How to look for records of... Domesday Book
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
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1. Why use this guide?
This research guide explains how to access and understand the information within Domesday Book. For a more detailed introduction to Domesday, and England at the end of the 11th century, when Domesday was compiled, consult our online Domesday exhibition.
The original Domesday Book itself can no longer be consulted except in very rare circumstances. This guide directs you to the excellent printed and online facsimiles and translations.
2. What is Domesday Book?
Domesday Book is a detailed survey and valuation of landed property in England at the end of the 11th century. The survey was ordered by William the Conqueror at Christmas 1085 and undertaken the following year. It records who held the land and how it was used, and also includes information on how this had changed since the Norman Conquest in 1066. It is not a census of the population, and the individuals named in it are almost exclusively land-holders. Domesday is written in Latin, although excellent translations are available (see below).
Domesday is not usually an appropriate source if you are looking for a Norman ancestor. Consult instead A J Camp’s My ancestors came with the Conqueror (Society of Genealogists, 1990) and Katharine Rohan’s Domesday people: A prosopography of persons occurring in English documents 1066-1166 (Vol 1) (Woodbridge, 1999).
Watch our Spotlight On: Domesday video for a brief introduction to Domesday Book.
3. Great Domesday, Little Domesday and the areas covered
The survey does not cover London (city), Winchester, Northumberland and Durham or much of north-west England; the only parts of Wales included are certain border areas.
Most of the returns were entered into Great Domesday. Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are in a separate volume, known as Little Domesday because of its smaller size. Little Domesday seems to be a survival of part of an earlier and fuller draft compiled from the original returns. For further information, see E 31 in Discovery, our catalogue.
4. The information recorded in Domesday
The Domesday survey was carried out by commissioners holding sworn inquests in local courts, where they asked fixed questions of local men. For each property, each question was asked three times, to cover changes over time. The commissioners asked how land had been held:
- as it had been on the last day of the reign of Edward the Confessor (5 January 1066) – this is abbreviated in Domesday as TRE
- as it had been when it was granted by King William
- as it was in 1086 (when the survey was taken)
The questions included:
Note that not every piece of information is recorded for every entry in Domesday. There is a glossary of Domesday terms in our online Domesday exhibition.
5. How the original Domesday Book is arranged
Both Great and Little Domesday are arranged by county, and within each county, by landholder. Each new landholder is given a number, written in red in roman numerals at the start of their entry. There is a table of contents at the beginning of each county, which lists the landholders with their numbers, starting with the king, but no index. However, later editors have produced excellent indexes to the online and printed editions which make finding particular entries straightforward.
Please note that modern place names may cover land that belonged to more than one 11th-century manor, and where these manors were held by different people they may appear in more than one Domesday entry. Similarly, if the same person held different manors in different areas, they will appear in more than one Domesday entry.
6. Accessing Domesday online
6.1 The Editions Alecto edition on The National Archives catalogue
Use the box below to search and download (£) colour facsimiles of Domesday, published by Editions Alecto, from our catalogue. Search by name, modern place name, Domesday place name or folio number, using the formula ‘[your keyword] AND Domesday’. For example, search for ‘Elthorne AND Domesday’ or ‘Folio 254r AND Domesday’.
Alternatively, using the same search criteria, try a slightly broader search from the homepage of our catalogue.
You can download both a colour facsimile of the folio on which your entry appears and a translation of all the text on that folio (not just the text of the entry for which you searched). This method of consulting Domesday is ideal if you are looking for a particular person or a specific settlement. Please note that the image and translation will be of either the recto (front) or the verso (back) of the folio, depending on where your entry appears.
As noted above, individual people and places frequently appear in more than one Domesday entry. As there are lots of different entries on each folio, your search results may return multiple entries which are actually on the same folio. Before you download your search results, please make sure that they are on different folios, otherwise you could end up downloading the same folio more than once. The folio number is displayed clearly on the catalogue page for each entry. If your results appear on the same folio, you only need to download it once.
6.2 Open Domesday
Search for images of Domesday by town or postcode on Open Domesday.
6.3 The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England database
Search the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) database. It provides structured information on individual landholders in Domesday, and can be manipulated to provide statistical and geographical information.
7. Accessing printed editions of Domesday
Printed editions of Domesday can provide a convenient way of browsing quickly through the survey.
7.1 The Phillimore editions
The Phillimore editions (Chichester 1975-1992) are arranged by county and have a transcript of the original abbreviated Latin on the left page, facing an English translation on the right page. These volumes do not have page numbers, because as far as possible they use the reference systems found within Domesday itself. To find an entry:
- Select the appropriate county volume
- Find the person or place in the indexes at the back
- Note the last column of entries. This will give you a pair of numbers, for example 12,3; if there is more than one entry for that person or place within that county it will be listed, for example 12,3. 37,16.
- The first number of each pair is the red chapter number for a particular landholder (marked in bold in the top right corner of the translation page). The second number is the section number (found in the left hand margin of the translation – note that these section numbers are not original and are only found in the Phillimore editions).
- Using the numbers, find the correct page in the Phillimore edition. If you wish also to consult a facsimile of the entry, note the county, red chapter number, and the folio number (given at the bottom of the page in the Phillimore editions).
Note that there are separate composite index volumes or persons, places and subjects covering all the counties.
7.2 The Editions Alecto translation and edition
Alternatively, you can use the Alecto translation in Domesday Book: A Complete Translation (Penguin Books, 1992), which is indexed by place; or the printed transcript and translations produced by Alecto in 1986. Both are available in The National Archives’ library.
Editions Alecto has also produced a facsimile edition of Domesday which can be seen in printed form at The National Archives at Kew. This is purely a facsimile, not a translation. To find an entry within it consult the Phillimore volume for the relevant county (or the composite indexes of persons, subjects and places) or the (place) index in Domesday Book: A Complete Translation, and note the folio. Then simply turn to this folio in the facsimile. Note that each folio has two sides – the front (recto) and back (verso).
7.3 Digital images from The National Archives
You can buy colour images of Domesday folios from The National Archives’ image library. To do so, identify the folio numbers that you need (including whether you want the verso or recto of the folio) and contact the image library (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will provide you with a quote. The place name, as spelled in the books, can help to confirm the correct page.
8. Citing references from Domesday
If you are citing entries in Domesday from our catalogue you will need to follow these steps:
- Look up the relevant Domesday folio on our catalogue
- From the search results page note the catalogue reference, the folio number and whether the entry appears on the front (recto – marked by an r) or back (verso – marked by a v) of the folio. For example, E 31/2/1/139 is the full catalogue reference for Northgate in Canterbury. The relevant folio is 5r.
For further information on the cataloguing of Domesday, see the series description for E 31.
For further information on citing documents from The National Archives, please see our page on citing records.
9. Related documents held elsewhere
Some early drafts of the questions that were asked by the Domesday commissioners as well as some Domesday returns survive and are held in other archives and libraries. They are:
- the Liber Exoniensis, covering Somerset, Cornwall and most of Devon, held in the library of Exeter Cathedral
- the Inquisitio Eliensis, covering Ely Abbey estates, held in Trinity College, Cambridge
- the Inquistio Comitatus Cantabrigiensis, covering parts of Cambridgeshire, held in the British Library under reference Cotton MS Tiberius A VI
- a survey known as the Boldon Book records the estates of the Bishop of Durham in Durham and Northumberland in 1183 (this was published as part of the Phillimore editions of Domesday – see above)
Extracts are printed in English Historical Documents, Volume II, c.1042-1189, ed. D C Douglas (London, 1953). The returns themselves were written up into Domesday Book.
10. Further reading
There is an enormous amount of secondary material on Domesday, and the list below is not exhaustive.
Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ shop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.
A J Camp, My Ancestors came with the Conqueror (Society of Genealogists, 1990)
H C Darby and G R Versey, Domesday Gazetteer (Cambridge, 1975)
H C Darby, Domesday England (Cambridge, 1977, 1986)
Domesday Re-Bound, Public Record Office Handbook (HMSO, 1954)
R W H Erskine and A Williams (eds), Story of the Domesday Book (Phillimore, 2003)
E M Hallam, Domesday Book through Nine Centuries (London, 1986)
E M Hallam and D Bates (eds.), Domesday Book (The History Press, 2001)
S Harvey, Domesday: Book of Judgement (Oxford, 2014)
J Morris (general ed.), Domesday Book (Chichester, 1975-1992) – the ‘Phillimore editions’
D Roffe, Domesday the Inquest and the Book (Oxford, 2000)
D Roffe, Decoding Domesday (Boydell, 2007)