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
For a video overview of the Index (now slightly out-of-date), visit
this YouTube link.
The current editor of the Ballad Index is Robert B. Waltz. You
can contact me electronically at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. 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
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 © 2021 by Robert B. Waltz
and David G. Engle.
Thanks to our contributors
Which Version Should I Use?
How to Use the Ballad Index
How to Contribute to the Ballad Index
The Ballad Index Editorial Board consists of Robert Waltz, David G. Engle,
Don Nichols, Ben Schwartz, and Paul J. Stamler. The late Ed Cray was also a founding member.
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, David G. Engle,
and others whose contributions are still in progress....
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
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.
Note: This service can only be used from a forms-capable browser.
To conduct a search, select the field marked "Enhanced by Google"
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
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. If you don't want to use our software, there are three other formats available: unicode text, ASCII text, and HTML. In addition, there is software
for searching the ASCII version on unix systems.
The basic format is unicode; the ASCII version is a variant of this which eliminates diacritical marks. 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, ZIP or gzip as suitable.
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 on Macintoshes built prior to about 2015, and don't even think about using it on a smartphone. It is possible to browse the Index in Lynx.
An HTML edition
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.)
If you wish to conduct complex searches, or if you have limited system
capabilities, and you have a Mac, Windows 10 PC, or iOS device, 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 or see the YouTube videos.
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 email@example.com
You can leave the subject line and body blank.
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 began as a source of folk song citations, similar to the Roud index. And citations are still one of its primary purposes. 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.
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:
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. The Table of Contents file might also help here.
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
Here are a few clues about why the Ballad Index is organized as it is.
The term "Ballad Index" is a bit of a misnomer -- it's really a Folk Song Index. (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" and "The George Aloe and the Sweepstakes"/"High Barbaree" 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. Probably the majority of descriptions contain the first line, but if the plot is complex, the plot will get the space, not the first line.
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 http://www.mudcat.org/.
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.
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.
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.
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")
Historical References: 1814 - Battle of Lake Erie
Laws A5, "James Bird"
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 118, "James Bird" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune)
Found in: US(MA,MW,So,SE,Ap,Ro,SW)
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-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 17, "James Bird" (1 text, 1 tune)
Notice that all you need to send me is the name of the song, its citation number, the number of texts and tunes -- and, optionally, any information you think should be added to the entry.
Note: As of version 5.3, the Ballad Index has gone from strict ASCII to unicode, so it now supports things like accented letters and even Greek and Hebrew. But it was originally set up to use only the more basic characters of the ASCII character set, such as straight quotes rather than curly quotes. For consistency, we are retaining this feature. If possible, I would ask that you put song names in straight quotes, and use straight rather than curled apostrophes. I retain the right to convert any other unicode characters to their ASCII equivalent.
To Create a New Entry, fill in the information below (just copy
this form into your word processor):
Manuscripts: (you aren't likely to have any of these!)
You should not give me a file number; that is supplied by the editors. And you can leave out any fields you don't have any information about (e.g. recordings or broadsides if you're indexing a book).
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. If there is something you think users really need to know, either write a Long Description or put it in the Notes. The latter is probably preferable.
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, in part, "(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 -- I very often quote the first line or two. If so, you should 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. You should also state the authority on which you base this -- e.g. it might be something like "Henry Clay Work (source: American Civil War Songster)" or "William Elderton (source: Broadside Bodleian Firth XYZZY)".
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, again, please list the source -- e.g. "1908 (collected by John A. Lomax)" or "1930 (Randolph)" (where the latter refers to Randolph's Ozark Folksongs).
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.
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. Note that this is not the place for a detailed exposition for the history; that goes in the Notes. This is for specific dates.
References * This is the foundation of the Ballad Index. If we don't have references for a song, it won't be indexed! It tells you which books contain versions of the song. The entries give you four pieces of information:
So take an example we used above:
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 17, "James Bird" (1 text, 1 tune)
This tells us that the reference is to Anne Warner's Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection. It is item #17 in that collection, and the title used in that book is "James Bird." The book has one text and one tune of the song.
Manuscripts * Middle English songs, such as "Judas" [Child 23], are known only from manuscripts, not field collections; all of the many printed versions of "Judas" derive from a copy found in a manuscript found at Trinity College, Cambridge (manuscript 323). Manuscript citations allow us to reference this manuscript by catalog number.
There are of course more recent manuscripts, such the manuscripts of collectors like Cecil Sharp. These should again be cited by library catalog number and folio or page. Consult with the editor about how to include citations of such a manuscript.
Additional * The Index is based on folk music collections, but sometimes it is important to cite something that is not a folk music collection. This might, for instance, be the book in which a poem that later became "folk" was first published. For example, the New Zealand song "Black Billy Tea" was written by Joe Charles and published in his book Black Billy Tea: New Zealand Ballads. This has only a couple of pieces that have any reason to be in the Index; it would be absurd to index it and make people look it up in the bibliography. Instead, we make an ADDITIONAL entry of it, thus:
ADDITIONAL: Joe Charles, _Black Billy Tea: New Zealand Ballads_, Whitcoulls Publishers, 1981, pp. 6-7, "Black Billy Tea" (1 text)
(Note the use of underscores to indicate the title, the equivalent of italics).
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. However, we will index any 78 containing a song. Note that indexing 78s and recording collections (CD/cassette/LP) are different. The latter have discography entries; the former do not.
All recording entries start with the performer and the name of the cut, in quotation marks, e.g. for Kelly Harrell's 78 recording of "Charles Guitea,"
Kelly Harrell, "Charles Giteau" (Victor 20797B, 1927; on KHarrell02, AAFM1)
the rest of the line shows the 78 release (Victor 20797B), the date it was released (1927; for some 78s, this will not be known) and then two collections which contain it: it is "on" KHarrell02 (Kelly Harrell, Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 2 (1926-1929), issued by Document in 1998) and on AAFM1, the first disc of the reissue of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Thus the catalog number tells you that the recording is a 78; the use of the word "on" and the use of an abbreviation says that it's a long-playing recording of some sort.
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.
So, for instance, the American national anthem has these cross-references:
cf. "To Anacreon in Heaven" (tune)
cf. "Adams and Liberty" (tune)
cf. "The Battle of Baltimore" (subject)
This is because it uses the tune originally known as "To Anacreon in Heaven," later known as "Adams and Liberty," so one should look these up to see other instances of the tune. "The Battle of Baltimore," like "The Star-Spangled Banner," described the British attack on Baltimore and Fort McHenry, so they are cross-referenced because they are about the same subject.
Some suggested categories are:
Note that you may cross-reference to a song not in the Index, although if it is in the Index, we want to be sure we use the same title!
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). Taking again "The Star-Spangled Banner," here are a selection of the items under it:
Adams and Liberty (File: SRW011)
The Independent Broom (File: Wels064)
Shall Dorr Be Freed (File: CAFS1068)
Ellsworth's Death (Wolf-AmericanSongSheets p. 38)
The National Grass Plot ("O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, That grass plot so dear to the hearts of us all?") (Greenway-AmericanFolksongsOfProtest, p. 63; Foner-AmericanLaborSongsOfTheNineteenthCentury, p 254)
Ode to Alma Mater (by J. W. Brown, [class of 18]32) (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 135)
Harrison Song ("Oh say have you heard how in days that are past") (Harrison campaign song) (A. B. Norton, _Songs of the People in the Log Cabin Days of Old Tippecanoe_, p. 30)
Our Country, To Thee ("Our country, to thee, in the cannon's fierce light, We have pledged the best blood of the patriot streaming") (Garfield and Arthur Campaign Song Book 1880, p.13)
The first few of these are reference to the files already in the Index; the use of the "File" descriptor tells us that "Adams and Liberty" is in the Index and uses the same tune. The next two, "Ellsworth's Death" and "The National Grass Plot," are not in the Index but are in books that are in the Index (Foner-AmericanLaborSongsOfTheNineteenthCentury, Greenway-AmericanFolksongsOfProtest, Wolf-AmericanSongSheets). The last three, "Ode to Alma Mater," "Harrison Song," and "Our Country, To Thee," are not in books we index, so they provide full bibliographic data. Note that you may quote other information about the song, such as a line or two or authorship information, to make it easier to identify the song. Note that the last two are from presidential campaign songsters, which often set political words to well-known songs.
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. Any title actually found in a reference will also have its own own cross-reference entries (but you the indexer don't have to worry about that; the editor creates those).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) ofnthe 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). If you wish to include italic text in the NOTES, surround them with _underscores_; use *asterisks for boldface*. (I may have to adjust your formatting a little; these symbols should not be used at the start of paragraphs or certain other places).
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.