Friday, August 04, 2006

Domesday online

With much fanfare, the Domesday Book has been made available online.

You can visit the site and search the database by modern place name, 11th Century place name (which, of course, you know...) or by the name of an individual mentioned. The search interface seems reasonably straightforward and results were returned quickly - presumably, lessons have been learned from the 1901 Census fiasco...

Some crushing disappointments for me though: first, the results you get are only records; you have to pay for downloadable, scanned images of pages from Domesday. None of the news I've read in my RSS aggregator or in various emails mentioned this fact, nor did (to my hazy, tea-fuelled recollection) the piece on BBC Breakfast this morning.

The biggest problem, though, is in the results returned. I tried a few places I've known and loved over the years:

Goxhill - it's in North Lincolnshire and I lived there for about six years. My parents are still there. Searching Domesday online for "Goxhill" returns a place of the same name in Yorkshire. This map shows the difference between the two. There is a point, and it is this: I know the Domesday Book includes and entry on "my" Goxhill because I've seen it in a translation of the text in Bolton Central Library's Reference Reserve Stock. So, I searched the catalogue for the book and found this more accessible translation on the open shelves. Lo and behold, the Goxhill in Lincolnshire has several entries in the index.

Caistor - this town in Lincolnshire is where I went to school. It was originally settled by Roman troops and, if memory serves, Roman remains were found while some building work was being done, way before my time. Again, searching Domesday online finds several "wrong" Caistors: but the book I swiped from the shelves lists the "right" one in its index.

There are two possible explanations here - either the index behind the data supplied by the National Archives is not very good, or I'm using the database incorrectly. In both cases, I believe the fault lies with TNA: the data should be comprehensive and it should be easy to search.

The moral of this story: the online service is all very well and good, but maybe you're better off with a book in this case. Try this search at Bolton, Trafford and Wigan and see what you can find. Signpost's link to Domesday online is in the Reference books online section.

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