The Traditional Ballad Index

An annotated source to folk song
from the English-speaking world

Version 4.5


The Traditional Ballad Index is a collaborative effort designed to help people find reference information on ballads. It is not itself a source of song texts or of discussion of ballads, although it contains some summary information.

The current editor of the Ballad Index is Robert B. Waltz. You can contact me electronically at <>. My address is 1078 Colne Street, Saint Paul, MN, 55103-1348, USA. (This information subject to change without notice.) Please note: I will not return long-distance phone calls. I'm sorry, but this is a labor of love for me, and I can't afford to sink more money into it than I already have. Also, please understand that I cannot answer every question you may have about songs in (or not in) the Index. If you send a query, I will have to respond with a form letter.

The assistant editor of the Index is David G. Engle of California State University, Fresno, <>, 209-278-2708.

The Ballad Index is available in a variety of formats, including an online searchable database. You can also download the Index in text or html form, and a special software package is available to facilitate searching. Before you download a version, please read the section entitled Which Version Should I Use? For the current versions, consult our home page and table of contents.

The Ballad Index is made available free of charge to all who wish to use it. However, the editors retain all rights. In particular, you may not publish or commercially distribute the Index without the Editor's permission. You may not charge to reproduce this index except for nominal charges to cover the cost of copying. Commercial use is prohibited, as is modification without the express consent of the Editors.

Let's put it another way: We worked hard to make this Index available to you free of charge. Don't violate our trust by stealing it, adding your own name to it, or selling it.

The Traditional Ballad Index is copyright © 2019 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

Contents of this Document

Thanks to our contributors

Which Version Should I Use?

How to Use the Ballad Index

How to Contribute to the Ballad Index

Contributors to the Ballad Index

(Thanks, folks!)

The Ballad Index Editorial Board consists of Robert Waltz, David G. Engle, Ed Cray, Lani Herrmann, Don Nichols, Ben Schwartz, and Paul J. Stamler.

The Keywords list was overseen by Paul J. Stamler.

Programming was done by Robert Waltz, Steve Mitchell, Don Nichols, Ben Schwartz, and Elizabeth Bagley.

Other special contributions were made by Ed Cray, Norm Cohen, David Engle, Warren Fahey, and Lani Herrmann.

Design suggestions and initial contributions came from the members of the Ballad-L mailing list.

Many people have contributed information to the Ballad Index. They include Robert Waltz, Paul J. Stamler, Abby Sale, Ed Cray, Scott Hadley, Karen Kaplan, Nathan Rose, Becky Nankivell, Susan Lawlor, Ben Schwartz, and others whose contributions are still in progress....

Which Version Should I Use?

The Ballad Index is available in a variety of formats. Which one you use will depend on your hardware. The available formats may change with future versions.

If you wish to do serious research, we strongly suggest that you download the Ballad Index Software.

For casual use, your best bet is simply to use the online version of the Index (click here to see how to download the Index for heavy use. If you use one of the downloadable versions, see the documentation for that particular version. If you plan to use the HTML version, click here to read about it).

If you wish to do only a quick lookup, and know the name of your song, the best method is to find it in the Table of Contents, which lists all song titles in the Ballad Index.

If that doesn't help you find the song, you can sometimes locate it using our online search engine (which is, however, less than perfectly reliable.) The online version allows you to create complex queries. This version is documented below.

The appearance of the search form is shown below. (In fact, this is a limited version of the search form.)

Search the Traditional Ballad Index.
This service can only be used from a forms-capable browser.

To conduct a search, select the field marked "enter keywords" and type in the keywords you want. For example, to search for songs whose entries contain the word "bird," you would type in "bird." If you want songs containing both the word "bird" and the word "death," try "bird and death." If you wanted, say, songs with the word "bird" or the word "hawk," try "bird or hawk."

The songs will be listed "best fit first" order. (Our experience, though, is that what the computer thinks is best may not agree with what you think is best. In fact, it's very good at ignoring things.) If you only want the best fits, try reducing the number of hits. If you want to see everything that resembles your criteria, set the number of hits higher.

If you will be doing heavy work with the index, or if you don't have a browser capable of using forms, you will want to download the index. Two formats are available: ASCII text and HTML. In addition, there is software for searching the ASCII version.

The basic format is, of course, ASCII. This is the smallest version, but has none of the advanced features of the HTML version unless you use it in conjunction with the Ballad Index software. We suggest you use text format if you have a machine with limited memory. Also, be sure to choose the appropriate format for your machine: ZIPped PC ASCII (for IBM), gzipped ASCII (for UNIX or OS X Macintosh), or Stuffed Mac ASCII (for Macintosh running OS 9.x or earlier).

An HTML edition is also available. This is probably the most readable format, and also includes a number of internal links to help you find songs. However, this version is very large, and imposes significant strains on browsers. In our experience, it cannot be used effectively on older PC clones or 680X0 Macintoshes. It works reasonably well on UNIX machines or OS 9 Macintoshes using Netscape Navigator; be sure your computer has plenty of memory available. (In Netscape Navigator 4.0, the Index requires about a 20 MB partition. Netscape Communicator or older versions of Navigator require about 25 MB.) Internet Explorer seems to be, in practice, unable to load files this size; I was forced to give it a 40 MB partition and wait over an hour to load. Therefore use of Internet Explorer is not recommended. Safari will load the Index, but it takes forever and gives little feedback. The best browser I have tried, by far, is FireFox; it alone loads the Index quickly and starts showing entries at once. It is possible to browse the Index in Lynx.

To use the html version on your home machine, download it, expand it, and open it in your browser or in a word processor that can read HTML files. (If you do use such a word processor, again, Please remember that the html version is very large. If your word processor cannot handle files larger than 20 MB, you will probably have to use the ASCII version.)

There is also a PDF version, which is effectively identical to the HTML version, but which may be easier to search and save. It is the suggested method if you wish to use the Index on an Android tablet or unix machine, for which there is no software available.

If you wish to conduct complex searches, or if you have limited system capabilities, it is strongly suggested that you download the Ballad Index software, which allows you to conduct complex searches using limited hardware.

You can download your preferred version from the Ballad Index Home/Table of Contents Page.

To learn about software to use the Ballad Index, see the approptiate section on the Ballad Index Software.

If you would like to be notified of new releases of the Ballad Index, your simplest course is to subscribe to the Ballad-L mailing list. Send mail to <> Leave the subject blank; in the body of the message, write subscribe ballad-l.

How to Use the Ballad Index

So what is all this stuff in the Index?

Let's start by explaining what the Index is, and how it differs from other checklists such as Steve Roud's excellent Folk Song Index (which contains many more bibliographic citations than the Ballad Index).

The Ballad Index is first and foremost a source of citations, similar to the Roud index. But there are additional features. For example, we have a keyword scheme which can help you find a song if you don't know its title, or which can help you find similar songs. The cross-references also help this function.

Plus, in many cases, we try to give background information. This can include the history behind the song, information about its origin or about the author -- indeed, anything that springs to mind that someone wants to write. In many hundreds of these songs, the notes are so extensive as to constitute significant essays. A list of songs with such notes are found in the list of Ballad Index Articles.

Types of Entries

The Ballad Index contains two sorts of entries: Main Entries and Reference Entries. Reference Entries are very brief; they exist only to point you to the appropriate Main Entry. Thus a typical reference entry would look like this in the html version:

Wind and Rain, The: see The Twa Sisters [Child #10] (File: C001).

In the online version, it would look like

Cross-ref: Wind and Rain, The: see The Twa Sisters [Child #10] (File: C001).

This informs you that, in our opinion, the song "The Wind and Rain" is a variation of the ballad known as "The Twa Sisters." You can look up fuller details in the entry on "The Twa Sisters." (If you use the HTML version, this link will be "live" -- that is, clicking on it will take you to "The Twa Sisters.")

A Main Entry contains as many as sixteen parts, not all of which are present for all songs:

The Description, Author, and File fields will be supplied for all ballads, and all songs will include at least one Reference, Recording, or Broadside citation. The other fields are given only when they offer additional information, Fuller descriptions of these fields can be found in the section "How to Contribute to the Ballad Index."

Note: Book titles in the References section have been abbreviated. A full list of abbreviations is found in the bibliography. The abbreviations used in the present document include:

Finding Entries in the downloadable versions

Entries in the Index appear in alphabetical order based on the song title. If you know the title, you should be able to find the song just by scrolling through the list. There are, however, other ways to search the Index. If your software permits it, you can search for words in the title, or for "keywords" -- a special list of words we have developed to help you find songs. A complete list of keywords is found in the keywords document.

Ballad Index Philosophy

Here are a few clues about why the Ballad Index is organized as it is.

The Ballad Index uses a loose definition of a ballad. The definition I'm working from is "A traditional song in which something happens." (Before you object, by the way, we took a survey, and the majority of those who answered preferred not to use a restrictive definition of a ballad.) I don't claim this is the "correct" or "ideal" definition of a ballad -- but it has the advantage that anyone can apply it and not get into arguments. If we're in doubt (for instance, if we're dealing with what looks like a fragment of a longer song), we include it. The only real criterion is that a song be collected in the field.

The Ballad Index follows a philosophy of "splitting" rather than "lumping" ballads. That is, if two pieces may be related, but we're not sure, we treat them as two separate ballads. This is not because we automatically believe that ballads should be "split"; it's because it's easier for us. With thousands of songs to deal with, finding all versions of the same song may be beyond us. A secondary consequence of this is that we usually split rewrites into separate entries (though we have not been entirely consistent in this, as songs such as "The Babes in the Woods" show).

The Ballad Index is not a source of song texts, although we do have some sample texts in the Supplemental Tradition. Early on, we decided that there simply wasn't room to include texts, or even first lines, for all the items in the Index. If a text is included, it is to help you identify the piece. Such fragments will often be found in the descriptions or the notes.

If you want to look up texts, consult the references in the Index. Or you can use the Digital Tradition, an on-line database of folk songs. A large fraction of the songs in the Index, including almost all of the best-known ones, are represented in the Digital Tradition, and its contents continue to grow. You can examine the Digital Tradition at

The Ballad Index is a long way from perfect. To a significant extent it's dependent on my feeble knowledge and my feeble fingers. If you find mistakes, don't hesitate to point them out to me. In particular, if you think two songs are the same, tell me about it and tell me why. If I agree, I'll join the entries. If I disagree, I'll try to offer information in the notes as to why they are different.

How to Contribute to the Ballad Index

Contributions to the Ballad Index are welcome. If you have a major ballad book that has not been indexed, please notify me so that I can be sure that no one else is working on your book, and assign you an abbreviation for your book. I can also send you the most recent version of the Ballad Index to work from.

Format of Contributions

If you wish to make a contribution to the Ballad Index, you should contact me so that we can discuss the book you wish to index. I may be able to give you other help.

Chances are that some of the songs in your book will already be in the Index, but others will not. You will thus have to create New entries and additions to current entries.

A new entry should contain as much information as possible, e.g. title, author, description, etc. (See the example below.)

To make an addition to an entry, simply give the name of the song and fill out the additional information. At its simplest this consists of nothing more than supplying a number or page reference for the piece, the author's title, and the number of texts and tunes included.

Take the following partially filled out entry as an example.

James Bird [Laws A5]

Description: James Bird leaves his family to join Perry's fleet on Lake Erie. In the battle, he fights valiantly, continuing to serve even after being wounded. Later, however, he tells his parents that he is to be executed for desertion.
Author: James Miner
Earliest Date: 1814 (newspaper, "The Gleaner")
Long Description:
Historical References: 1814 - Battle of Lake Erie
Laws A5, "James Bird"
Eddy 118, "James Bird" (1 text, 1 tune)
Found in:
Alternate Titles:

File: LA05

Looking in Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, you find that James Bird is #17. You would therefore give me the following information, which I would add to the database:

James Bird [Laws A5]
Warner 17, "James Bird" (1 text, 1 tune)

Notice that all you need to send me is the name of the song and any information you think should be added to the entry.

Please Note: The Ballad Index is intended to be used on multiple systems. We ask that you limit your contributions to the standard seven-bit ASCII character set. (So, for instance, you should turn off "smart quotes" if your word processor uses them.) I agree that this is irritating and unattractive -- but it's even more irritating when you type in a Ñ and it comes out as a ü on the other person's computer!

Creating New Entries

To Create a New Entry, fill in the information below (just copy this form into your word processor):

Ballad Name:
Earliest Date:
Long Description:
Historical References:
Same Tune:
Found in:
Alternate Titles:

You should not give me a file number; that is supplied by the editors.

The various fields in this form are discussed below.

Ballad Title * Assigned by the editor, usually based on the title in the most important source. If you add a song to the list, you should supply a title (which need not be the same as that in your source; we try to use the best-known titles), but I retain the right to change it.

Description * Please describe the plot briefly and in summary form. This field should help the user decide if this is the song desired, and help the editor decide if two songs are the same. This field is limited to 255 characters. If you go beyond that, I will (regretfully) shorten it.
One hint: Names and places often change in ballads. The English "Lord Randal" easily becomes the American "Johnny Randolph." In writing descriptions, I have placed such "variable" names in parentheses. Thus, the description for Lord Randal might read, "(Lord Randal) comes home to his mother one night." This indicates that somebody comes home to mother in all versions of the ballad, but the young man's name changes frequently.
You may wish to quote portions of the song in your description. If so, please use the exact spelling of your source, and place the text in quotation marks (" "). Non-quoted material should conform to American spelling and orthographic conventions.

Author * If the ballad began life as a broadside or the like, please list the author and where the piece first appeared. Please Note: We are not interested in people who claim arrangement credits or the like, or in people who rewrite the song. Original authors only. In most cases, this will be listed as "unknown." If you don't know the author, leave this blank.

Earliest Date * This is the date on which the song was first collected. If that is not known, then use the date first printed. Do not change the field if we have already listed a date earlier than the earliest one found in your source. Also, do not include conjectural dates (e.g. "Nineteenth century"). If you supply a date here, please list the source.

Long Description * This field is optional. It allows ballad scholars to give detailed analysis of the song.

Keywords * Keywords describe the themes found in the particular song. They are used to help people search for songs. (For example, if you don't remember the title of a song, but are sure it was about lumbering, you would look up songs with the keyword logger.) Click here to see the complete list of keywords.

Found In * This field describes, in rough outline, where songs have been collected. The system is hierarchical, based on countries. The basic countries are, of course, Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the US -- though other countries are by no means excluded. Certain of these countries are subdivided into smaller regions. Britain is the obvious example; it breaks down into Scotland, England, and Wales. But the regions of Britain, Canada, and the U.S. also break down further.

A typical report might read something like this:

Found in: US(NE,MA) Canada(Mar)

This reads as "[The song is] found in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. and in the Maritime region of Canada.

For convenience, regions of the U.S. are given two-letter abbreviations; Canada and Britain receive three- or four-letter abbreviations. Notice that you do not need to specify full details here; if you find a song in a book American Ballads, which does not tell where the song was collected, you can simply fill in "US" in the "Found in" field and ignore the specific details.

Place Abbreviations

US (states listed are guidelines)

Ap = Appalachians (Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia)
MA = Mid Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania)
MW = MidWest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin)
NE = New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
NW = NorthWest (Oregon, Washington)
Ro - Rockies (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming)
SE = SouthEast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia)
So = South-(Central) (Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas)
SW = SouthWest (Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico)


Mar = Maritimes
Newf = Newfoundland (+Labrador)
Nor = North (NW Territories, Yukon)
Ont = Ontario
Queb = Quebec
West = West (Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba)

Britain --


Lond = London (including the southeast and East Anglia)
North = Northumbria, including all counties (Yorkshire, Lancaster, Cumbria, Westmoreland, Durham) north of the Humber
West (including the Midlands)
South (extending to the Cornish Peninsula)


Aber = Aberdeenshire
Bord = Edinborough, Glasgow, and south to the borders
Hebr = Hebrides & the Isles
High = Highlands

Historical References * Crucial dates pertaining to the ballad. The sample entry, for instance, shows the year that the Battle of Lake Erie was fought. A good thing to add might be the day on which James Bird was executed.

References * This is the primary purpose of the Ballad Index. It tells you which books contain versions of the song. The entries give you four pieces of information:

  1. The book itself. This will usually be abbreviated. So "Randolph," e.g., refers to Vance Randolph's Ozark Folksongs.
  2. The location in the collection. Most of the major collections, including all those listed in this document, give songs a number or a code. This number should be listed if possible. Only if the collection does not include numbers should page numbers be given. (This is because page numbers may change if a book is reprinted.)
  3. The name of the song in the collection. In the case of "James Bird," all the collections listed use the same name. This will not be true in other collections (e.g. the song that Child calls "The Twa Sisters" is called "The Miller's Daughters" by Randolph.)
  4. The number of texts and tunes provided in the source. (In some cases this will require some comment.)

Recordings * Recorded versions of the song. Note: We do not index recordings at random. Please consult with the Ballad Index editor before indexing a recording.

Cross-References * Two songs may be related or have elements in common without being the same song. The "cross-references" field allows you to list these distant relatives. As an additional help, I would suggest you explain the nature of or reason for the cross-reference. Some suggested categories are:

Same Tune * A listing of songs using the same melody as the song under discussion. So "What Child Is This" is a "same tune" relative of "Greensleeves," while "On Top of Spaghetti, All Covered With Cheese" uses the same tune as "On Top of Old Smokey." This field is used to include brief bibliographic references to such songs (for example, we would list "On Top of Spaghetti" under "Old Smokey," with mentions of any childrens' songbooks containing it).

Alternate Titles * Lists (some of) the various names under which a song is found. For a common ballad such as "The Twa Sisters," the list would include such titles as "Binnorie," "The Cruel Sister," "The Miller's Daughters," "Rolling a-Rolling," "The Wind and Rain," and many more. The more important of these would also have their own cross-reference entries. Please Note: If a title is used in the "References" section, do not add it as an Alternate Title. We don't need to make the Index any bigger than it already is! This field only includes titles not found elsewhere in the entry.

Broadsides * Broadside (early single-sheet publications) of the song. The list is confined to major online collections which we believe to be stable. The collections cited so far are:

Note: We have made no concerted effort to check whether broadsides in different catalogs are the same. If we are certain they are, we have noted it, but the task of checking them all is simply too large.

Notes * Anything else that you feel it important to say about the song -- e.g. how it came to be written or the historical context in which it appeared. You can also use this field to explain obscure features of the song. But be warned: The notes are "signed" with initials. Don't say anything you don't want to be credited with (or blamed for).

In addition to the above, you may wish to supply a complete or partial song text for the Supplemental Tradition. All such are welcome (at least as long as citing them won't get us in copyright trouble). Please include full source information -- the book, the page in the book, the informant, and the collection date.

Thank you!