This is the will of William Linley. I am trying to work out what land he owned and where it went when he died. The property was in Oldbury (probably on-the-hill, rather than on-severn) in Glos.

Unfortunately, I am having real trouble actually reading the words!! Any help that you guys can give would be greatly appreciated. Also, I am looking for any mention of household papers or music that may have been passed down to William from his father Thomas Linley and where they might have gone. Ideally I need a transcription of this will in handwriting I can actually read! I'm not sure what extra info you guys might need, but please comment and I'll fill in as much info as I can for you - anything on this would be greatly appreciated!

I'm not sure when the will was actually written but William Linley died in 1835.

Image is page 1 of William Linleys will Further pages: 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

  • 4
    Even if this was a modern document I’d need an hour to typewrite it. I think you should start your own transcription and ask for help when there are gaps.
    – lejonet
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 22:22
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    I hope you do not mind me suggesting that you edit your Question down to just the first place you may be stuck with your own transcription efforts. GFH SE users are very helpful but asking for a full transcription of a Will makes this Question too broad. Help transcribing a few sentences from a Will would be about what we would normally see here.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 0:10
  • 1
    Note Becky's related question Landowning in Eighteenth Century Gloucestershire?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 2:17
  • 1
    I've edited the Q so that the text of the question comes first and all the images come after it. Sorry for being picky, but it was driving me crazy.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 2:36
  • 3
    I see codicils in the images, which means that we have dates for when the will was amended.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 18:22

2 Answers 2


Here are some links to handwriting tutorials and other articles to help you get started:

One approach is to make an alphabet chart (the sample I linked to is from Ancestry, given as a handwriting example for the 1841 Census) and start filling it in with examples from the words you can easily read, like the names you already know, or the words "Whereas" or "Last Will and Testament". Powell suggests starting with the dates. Her suggestion to start with the numbers is especially good because there are fewer numbers than there are letters, requiring less guesswork, and because knowing the dates the will was amended and proved can lead you to information about the legal requirements of the time. Finding a transcription of another will from the same period might give you an idea of the legal boilerplate of the period.

The class Early Modern Palaeography is probably too early for the time period as this will, but I've included the link in this answer anyway because the site has lots of useful information -- will transcriptions, notes on Palaeography, samples of different handwriting, and interesting references in the bibliography.

The Family Search Wiki article on England Probate Records has useful links and also contains some of the terms you will find in the Will itself (e.g. Prerogative Court). Modern-day references such as this article on Estate Planning also define legal terms that are still used today like codicil "a legal document that changes specific provisions of a Last Will and Testament but leaves all of the other provisions unchanged." (see note at the end)

The Society of Genealogists has a series of downloadable research guides, including Guide Four: Probate Records.

More recently, James Tanner has started a series, The Ins and Outs of Probate for Genealogists, on his blog, Genealogy's Star. These articles have many useful links to other resources. The installments are:

  1. Part One - In the Beginning
  2. Part Two - Where there is a will there is a way
  3. Part Three - Understanding the Language of a Will

Using a graphics viewer like Irfanview may also help you zoom in or out, change from positive to negative, sharpen the images, etc.

My advice would be not to worry so much about transcribing the will from start to finish, but to spend some time first getting familiar with the script itself. For instance, on the last page, in the second line underneath the section break I see the word "family". Can you find more? Once you have decoded a word, run your eye over the document and see how many more instances of that word you can pick out. Look for other legal terms that might be in the will like "bequeath" and "surrogate" and then see if you can find them in other places. After a while, the hand will be more familiar and other words will reveal themselves, and things will get easier.

From my experience with translations, I know that forcing yourself through the document word by word is a great way to get 'stuck'. Skip over a word if you can't read it, and see if what follows gives you enough context to make sense of the word you can't quite make out. You can learn how to read the handwriting with practice, as long as you don't convince yourself that the task is impossible.

Note that at the bottom of page 5 of the will, there is a break in the text with a date, and below that it reads something like 'As a [?further] [?codicil] to this my last will I hereby give and bequeath to my' ... That's a codicil, a change added 8th of May 1833.

Also don't forget Stack Exchange itself when looking for other resources. See this answer to Deciphering a handwritten script on the Linguistics.SE beta.


I think Jan has an excellent response for actually reading the will, but I will put out another solution or if anything supplementary information that you still may need after you read the will.

There are other ways to determine the core question " I am trying to work out what land he owned and where it went when he died." you are attempting to gain an answer to and it seems like you may be making it more complex than necessary. If you are just looking for the 'where' and who owned it afterwards. The will itself may not even contain the detail you are looking for and provide more generalities but no specifics.

When I have tried to obtain similar information I have resorted to old maps as the information I am told is in books too old to be handled outside of a very expensive special handling request and have not been scanned/photographed and likely will not be. Maps too contain some errors and are only updated periodically though so may not have all changes of ownership.

Resources I use for example on eBay and other website there are many people who deal in historical maps scanned to CD or downloadable in reasonably high resolution, or reproductions in print of historical maps. Some even index the names to which map and use some sort of grid system. Though I have not seen anyone provide GPS coordinates 'yet'.

  1. eBay physical maps
  2. eBay Digital Downloads
  3. Use sites like this that offer historical maps of your area.
  4. I don't have the international or English subscription to Ancestry.com but they also claim to have some historical maps that may fit your needs.

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