1. Why use this guide?
This in-depth research guide outlines some of the ways in which Domesday can be of use to contemporary researchers, and explains how to access and understand the information within Domesday. Another excellent introduction can be found at nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday.
2. Essential information
Domesday Book is a detailed survey and valuation of landed property in England, taken in 1086 on the orders of William the Conqueror. 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).
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 cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies.
Domesday is not the answer if you are looking for a Norman ancestor. Consult instead AJ Camp, My ancestors came with the conqueror (Society of Genealogists, 1990) and and KSB Keats-Rohan, Domesday people: A prosopography of persons occurring in English documents 1066-1166, volume 1: Domesday Book (Woodbridge, 1999).
3. 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, the questions were asked three times, to cover changes over time:
- 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 all this information is recorded for every entry in Domesday.
4. How to use Domesday
Domesday Book itself can no longer be consulted except in very rare circumstances (although one volume is at times displayed in The Keeper's Gallery at The National Archives). To consult Domesday, researchers can use excellent facsimiles and translations available in printed editions and online.
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, and visible when paging through the facsimiles. 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 if a modern-day place was made up of more than one manor, and these manors were held by different people, the same modern-day place may appear in more than one Domesday entry.
4.1 Accessing Domesday online
Editions Alecto has published colour facsimiles of Domesday which can be downloaded from Discovery, our catalogue. These can be searched by name, modern place name, Domesday place name and folio number.
Search Discovery using the formula '[your keyword] AND Domesday', for example 'Elthorne AND Domesday'.
The downloadable results provide both a colour folio facsimile and a translation of the text. This method of consulting Domesday is ideal if you are looking for a particular person or a specific settlement.
There is also a searchable Domesday map on The National Archives' Labs site. This allows users to search by place name and / or click on map locations to see which places were mentioned in Domesday. Please note that Labs is a development website used to test new online products and services, so the Domesday tool on it is a work still very much in progress.
The content of Domesday can also be searched and downloaded free of charge via Domesdaymap.co.uk. This resource also has some excellent explanations of Domesday terms and concepts.
The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) database provides structured information on individual landholders in Domesday, and can be manipulated to provide statistical and geographical information.
4.2 Accessing printed editions of Domesday
Printed editions of Domesday can provide a convenient way of browsing quickly through the survey.
The Phillimore editions (Domesday Book, general editor John Morris (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 on 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.
Alternatively you can use the Alecto translation in A Williams and G H Martin (eds), Domesday Book: A Complete Translation (Penguin Books, 1992), which is indexed by place, or the printed transcript and translations produced by Alecto in 1986 and 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 at entry within it consult the relevant county Phillimore volume (or the composite indexes of persons, subjects and places) or the (place) index to Williams and Martin (eds), Domesday Book, and note the folio. Then simply turn to this folio in the facsimile. Note that each folio has two sides - the front (verso) and back (recto).
It is possible to buy colour prints 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 who will provide you with a quote.
5. Citing references from Domesday
If you are citing entries in Domesday and therefore want to include the full catalogue reference number, you should look up the entry online. The search results page includes the catalogue reference (including whether an individual entry is on the front (verso) or back (recto) of the folio.
For further information on the cataloguing of Domesday, see the series division for E 31.
For further information on citing documents from The National Archives, please see our page on citing documents.
6. Relevant/related documents held outside The National Archives
Some early drafts of the questions that were asked by the Domesday commissioners and the returns that were made survive in records held outside The National Archives - the Liber Exoniensis (Somerset, Cornwall and most of Devon) held in the library of Exeter Cathedral; the Inquisitio Eliensis (Ely Abbey estates) held in Trinity College, Cambridge; and the Inquistio Comitatus Cantabrigiensis (parts of Cambridgeshire) held in the British Library under reference Cotton Tiberius A VI. Extracts are printed in English Historical Documents, II, 1042-1189, ed. D C Douglas (London, 1953). The returns themselves were written up into Domesday Book.
For Durham and Northumberland, a survey known as the Boldon Book records the estates of the Bishop of Durham in those counties in 1183. This was published as part of the Phillimore editions of Domesday (see above).
7. Further reading
There is an enormous amount of secondary material on Domesday, and the below list is nowhere near exhaustive.
Domesday Re-Bound, Public Record Office Handbook (HMSO, 1954)
H C Darby and G R Versey, Domesday Gazetteer (Cambridge, 1975)
D Bates, Domesday Bibliography (Royal Historical Society, 1986)
J Morris (general ed.), Domesday Book (Chichester, 1975-1992) - the 'Phillimore editions'
H C Darby, Domesday England (Cambridge, 1977, 1986)
E M Hallam, Domesday Book through Nine Centuries (London, 1986)
A J Camp, My Ancestors came with the Conqueror (Society of Genealogists, 1990)
D Roffe, Domesday the Inquest and the Book (Oxford, 2000)
E M Hallam and D Bates (eds.), Domesday Book (The History Press, 2001)
D Roffe, Decoding Domesday (Boydell, 2007)