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Guide to Searching

Click on the image for a video guide. An extended text version of the same material, with linked screenshots, can be read below.


At 127 million words, the Proceedings of the Old Bailey cannot be read as a single text. To locate material relevant to your research you will need to use the search facilities provided. The vast majority of searches can be pursued from the Search Home page. This facility allows you to combine Keyword searches with searches of the tagged data associated with each trial and issue of the Proceedings and Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts.

Keyword Searching

The most powerful search facility provided on this page is the Keyword search box. It allows you to search an index of every word in the Proceedings, to build complex phrase searches, and to use And/Or operators to limit your search. Some short and common words, such as and, the, and but have been excluded from these indexes in order to increase search speeds.

Search Home, with the Keyword box indicated.

Using Keyword Radio Buttons

Below the Keyword search box there are four radio buttons. These allow you to incorporate Boolean Operators (And, Or), to define a Phrase, or to opt for an Advanced setting that allows you to use wildcards and build more complex search queries.

A typical search might start with a single word. You might, for instance, wish to find beggars on the streets of London; and could simply put the word beggar in the Keyword search box. This would produce 105 results. You might, however, only be interested in beggars found on the street, and could add the word street to your search. The default setting for the Radio buttons is And, so this search would produce texts in which both the words beggar and street appear. There are 85 trials and Ordinary's Accounts that meet these conditions.

Search Home, with the Keyword box filled in with three alternative words, and the Or button selected.

But this search excludes relevant instances where the precise word was beggars or begging rather than beggar. You can expand your search to include both alternate spellings and descriptive words by choosing the Or button below the search box. Adding these words and selecting Or produces 703 results.

You can also choose the Phrase radio button, which allows you to search for precise phrases. One description that is commonly associated with beggars is about the streets, as in begging about the streets. Entering this phrase in the Keyword search box, and selecting the Phrase radio button, produces 527 results.

Finally, you can select the Advanced radio button, which allows you to use wild cards, boolean operators, and build more complex search queries. Please read the associated what's this text for details on how to apply these functions.

Regardless of the Radio button selected, the Keyword search box works with a full index of every word in the Proceedings. The remaining search boxes on the Search Home page work differently and address indexes of tagged information in individual trials and texts. This tagged information has been developed by modern historians and reflects their interpretation of the text. For a detailed description of this process and the categories of information that have been tagged, see About this Project and How are the Proceedings Different when Read Online?.

Surname, Forename and Alias

Search Home, with the Surname, Forename and Alias boxes bracketed.

The next three search boxes are Surname, Forename and Alias, and these, and all other search boxes on this page, can be combined to generate more complex searches. These three search boxes address an index of text that has been identified as a surname, forename or alias. In other words, although tagged to indicate that the text is a name, it is indexed in its original and unedited form. As a result you may need to search for alternative spellings in order to locate specific names. These search boxes are set to search for all the words entered. For instance, you can enter Smith, Smyth and Smithe, and 21,115 results will be returned, including all names matching these spellings which are tagged as surnames in the Proceedings. You can also use a wildcard operator * to search for names that begin with the same letters, but end differently, as in Smit*. If you are undertaking searches on specific named individuals you may want to use the Personal Details search page, which allows you to conduct searches on information such as Occupation, Age, and the context in which a name appears, as for instance, Defendant, Witness or Juror.

Offence, Verdict and Punishment

Search Home, with the Offence, Verdict and Punishment boxes bracketed.

The next three boxes address a different type of index and locate elements of the text that have been identified and labelled with standardised descriptions by modern historians. The pull-down menus for Offence, Verdict, and Punishment Sentence list the standardised categories that have been applied to each of the 197,745 trials in the Proceedings. By selecting Killing>murder, from the pull-down offence box, you can locate all 2,650 instances of murder in the Proceedings.

Search Home, illustrating the pull-down Offence menu with Killing>Murder selected.

It is important to remember, however, that these categories reflect a modern interpretation of the trials. Some instances of murder, for instance, might have just as plausibly been included under manslaughter, or infanticide.

Search In and Time Period

The Search In box is particularly useful when undertaking a Keyword or Name search. It allows you to specify whether you wish to search only the trials themselves, or the other elements of the printed Proceedings, including the Front Matter,which lists the names of judges and jurors; the Punishment Summary; Advertisements; and Ordinary's Accounts.

The Time Period boxes allow you to limit your search by date; and the Reference Number box allows you to navigate back to a specific trial or piece of text by entering the unique reference number of a trial or other textual division.

Specialised Search Pages

Search Home, with links to other search pages bracketed.

By using these search boxes in combination, it should be possible to narrow your search to the most relevant results. But you can also use the Personal Details, Statistics; and browse by date pages to locate and represent text and information from the Proceedings. The Associated Records search page allows you to query an extensive database of additional documents relating to Old Bailey trials.

You can also use the Custom Search page to create queries that combine all the different search boxes available from each of the search pages.