One web site can be very useful when trying to locate small villages, rivers, or any of 160,000 places in the United Kingdom. The UK Placename Finder is part of the suite of free internet-based tools provided by Archaeology UK for the communities of field archaeologists, family historians, and placename researchers.
The UK Placename Finder provides five different methods of searching for place names:
- Literal placename search: searches for an exact match of the placename (case independent). For instance, performing an element search with the word "bury" would find all placenames containing the full word "bury," including places such as Bury St. Edmunds, but not Oldbury, etc.
- Stem placename search: searches for all placenames that start with the element. For instance, performing an element search with "stow*", would find, in addition to all "stow" placenames, other names containing the word "stow" at the beginning such as Stowmarket, but not Walthamstow.
- Terminal placename search: searches for all words which ending with the element. For instance, performing an element search with "stow*", would find, in addition to all "stow" placenames, other names containing the word "stow" at the end of the name, such as Walthamstow, but not Stowmarket.
- Element placename search: searches for all words where the search term forms part of the word you are searching for. Performing an element search with "*bur*", would find, in addition to all placenames of the name "burg," other names containing the element, such as Edinburgh.
- Boolean: Using this method, one can search for placenames that include or exclude certain elements or placenames.
While not an expert in UK geography, I do have a few ancestral villages that I used to test this service. I first entered a search for "Downton" and was pleasantly surprised to find fifteen different places of that name. The one I wanted is in Wiltshire and was one of the locations listed. Even better, the Wiltshire location had several links:
- MultiMap road maps showing the site's position
- UKStreetMap showing the site's position
- GetMapping.com to view an aerial photograph of the site's position from multimap
- A search for historic and archaeological sites within 10KM of this place.
The street maps and aerial photographs did not help me much for seventeenth century ancestry although I suspect they would be excellent for finding nineteenth century locations as listed in census records and other primary record sources of that time.
The search for historic and archaeological sites within 10 kilometers of the village turned out to be fascinating. It lists 398 different sites of interest, starting in the Bronze Age with some perhaps even earlier. From Roman and medieval times, the list details abandoned cemeteries and ruins of old churches and even lists the locations where ancient coins were found in recent years. However, the details of this list are available only after paying £34.95 (roughly $67 in US funds).
The UK Placename Finder is a free service, other than the details of the list of historic and archaeological sites within 10 kilometers. However, the site also serves as an online advertisement for a geo-referenced database of more than 31,000 UK placenames on CD-ROM. Each place on the CD-ROM database is associated with its co-ordinate in both the British National Grid and Ordnance Survey referencing systems. This means that places can be found using geographical co-ordinates as search criteria, in addition to the words. The British National Grid and Ordnance Survey coordinates are not included in the free online version.
The CD-ROM sells for £17.95 (roughly $35.00 US). Details are given on the site.
To use the UK Placename Finder, go to http://www.digital-documents.co.uk/archi/placename.htm