suboribes wuituers tavreto bota of no baug presout at tae saint in Fuit aut we reocouton attoots aud subscutes tas sais will in the freru.

Don’t despair!

Third, I fed this text into Gemini, using the prompt

“The following is a OCR transcription using handwriting recognition of an 1862 UK will with many errors. Use pattern recognition and prediction to correct the OCR errors while maintaining the word order, syntax, spelling,
capitalization, and grammar of the original text. Enclose any words you change in square brackets in your response:”

The result was

npre [Note: Unsure what this abbreviation means]
dtea [Date]
[Decree] of [a] 9 Osnaburgh Street Regents Park
d in the parish of Saint Pancras in the County of Middlesex Widow do declare this to be my last will and testament. I will and bequeath to daughter Eliza Charlotte Derby the whole of my household furniture books plate china glass and linen for her own use and benefit absolutely and I bequeath all my paintings and drawings to my son Alfred Thomas Derby.
I further will that all monies belonging to me whether standing in my name in the public funds or lent on mortgage or invested in any other way be true and payable to her shall be equally divided among my six children namely Alfred Thomas Derby Charles Henry Derby Caroline E. Blacklockflower Emma Bloom Eliza Charlotte Derby and Matilda Sarah Chatfield. After all funeral and other necessary expenses are paid the amount of the respective portions going to my daughters Caroline E. Blacklockflower Emma Bloom Matilda Sarah Chatfield shall be held in trust for them by my Executors and paid to them (without interest) severally by annual installments of twenty pounds or in any other way that my said Executors may deem more advisable for their payments. The receipts of my said daughters shall be a sufficient discharge. I appoint my son Edward Osborne Derby my Executor and my daughter Eliza Charlotte Derby my Executrix to carry out the provisions of this my last will and testament.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this twenty-seventh day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one in the presence of
Louisa Higby 9 Osnaburgh Street
Lucy Derby Ps.
James Part M. D. 7 Camden Road Villas

[Her Majesty’s Court of Probate]
[The Principal Registry]
[In] the Goods of Lucy Derby deceased.
I Louisa Rigby of Number 9 Osnaburgh Street Regents Park in the County of Middlesex spinster make oath that I am one
of the subscribing witnesses to the last Will and Testament of Lucy Derby late of Number 9 Osnaburgh Street Regents Park in the Borough Saint Pancras in the County of Middlesex Widow deceased the said will being now hereunto annexed bearing date the twenty-seventh day of December in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one and being the said deceased executed the said Will on the day of the date thereof by signing her name at the foot or end thereof as the same now appears thereon in the presence of me and of James Part the other subscribing witness thereto both of us being present at the same time And that the said deceased was at the time of the execution of the said will in sound mind memory and understanding.

Names of people and places are often the most difficult to interpret, as well as being what genealogists look for. The only significant errors are son Charles Henry Derby who became Edward Osborne Derby as executor, and Blacklockflower which should be Bachoffner.


Although not perfect I’m very impressed. I’m hoping for good news from RootsTech about automated handwriting transcription across whole collections of handwritten materials.


Findmypast Weekly Update

There are some interesting UK additions this week.

England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment
This rolling release sees more than 62,000 additional records from TNA, making over 5 million records of criminals who passed through the justice system in England and Wales between 1770 and 1935.

Find out where they stood trial and when, what sentence they were given, and more depending on the type of record. You may find names, aliases, birth year and place, height, complexion, hair and eye colour, marks, and more.

Teachers’ Registration Council Registers
There are 612 new records, plus a new search field for ‘teacher in training.’ Find out where your teacher ancestor may have taught.

1871 England, Wales & Scotland Census
Find improvements to over 22 million census records, adding searchable fields for both birthplace and occupation.

RootsTech Day 2 Recommendations: 1 March 2024

RootsTech offers 16 sessions classified as intermediate/
advanced/professional. Here’s my selection from the five available on Friday, 1 March.

3:30 pm ET:  Unearthing the treasures in the Irish Registry of Deeds

Natalie Bodle
The Irish Registry of Deeds based in Dublin has been in existence since 1708 and manages the legal registration of property. Less well known is that it is also a repository for genealogical treasures such as wills, property leases, marriage agreements, mortgages and trusts and that this archive has remained intact since inception. The millions of names in these records include the principal parties to the deed and also wider family members and witnesses. Lists of lessees and even those with neighbouring properties may be found. It is also possible to find records by location. Many of these records are available as microfilms on the Family Search website although they are not indexed there which means they are a lesser-known and under-used source. This webinar will cover different methods of searching within and accessing these valuable records.

3:30 pm ET: Beyond Parish Registers: Tracing your Anglican Ancestors in England

Nicholas Dixon
The majority of the population of England belonged to the Church of England from the sixteenth century until recent times. However, discussions of the role of religion in family history tend to focus on membership of nonconformist denominations. Hence genealogists can overlook the many ways in which ancestors might have participated in Anglican activity beyond the basic facts of being baptised, married or buried according to Anglican rites. This webinar will discuss the varieties of Anglican commitment, including confirmation, receiving communion, Anglican schooling, Anglican societies and parochial ministry. It will also offer advice on finding records of such activities in archival repositories and online resources.

5 pm ET: Brick Walls! Real? or Created Through Faulty Research?

Barbara Vines Little
As researchers, at some time—usually many times, we will find ourselves facing the proverbial brick wall. Some of these brick walls will, because of record loss or other reasons, be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. We create others ourselves because we fail to understand a record or the law that created it, believe what we should not, or simply fail to look in the right place at the right time. This lecture looks at some of these pitfalls and false trails and suggests ways to avoid them and/or to uncover new leads that may take your research around them.

To put it another way: —

Irish deeds, a hidden store,
Bodle unearths tales of yore.
Wills and leases, whispers rise,
Families bound by legal ties.

Dixon delves where Anglicans trod,
Beyond the parish, seeking God.
Communion, school, the faithful way,
Their lives in records on display.

Brick walls loom, a daunting test,
Vines Little guides, dispels the rest.
False trails and pitfalls lie in wait,
Keen eyes reveal a clearer fate.

If you haven’t registered for the free online attendance, start at


Helpful Irish Resources

A helpful note from Ireland, via Ann Burns, about First Steps in Finding Your Irish Ancestors.

From, the contents might not be new to everyone, perhaps these are. a comprehensive free database of surname spelling variations and district of origin

Guide to Irish Christian Names lists the formal name and its variations to include nicknames, the Latin and the original Irish name from which they all derived. – for its excellent archive of old alternative spellings and placename aliases.

If the Gaeilge stumps you there’s always Google translate.

RootsTech Day 1 Recommendations: 29 February 2024

RootsTech offers 16 sessions classified as intermediate/
advanced/professional. Here’s my selection from the eight available on Thursday 29 February. 

10 am ET: Metropolitan Ancestors: Finding Families in Georgian and Victorian London

Nicholas Dixon
It can be particularly challenging for genealogists to locate individuals and families in the UK’s capital city and its environs. This is because of the high density of population in the metropolis and the fact that London families often moved between multiple addresses in a relatively short space of time. Given the number of people who migrated to London in the Georgian and Victorian periods, London records often need to be compared with those of other parts of the UK and other countries. This webinar will discuss the multifarious records that are useful to those tracing London ancestors, including directories, newspapers, court records, insurance records and local history publications. Using relevant and interesting examples from my own ancestry, it will suggest new ways of finding families in London.

11:30 am ET: Home Children – The children sent to Canada from the Home for Destitute Children in Liverpool

Ian Mooney
Many of our ancestors moved great distances by choice for economic reasons. Migration from Britain to North America was a well-trodden path. However, a less well-known programme of child migration, known as the ‘Home Children’ movement saw nearly 80000 poor children sent to Canada from Britain during a 70 year period from the 1860s.

Using case studies of children who were sent to Canada, the session will explore the sources that are available, in Britain and Canada, and piece together life stories for the most important people in the migration programme, the children.

3:30 pm ET: The ATGCs of DNA Analysis: Assumptions, Thinking Analytically, Guesses, and Conclusions

Kelli Bergheimer
How do you know in DNA analysis if you have proven what you set out to prove? How can you implement the genealogical proof standard into your daily work? Learn how to avoid the assumptions that prevent your progress. And learn to think more analytically about hypotheses and conclusions. Prerequisite: Participants should have a working knowledge of DNA testing to be successful in this class.

To put it another way :—

London’s whispers, secrets hide,
Dixon’s search, a guiding tide.
Mooney seeks the children sent,
Their stories through the records bent.
ATGCs with Bergheimer’s hand,
Assumptions fade, conclusions stand.
RootsTech’s Friday, knowledge gleams,
Unraveling past, ancestral dreams.

If you haven’t registered for the free online attendance, start at

Dianne Brydon Presentation

What are you doing at 7 pm this evening?

This is a shoutout for what looks like a well-researched presentation about an obscure settlement scheme given by BIFHSGO President Dianne Brydon — William Dickson’s Settlement Scheme: Finding Ancestors in Dumfries Township 1820s-1840s for OGS Waterloo Virtual Branch.

In 1816 William Dickson purchased over 90,000 acres in the area between Galt and Brantford, east and west of the Grand River, and he set about settling his surveyed lots with fellow countrymen from the Borders area in Scotland. Over the following decades he, and his son after him, allocated land to hundreds of immigrants who took up his offer in what he named Dumfries Township (later North and South Dumfries Township, Counties of Waterloo and Brant). Although little has been written about this settlement scheme, records abound with rich detail about each immigrant family’s experience. The full picture is difficult to piece together as the records are distributed among archives and among collections within archives. This lecture will briefly describe William Dickson’s settlement scheme; use examples to show the types of land records he kept and the information they contain; show where to find the records; offer tips for searching within the collections; showcase useful ancillary records; and highlight gems found in historical secondary sources.

This webinar is open to all.

To register:


RootsTech: Getting Close

I just started assembling the list of RootsTech online presentations I’d like to participate in starting Thursday, 29 February. It’s extensive, with conflicts in some of the time slots. Fortunately, all those being streamed will also be available on demand afterwards.

I started out looking at those tagged as intermediate/
advanced/professional and will post lists of those for each of the three days of the conference starting tomorrow.

There are many others I hope to catch, too. Check out the online schedule You can also search for presentations on a topic of your interest, like Canada, DNA or London, from Search the One-Demand Library.

You do need to register, it’s all free online.

Ottawa Resources

I’m taking advantage of a slow news period, probably in the lead-up to RootsTech, to point to some resources for Ottawa history.

An excellent resource list updated a few days ago, is available from the Historical Society of Ottawa.

Education Resource List

It focuses on HSO’s resources, but mentions those of third parties, like James Powell’s blog

Today in Ottawa’s History

It does not mention, and probably should, Andrew King’s blog

Ottawa Rewind



This Week’s Online Genealogy Events

Choose from selected free online events in the next five days. All times are ET except as noted. Assume registration in advance is required; check so you’re not disappointed. Find out about many more mainly US events at Conference Keeper at

Tuesday 20 February

2 pm: Ottawa Virtual Genealogy Drop-in, from OGS Ottawa Branch.

2:30 pm: Using Preserving the
Digital Legacy of Your Family, by Kaitlyn Jarnagin for Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.

Wednesday 21 February

8 pm: Genealogy Smart Start, Things I Wish I’d Known, by Elizabeth Williams Gomoll for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Thursday 22 February

7 pm: William Dickson’s Settlement Scheme: Finding Ancestors in Dumfries Township 1820s-1840s, by Dianne Brydon for OGS Waterloo Virtual Branch

Friday 23 February

Saturday 24 February

10:30 am: Documents + DNA + Method + a little bit of Luck, Combining Tools to Find Biological Family, by Elizabeth Gomoll for Niagara County Genealogical Society (USA).

Sunday 25 February
2 pm: Getting the Most From Online Newspaper Collections in OurDigitalWorld, by Jess Postgate for OGS Halton-Peel Branch


Empire Settlement Act Migrants

Under the provisions of the Empire Settlement Act (ESA), 1922, 130,000 immigrants came to Canada, married couples, single agricultural labourers, domestics and juveniles aged 14 – 17, were assisted. That’s according to the Canadian Council for Refugees,

That number is perhaps 11,000 greater than those recorded for whom warrants were issued, as shown in the lower curve in the figure. It peaks in 1927 and 1928 at close to 28,500.

The figure is from  ‘Leaven for the lump’: Canada and Empire settlement, 1918-1939, by John A. Schultz in Emigrants and Empire: British Settlement in the Dominions Between the Wars (Studies in Imperialism), Constantine, Stephen [Editor], Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 1990)

How many stayed? There was no systematic tracking. Schultz has patchy evidence.

Of the 18,790 (women) who went to Canada under the 1926 agreement, 1,517 eventually married but a similar number, 1,716, returned to the United Kingdom by choice or were deported. The others were trapped by the onset of the depression and remained on the rolls of the Women’s Branch which was responsible for their welfare. The romantic notion that young British women would find a virile Canadian mate and breed a future Empire race must have seemed a bitter farce to most.

Were they trapped, or just lost track of? Did they go the the US as so many other immigrants did?

Based on the total number of British immigrants in the graph through the whole period, I’m not convinced the program made much difference.  People likely just took advantage of incentives, loans and discounted rates for their passage. Wouldn’t you?

LAC Co-Lab Update for February

There are currently 3,875 items in Collection Search identified as Co-Lab-only contributions, an increase from 3,785 last month.

Two project amongst the Library and Archives Canada’s Co-Lab Challenges reported progress.

Treaty 9.  remains 0 % complete.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary is 47% complete, up from 44% last month.

Expo67 is 3% complete, up from 2 % last month.

Summiting Mount Logan in 1925: Fred Lambart’s personal account of the treacherous climb and descent of the highest peak in Canada remains 13% complete.

Women in the War remains 1% complete.

Arthur Lismer’s Children’s Art Classes remains 0% complete.

John Freemont Smith remains 93% complete.

Canadian National Land Settlement Association remains 98% complete.

Molly Lamb Bobak remains 95% complete.

Diary of François-Hyacinthe Séguin remains 99% complete.

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities remains 0% complete.

Correspondence regarding First Nations veterans returning after the First World War remains 99% complete.

Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 remains 95% complete.

Legendary Train Robber and Prison Escapee Bill Miner remains 99% complete.

Japanese-Canadians: Second World War remains 3% complete.

The Call to Duty: Canada’s Nursing Sisters remains 94% compete.

Projects that remain 100% complete are no longer reported here.