A Tutorial



<<Prev Projects home Next>>

Create an Index of Names I - creating the name record

Once all the names in the documents have been marked-up it is now possible to create an Index of Names. At this stage interpretation should be kept to a minimum. The value of this stage of your prosopography is dependent upon the integrity (reliability) of your data. Your all-important first task is simply to create as accurate a record as possible of all the names in the documents. Record every name, regardless of whether or not you believe that the same person is being referred to more than once. The basic rule is that you must record the name exactly as you found it in the source. Do not change the case of the Latin name form, and do not standardize the spelling. You can omit non-name phrases such as 'dei gratia' from the name record.

There are some cases, however, where keeping the names exactly as they appear will lead to unnecessary confusion. In these cases you will have to compromise by introducing some interpretation, controlled by a note of what you have done. For example, Albericus de Ver et Beatrix uxor eius’ /’Alberic de Vere and Beatrice his wife’ contains two-element name records for two separate persons. The first can easily be separated into name and descriptor fields. In the case of his wife the descriptor field should appear as: uxor [Alberici de Ver]/wife [of Alberic de Vere], with the square brackets indicating that you have supplied the meaning of "eius" from the text. In a separate field note the phrase as found in the text, "uxor eius". NB - Square brackets are also used when expanding abbreviated names, something you should avoid doing unless the expanded form is absolutely certain.

Create an Index of Names II - structuring the index

Prosopography is most effective when conducted on a large scale, which will normally be done with the aid of a computer database. Although small projects can be done without the use of a computer, it is quicker and easier to use computers for all projects. Certain basic principles apply to the organization of your data whether or not you are using a database.

  • At each stage of constructing a prosopography you should keep a clear record of the decisions you make about your data, starting with a description of the sources you are using and the groups occurring in them that you wish to study.
  • Data extracted from your sources should be entered into your database or record file in a clear and consistent manner; keep a record of your decisions about database/file structure.
  • Keep source data and fields containing your own interpretations and speculations separate

It is not possible in the scope of this tutorial to go into detail about issues relating to database design or software options. Familiarity with the principles of a record-and-row relational database has been assumed, though nothing more complex that an Excel spreadsheet is required for the exercises. If you are unfamiliar with the ideas of a "record-and-row relational database", read the essay by Ralph Mathisen in the Guide.

If you are unfamiliar with the ideas of a ‘record-and-row relational database’, read the essay by Ralph Mathisen in the Guide, or visit,,sid9_gci934543,00.html

Creating an index of name records from your tagged documents

Your  index should be laid out as a table containing recognizable ‘fields’,  such as one for ‘(given) name’,  and one for each ‘descriptor’. If your work or interests include a strong onomastic element you might consider additional fields, such as ‘descriptor  type’.  It is important that each entry has an ID field, that is, one that assigns it a unique number  which will always distinguish it from any other entry. The combined fields will then form a unique name record. You will also need a field containing a reference to the document from which the name record was taken. Always desirable is a note or memo field in which the reasons for decisions about data entry can be recorded, and any extra information noted.  Later you might wish to link your index of person-names to an index of place-names.

Ensure that you record all the name element information you have, giving consideration to the number and type of fields into which you want to enter your data. Include in your index the records for the anonymi, i.e. those  that lack a given name or carry no name information at all, such as ‘the priest’. In some cases it may later be possible to assign such records to named persons (there is more on this in David Pelteret’s article for those who have access to the Prosopography Handbook).

For an example of how to go about the name index, study the following, taken from the Chronicle of Abingdon Abbey, written there sometime in the later twelfth century.:

Geoffrey, son of Alberic senior, brother of Alberic junior, firstborn of his brothers, and hence future successor to the paternal inheritance, renowned as much for the nobility of his character as for that of his kindred, turned to Abbot Faritius [a famous doctor] in search of healing; for he was ensnared by a serious illness. For three months the abbot laboured to cure him, but because there is no medicine against death, another illness overcame him, compelling him to leave this life. And so, the end of his life drawing near, the sick man made a grant in perpetuity to Abingdon of a church in his patrimony at Kensington, with twelve and twenty acres of land from two hides, and a part of one virgate, with the consent of his father Alberic, his mother Beatrice and his brothers. Which gift was also confirmed by the authority of the king's edict.

We could enter the name information here into a table like this:


Doc. Ref.


Descriptor 1

Descriptor 2


Abingdon 2:55


son of Alberic senior

brother of Alberic junior


Abingdon 2:55


father of [Geoffrey]



Abingdon 2:55


mother of [Geoffrey]



Abingdon 2:55




Note the way that we deal with relational descriptors. Because converting a descriptor such as ‘his wife’ involves interpretation, we should make the clear what has been interpreted by enclosing that material in square brackets.
You will see that a document such as this would be difficult to mark-up using the tagging system we have so far used. A new difficulty presented by name records occurs here. Geoffrey is described in terms of his relationships to two other people, Alberic senior and Alberic junior. Although they function as part of a description of Geoffrey, they are clearly two individuals whose existence we shall want to note separately (compare also the Robert son of Aleric who occurred in the descriptor of his son Robert in Document 1). In each case there is a descriptor attached to their given name, senior and junior. Although their relationship to Geoffrey and to each other is clear from their occurrence as descriptors of Geoffrey, these relationships are not part of their own descriptors – i.e. we may infer that Alberic senior is father of Geoffrey, but what is stated is that Geoffrey is son of Alberic senior. To preserve the information relative to someone else contained in their name records we have to make clear that the information has been inferred.


Abingdon 2:55



father of Geoffrey]


Abingdon 2:55



brother of Geoffrey]

Interpreted material should be distinguished from literal transcriptions by being placed in square brackets, except at the beginning of an entry, as in the above example,  since that will impede computer searches. An alternative is to place the information in a note or memo field. The functionality of such fields will depend upon the system used, but it is a good idea to have a note or memo field for all tables so that oddities can be recorded and, most importantly, the reasons behind any decisions that have been made during data entry.

Now create a simple tabular Index of Names for your tagged documents

You can check your Index by clicking on either [IndexNamesLatin], or [IndexNamesEnglish].

You have now completed the first part of your prosopography of Colne Charters, the creation of an Index of Names.

<<Prev Projects home Next>>

©University of Oxford

The compilers were Dr Katharine S. B. Keats-Rohan with the assistance of Dr Olga Borymchuk and Jacquelyn Fernholz.