Blog No. 8 Explore Your Archive #handwriting
The Registry of Deeds is home to substantial collections central to Ireland’s cultural, social and property history. Our collections are rich in historical value but can present a challenge in terms of the sheer volume of information they hold. A core consideration for the Registry of Deeds Archive Services is how to eliminate barriers to access and make our historic collections available to as broad an audience as possible.
To this end, we are developing a programme of digitisation for our collections and one of our key considerations is how to make our digitised collections searchable and accessible. Explore Your Archives’ #handwriting day is an opportunity for us to showcase Transkribus and the potential it holds in opening our collections and making them more discoverable.
Mass digitisation is ineffectual unless accompanied by the appropriate contextual information, metadata and tools to interrogate the content of the collections. Manually transcribing historical texts is a time-consuming process and largescale transcription is often fuelled on the goodwill of interested public through crowdsourcing projects. Anyone who has engaged in transcription work is aware of how tedious deciphering changing hands over time can be.
Caption: Screengrab of Transkribus Interface with Registry of Deeds Transcript Book image.
Transkribus is an innovative tool capable of generating automatic transcriptions of handwritten script. The platform harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to power text recognition, transcription and searching of digitised archive collections. Transkribus is the result of EU-funded projects aiming to support public access, genealogy and academic research. It is dedicated to facilitating archives, libraries and other cultural heritage institutions in making their collections accessible online.
Transkribus creates the potential for archives to recreate this invaluable work automatically over a short timeframe. Current estimates suggest that Transkribus can work through an entire page of handwritten text in under a minute.
Transkribus generates a hand text recognition (HTR) model based on a sample of manual transcription work and digitised images of the handwriting samples. This is described as a ‘ground truth’. Registry of Deeds’ staff diligently created manual transcriptions of a sample our collections during the initial Covid-19 lockdown of March 2020. This work proved invaluable in progressing with a Registry of Deeds’ HTR model and was a silver lining of the initial closure period.
The Registry of Deeds collaborated with Beyond 2022 to progress the development of a working HTR model for our early transcript books. Beyond 2022, the all-Ireland collaborative research project, has been instrumental in paving the way forward for Transkribus in an Irish context. Further information on their ground-breaking work can be found on their blog.
The manual transcription work produced at the Registry of Deeds was combined with the existing B2022 English M4 model from Beyond 2022. The merger facilitated the creation of a working pilot HTR model for the Registry of Deeds. The model in its current form has the potential to product transcriptions for 18th and 19th century records with up to a 99% accuracy rate.
These highly accurate outputs could be enhanced further through manual correction in post-production or upskilling staff in zoning pages for the model.
We are further investigating the potential of Transkribus as a tool to bring property records to life in our exploratory research project led by Dr. Andrew Mackillop (University of Glasgow) and Dr. Patrick Walsh (Trinity College Dublin). This is in partnership with National Records of Scotland and Trinity College Dublin’s Digital Research Centre (ADAPT), and funded by the Irish Research Council and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Overall, exploration of the Transkribus platform is a new departure for the Registry of Deeds Archive Services and is an exciting experience in the potential of ‘AI’ technologies in bringing archive collections into the spotlight. Whilst we are still at the early stages of designing a digitisation programme, our initial work with the Transkribus platform has been extremely positive.