VWML Online The website for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library

Using the Roud Folk Song index

The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of 143,000 references to songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world.

The index is text based. In other words, it does not recognise tunes or tune types but is solely based on the textual content of the songs included. It provides references to songs, not the song texts themselves. Having found the song you are looking for you can then track down the reference at a library, the principal first source being the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (click here for details of access to VWML).

Each song, which can exist under a variety of titles, is given a Roud number and by using this, references to all versions of that song can be retrieved. But this huge database can also be searched in other ways, for instance by the singer's name, geographical location, type of source (e.g. sound, printed book, manuscript), collector, date of collection and other relevant numbers associated with the songs, such as the Child ballad numbers.

The most common way of approaching this index is by song title or first line. These can greatly vary, both in the actual words used and their spellings. However, by using a precise phrase, e.g. 'Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime', or a single word, you should be able to locate the song you are looking for. Once you have, you will then be in possession of a Roud Number. If you then place this number in the Roud Number field (not to be mistaken with the Roud ID Number field), or click on the Roud Number Search link within the field, this will call up all references to this song. In the case of the ballad Barbara Allan (Roud Number 54), there are currently 1020 records!!

Consequently, you may wish to narrow this number down by clicking the Multiple Field Search option and searching just for the versions collected in Scotland. To do this, enter the Roud number in the appropriate field and then Scotland in the Place Collected field. There are currently 45 records using this combination. And you can be even more specific in terms of place, by naming a particular town or village, or by singer, collector, date, and so on. Note that data in the Type field indicates whether the item is in a book, manuscript, sound recording, journal, etc., and if you need texts with tunes, the Content field will tell you whether or not you get both. Also note that the names of performers and collectors are given with the surname first.

You may be interested to know that Roud records will sometimes lead you back to other indexes hosted on this site, such as references to the Sharp, Hammond and Gardiner manuscript collections. This might end up with you finding an actual photographic image of the singer.'

Not all of the references found in the Roud Folk Song Index are held by VWML -- but most are. However, if we can't help you locate a particular version of a song you are looking for, then you may be able to track down the reference elsewhere using the information obtained. It should be noted that any copies requested from this or any other library will be bound the laws of copyright.

This site is being constantly developed. That means that existing indexes will be upgraded and added to as and when more data is available. If some fields of information are empty this means that either no information exists or that data will be uploaded when available.

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