Tell us what you think!

The new MarineLives wiki has gone live with over 13,000 pages of mid-C17th content. Do please take a look at the resources on offer by clicking here. On our front page we are showcasing the work of thirty of our volunteers  – a full text semi-diplomatic transcription of witness statements in 1656 and 1657 (HCA 13/71) made to the English Admiralty Court.


We are proud of our volunteers’ work, but know we can improve with your help. We are therefore inviting all the readers of our blog to join an feedback session we have opened, so that you can have a direct impact on our future work.

Questions you might like to consider include:

  1. How accurate are our transcriptions?
  2. How can we improve our editorial process?
  3. How can we improve our transcription and editing of Latin phrases
  4. How can we better involve students and public historians in the transcription and annotation of Admiralty Court manuscripts.




Google the Court

Google now indexes English Admiralty Court records for the years 1657 and 1658 (HCA 13/72). Through Google searches, you can find and access transcribed  witness depositions transcribed by the MarineLives project team. In addition, the Marine-Lives Tools wiki has been indexed by Google, offering you a quick way to search for hearth tax and probate records related to the depositions.

How to find Court records on Google

The key to finding specific Court records on Google is to preface your Google searches with the term Annotate HCA. This term should be placed in inverted commas as below:

Then add you desired search term or search string.

To find records of Captain Christopher Myngs (1625-1666), a Commonwealth naval commander, try “Annotate HCA” + “Myngs”. The resulant Google search produces four results, consisting of two sopecific folios in the deposition volume HCA 13/72, and

Search string: “Annotate HCA” + “Myngs”

If you click on one of the folio references in Google you will go directly to our transcription in the MarineLives HCA 13/72 wiki:

HCA 13/72 f.163r – MarineLives transcription

If you click on one of the other Google references, you will go to related MarineLives material. For example, our biographical profile of Christopher Myngs on our Shipping News blog:

Sample search: Places

Geographical terms can be entered as single or multiple words. For example, the search string “Annotate HCA” + “Spanish West Indies” yields fourteen Google results showing MarineLives resources:

Search string: “Annotate HCA” + “Spanish West Indies”

Sample search: Commodities

Are you interested in material history?

Try searching for commodity references in the HCA records using Google.

How about: “Annotate HCA” + beere, which yields eight results.

HCA 13/72 Materials look up page




The first result is to a page named HCA 13/72 Materials.  You can use this page to look for spelling variants of the commodities you are interested, or simply to browse a listing of all commodities identified to date in HCA 13/72.


How to find MarineLives-Tools resources

The key to finding MarineLives-Tools resources on Google is to preface your Google searches with the term MarineLives-Tools. This term should be placed in inverted commas as below:

Then add you desired search term or search string.

For example, you may be interested in a particular merchant or mariner, and wish to know if there are MarineLives resources available to supplement references to that merchant or mariner in an Admiralty Court transcription.

Let’s take the merchant Jacob Lucie.

The Google search string “MarineLives-Tools” + “Lucie” reveals a transcribed probate record. The abstract and contextual note states that he was the brother of Luke Lucie and the widow of Captain Jeremy Blackman.

PROB 11/390/418Jacob Lucie will - MarineLives-Tools

PROB 11/390/418 Jacob Lucie will – MarineLives-Tools

The Google search results reveal a further MarineLives-Tools resource in our annotated Hearth Tax records for London, Middlesex, Kent and Surrey. In this case it is a footnote to the 1664 hearth tax records for Woolwich.

The note tells us that Captain Jeremy Blackman purchased a “Sugarhouse in Woolwich” together with Luke Lucie (Jacob’s brother) and Captain William Ryder. It also identifies the purchase of Tower Place in Woolwich by Blackman, Jacob Lucie and William Bovie, consisting of wharf, warren and marsh.

MarineLives project

The MarineLives project team is now working in partnership with a group of early modernists at Bath Spa University, coordinated by Dr Alan Marshall, and with informatics researchers at the University of Mannheim and University of Ancona.

We have also applied to join the Digitised Manuscripts to Europeana project with which the Mannheim and Ancona informatics groups are closely associated.

In terms of content, we are exploring how we can expand the annotated textual corpus to cover the years of the protectorate (1653-1659), using team faciitators and project volunteers.

In terms of technical capability, we are looking at semi-automated entity recognition and, closely linked to this, at web based semantic annotation using the tool Pundit.

We are also exploring the potential to link entity recognition in our textual corpus to entity recognition in archival metadata at national and county level. 

If you would like to learn more about our project plans and contribute to those plans please contact the project team by

clicking on
our contact form

Looking for a digital humanities partner

The MarineLives project team is collaborating with the National Archives, Kew, and with the history department of Bath Spa University, to run an innovative project involving the collaborative tagging, annotation and linkage of mid-C17th Admiralty Court records.

The output will be a working proof of concept system, and a number of methodological and content related peer reviewed papers.

The project partners plan, if successful in raising project funding, to hire and finance one or more PhD and/or post-doctoral students for a period of one to two years. 

There is the potential to fund one PhD/post-doc in early modern studies and one in digital humanities, or, perhaps more innovatively, to fund one or two PhDs or post-docs,who straddle the study of early modern history and digital humanities, with affiliations to two institutions. 

We would expect their supervisors or sponsors themselves to be involved in the project.

We are looking for a digital humanities partner, who will assist us in exploring and developing our technological and process vision, and who is interested in working with us on the technological implementation of that vision in terms of code.

You will be committed to open source data and well versed in the open annotation model.

You will think outside normal tracks, and will take a strong interest in the theory and practice of the annotation and linkage of scientific digital literature, as well as being knowledgeable of digital scholarship approaches current in digital humanities

Our search for a digital humanities/technical partner or partners

The MarineLives leadership team is searching for a digital humanities and technical development partner (or partners) with whom to collaborate in the next phase of our vision for the collaborative transcription, annotation and linkage of Admiralty Court records, 1650-1669.  Key is that such a partner or partners share(s) our vision for open data and open annotation, think(s) entrepreneurially and is, or are, fast on its or their  feet


Take a look at two recent Shipping News blog entries on the National Archives tagging system, to sample our work and our perspectives.

User perspective on social tagging. Shipping News blog article, July 18th, 2013

What’s in a name? Shipping News blog article, July 23rd, 2013


Click here to download digital humanities and technical partnership document PDF

Click here to contact the MarineLives project team to discuss the contents of the above PDF

Background to the proposed collaboration and criteria for partnership

Exploratory discussions regarding digital humanities and technical partnership have been held with academics and departments at several UK and US universities, and these conversations continue. We are also interested in discussions with commercial companies active in archival systems, who have strong interests in large scale remote collaboration

Our immediate collaborative interest is to specify with our partners a proof of concept and grant application to explore the collaborative annotation and linkage of High Court of Admiralty documents in the late 1650

The National Archives and Bath Spa University will be named partners in the collaboration and grant application(s), together with the social venture, MarineLives, as a project of Connecting Primary Sources (a new UK educational charity in formation).

The National Archives, Kew, will contribute the documents, document preservation and document preparation, and will assist in digitisation

Bath Spa University will lead the early modern content aspects of the work, with Dr Alan Marshall, head of humanities at Bath Spa University, acting as the lead in partnership discussions, and coordinating the involvement of a number of Bath Spa academics who are involved in this project. Professor Elaine Chalus will act as advisor to the Bath Spa team.

We suggest the endpoints of the proof of concept should be defined in terms of content excellence and insight derived from the approach; a tested prototype methodology, which can be refined as a result of the proof of concept; and pedagogical insights from the involvement of different target groups of annotators with differing academic and public history backgrounds

We suggest the proof of concept should build off methodologies and software developed and used by and in recent annotation projects conducted in Europe and the United States in both the digital humanities and the natural sciences communities (especially biomedicine)

Our annotation proof of concept will build on the successful completion of the earlier MarineLives proof of concept for the collaborative transcription of HCA 13/71 ( a volume of Admiralty Court depositions from the years 1655 and 1656)

We would like to develop one or more digital humanities and technical; partnerships over the next three months, and to submit one or more joint grant applications by end October 2013

Potential to work on joint development of early modern digital history courses firmly embedded in archival work, targeting undergraduate and graduate students, together with Bath Spa University, our content partner

Potential to collaborate on the research (and writing) of academic papers, with MarineLives volunteers extending academic research capacity to our academic partners, together with Bath Spa University, our content partner

What’s in a name?

Today’s Shipping News blog article is the second in a series of user perspectives on social tagging systems. The first in the series – User perspective on social tagging – was published on July 18th, 2013.

We continue to experiment with probabilistic tags using the current version of the National Archives social tagging system, and are entering a new series of tags grouped under the new heading of MaterialLIves.  These complement our MarineLives series of National Archives social tags.

The data are derived from a material history proof of concept we ran early last year, and which we hope in the future to develop as a collaboration between public and academic historians.

The data

MaterialLives tags probate inventories, probate accounts, and other probate litigation held at the National Archives and links it to Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills. The data are for the period 1660 to 1689 and have been further linked to London, Middlesex, Kent and Surrey hearth tax data from the early and mid 1660s.

The current data set consists of two parts. 

Part One:  Ninety PROB 4 and twenty seven PROB 5 inventories from the 1660s to the 1680s, which have been probabilistically linked to probate wills.

Part Two: One hundred and twenty three London, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent inventories from the 1660s to the 1680s (mainly PROB 4 and PROB 5), which have been probabilistically linked to London, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent hearth tax data.

Sample tags

We have started to enter MaterialLIves data into the National Archives tagging system, and would appreciate feedback from our readers, especially from material and social historians, who might wish to work with us to expand the data set and to use the material in peer reviewed publications.

To date we have been tagging probabilistic links for will and inventory data using the National Archives social tagging system. But we are investigating how best to capture probabilistic links between these data and hearth tax data. Ideally, a direct link would be possible from the MarineLives National Archives tags to the electronic publication of various hearth tax data sets.

London and Middlesex:  British History Online, Returns collected by AHRC Hearth Tax Project, 2007-2010

Kent: Kent Hearth Tax Assessment Lady Day 1664: CKS: Q/RTh Transcribed and computerised by Duncan Harrington

Surrey: Surrey hearth Tax transcript, Lady Day, 1664











Zealous National Archives profanity checking

Readers with refined sensibilities should read further at their own risk.

An attempt to link the Will of Nathaniel Cock, Merchant of Saint Mary Woolnoth, City of London to two related inventory parts accepted the tag MaterialLives, but balked at his name.

Tables of probate inventories by hearth tax size and by occupation and hearth tax size

Data and sample inventory transcriptions can be viewed here.

Hearth tax to will (and inventory) linkage can be viewed here

User perspective on tagging

Today’s Shipping News blog article takes a user perspective on social tagging systems. Such systems are increasingly common at galleries, libraries, archives and museums, and have been used to increase the visibility and searchability of pictures, photographs, maps, museum objects, and archival manuscripts.  There are well publicised examples of the crowdsourcing of tags, to create metadata where previously there were none.

But published perspectives on such systems are often from an institutional standpoint.  Today’s blog article examines what it is personally like to create tags and to tag records.  It asks whether tags can be contributed and used by individuals and/or project teams to the direct benefit of their research, or whether tagging should be seen primarily as a “public good”.

The views expressed here are derived from a short experiment by the MarineLives not-for-profit project team using the National Archives tagging system. They are offered to encourage debate, and are the views of a non-technical user of technical tools.

We intend in a future blog article to explore the British Libraries tagging and annotation system from a user perspective, and to look at the state of tagging, annotation and linkage in county archives.

Our National Archives tagging experiment

Our experiment with that National Archives tagging system was quick and dirty.  We accessed it from a home laptop, using the standard public interface to add and search tags. In four hours, earlier this week, we created one hundred and forty nine new tags. Interested readers can access a complete list and analysis of these tags on a publicly available MarineLives GoogleDoc.

The National Archives tagging system permits tags consisting of single or multiple words, letters, and numbers, with a maximum of 100 characters. Not far short of a Tweet. Our longest tag was fifty-eight characters (including spaces), and our shortest tag was nineteen characters (including spaces).

We made no attempt to point our tags to archival material outside the physical (and digital) premises of the National Archives, nor to refer to metadata in computer systems run by other institutions.

We could tag quickly because we knew the material we were tagging extremely well, and were working from folio level metadata prepared by our MarineLives team.

National Archives metadata for Admiralty Court records is typically at volume level, but a single volume may have four hundred to eight hundred folios, and up to 800,000 manuscript words.

We have begun making MarineLives developed metadata available to interested users freely and openly on request as GoogleDocs (e.g. HCA 13/64: 1650-51; HCA 13/71: 1656-57)

In the medium term we would like to upload these metadata directly into the National Archives’ Discovery Search engine, if a technical standard and authorisation process can be established.

As we went through our short experiment, we developed our ideas about tagging, and what might make a useful tag.  A key decision was to assign probabilities to our tags, using three single word judgements: Definite, Probable, and Possible.

We had already been experimenting with probabilistic linkages of records in our Admiralty Court metadata work,  For our National Archives tagging experiment we ran through some suggested linked data in these GoogleDocs, mentally checked the assigned probability, and created a tag.

For example, Thomas Breton was a known London merchant in the mid-C17th, whose will is archived at the National Archives (PROB 11/392/3).  He was involved in a series of legal disputes in the 1660s, both as a plaintiff and as a defendant, and our knowledge of these legal disputes enabled us to tag his will with a number of Chancery court records which we judged to definitely involve the same Thomas Breton as a plaintiff or defendant.

We were very cautious about assigning Definite to our tags, requiring considerable documentation from multiple sources, and the bulk of our tags were assigned Probable or Possible.

Developing a tagging syntax and grammar

Our MarineLives tagging approach is distinguished from other tagging approaches through our attempt to use tags as pointers to specific documents (and ideally to specific data, as per the semantic web).  We are experimenting with the idea of tags as “pointers”, rather than the more typical use of tags to expand or correct existing metadata.

We quickly developed a “syntax and grammar” for our tags in support of our tagging approach. This syntax and grammar distinguishes our tags from many of the other user generated tags which can be browsed or searched in the National Archives system.

(1) All our tags begin “MarineLives”

(2) The second position in our tags is a statement of certainty (Definite, Probable, Possible)

(3) The third position is the TNA record being “pointed” to by the tag (for example, Admiralty Court records (hca/HCA), Chancery Court records (c/C), Probate Court records (prob/PROB).

In the case of Admiralty court records (hca/HCA), we realised towards the end of our tag fest, that we needed to be explicit that it was the witness who was being deposed in the Admiralty Court (the deponent) to which an Admiralty Court tag was pointing, as opposed to an individual in the body of the text.

Thus, we moved from a tag such as “marinelives probable hca1371f129r” towards an expanded tag, such as “marinelives probable deponent hca1371f110r

(4) Our final refinement is again for tags “pointing” to specific Admiralty Court folios.  We have high resolution digital images of all the folios our tags point to which we make freely available in the open source package SCRIPTO.  However, some deposition books do not have explicit foliation.  So we have started to add our own digital image codes to the tag.

In the medium term, we hope to work with TNA to ensure that folio information is complete for all thirteen all books of deposition between 1650 and 1669 (HCA 13/64 to HCA 13/76).  This is a necessity to support any future uploads of folio level metadata, and to make folio level tagging meaningful for Admiralty Court documents.

For example, the tag “marinelives probable deponent hca1364nofol p1090604” was applied to PROB 11/324/348 Will of Elias Vander Beke, or Vander Beak of Saint Olave Hart Street 03 July 1667. The tag indicates that the MarineLives project judges it probable that the thirty-three year old deponent in image P1090604 in the unfoliated book of Admiralty Court depositions, HCA 13/64 (1650-51), is the same person as the person to whom the will refers, when proven in 1667.

Searching for tags and searching for records

The National Archives tag search and record search engines do not appear to be fully integrated, and apparently operate according to different rules

Tag search

Searches are possible for both partial and full tags, with suggestions appearing in a drop down menu below the search box.

Spaces between characters are recognised.  Thus “C 10 65 99″ is recognised as a separate tag from “C106599″ and C10 65 99″.

The forward slash character is not accepted in a tag so a tag cannot be written as “C 10/65/99″, and a tag search for “C10/65/99″ will yield no results. This is in contrast to the Discovery record search engine which accepts forward slashes, but can also see through them. Record searches for “C 10 65 99″ and “C 10/65/99″ will both yield the same record

The TNA’s tagging search capability to search for partial tags enables slightly more complex searches. Thus, a search for “C 10 65 99″ produces two tags pointing the same source document (C 10/65/99) to three different destination documents, two with a definite probability assessment that the point is correct, and one with a probable probabilty assessment.  The tag with the definite assessment  (“marinelives definite c 10 65 99″) points to two destination documents: PROB 11/315/68 and PROB 11/342/101. These are the wills of Jane Noke,  the widow of Sir George Oxenden’s predeceased commercial partner, fellow merchant William Noke, and the Surat and London merchant Sir George Oxenden. The tag “marinelives probable c 10 65 99″ points to a destination document, which is the will of the London merchant Abraham Sayon, but with less certainty than for Jane Noke and Sir George Oxenden that the Sayon mentioned in the Chancery document is the same Abraham Sayon, whose will was proved in 1667.


The number of suggestions in the drop down menu below the tag search box is limited to ten, with suggestions listed in alphanumeric order.

Dealing with system constraints

It is easy to add a tag to National Archives records, but the devil is in the detail, and there are some unhelpful system constraints on tag inputs.

For example, only alphanumerical input is accepted, with forward slashes automatically rejected. This means that a tag using forward slashes (the reference convention used in TNA records) is impossible. Full stops are also rejected, making it harder to follow the usual convention to represent a folio (e.g. f.1r, f.3v, ff.1r-3v). Capital letters are also rejected, which is unhelpful for human (as opposed to machine) readers of text. “HCA” and “PROB” are thus rendered as “hca” and “prob”.

A tag indicating a probate record, such as the will of the London merchant, Thomas Breton ( PROB 11/392/3), has to be written as PROB 11 392 3, with spaces indicating where the forward slash would have gone. If the tagger leaves out the spaces it is hard to reconstruct the correct record reference.

A major weakness is the absence of Boolean tag search functions and the absence of an ability to limit tag searches to specific classes of document, such as Admiralty Court (HCA), Chancery (C), or Probate (PROB) documents.

Searching using user created tags:

It is not clear how integrated the tag search function is within the Discovery search engine at the National Archives.

Users are required to search for tags in a Tag search window, which is visually separate from the Discovery search window.

The headline URL for the Discovery Search user interface is, and there is an advanced Discovery Search interface at:

The Tag Search interface appears to be a special case of the Discovery search interface:, without any advanced search capability.

It is unclear from simple inspection of a tag ID whether an ID is assigned at random to an alphanumerical user tag, or whether some semantic data can or could be embedded in a tag.

Thus, the Tag-ID for the tag “marinelives probable hca1364nofol p1090606″ is


Our initial view, prompted by working with the National Archives tagging system, is that probabilistic grammatically based semantic tags could be very powerful for individual users and for users active in a content based community of interest.

Our hypothesis is that all tagging systems are a compromise between “social” and “individual”.  And that there is a need for designers and facilitators of tagging systems to think about the motivation and systems requirements of specialist groups, such as Dr Maria Fusaros’s ERC-funded international, and comparatively conceived project, Sailing into Modernity,  or the Birmingham based ESRC-funded project led by Dr Jelle Lotum, Migration, human capital and labour productivity: the international maritime labour market in Europe: c. 1650-1815, and indeed MarineLives.

At MarineLives we are users, not technologists, and we would welcome comments from technologists and digital humanists, who may tell us that we are barking up the wrong tree.  And of course we would welcome comments from the National Archives and from other archives and libraries regarding any interest in developing and trialling such an approach with a user community.