Discovering the Manorial Documents Register

Our catalogue Discovery lets you find records held here at The National Archives and also in over 2500 archives in the UK and beyond. For the last year, we have been further developing Discovery to provide a new platform for the Manorial Documents Register (MDR).

The MDR is an index to English and Welsh manorial records – my colleague Melinda Haunton’s blog about the MDR and why it’s a useful resource will give you an overview of manorial records, as well as the background of the register and how we are making it available online.

This image shows the search screen for the Manorial Documents Register in Discovery. You can use it to search by manor name or for manorial document

The Manorial Documents Register search tool in Discovery

We launched a new MDR landing page earlier this summer. Having established the service, we are going to retire the old service (nationalarchives.gov.uk/mdr) on 30 October 2015. The web address will  redirect to the new service.

Since the information from the MDR was first integrated into Discovery over a year ago, there has been considerable development and time spent seeking feedback on the new landing page. Though the previous platform will not be available after October, all of its information and functionality  is retained and available in Discovery.

So what does using the MDR in Discovery mean in practice?

Discovery’s search engine and custom search logic allows you to use the information within the MDR in ways that were not previously possible.

As with data originating from the National Register of Archives, which has also been integrated into Discovery, you can now search the descriptions of records, as well as record creators (in this case, the manor).

Discovery allows you to filter, sort and download search results. You can filter manorial document searches by date and repository and also sort by reference, title and date. The option to download is helpful for further analysis of findings or if you prefer to work offline. You also have the option of printing your search results in a user-friendly format.

You can combine searching several fields. So, you could use this to search by NRA number or record office reference to see all descriptions from one report or catalogue. For example, searching for manorial documents with the reference “NRA 10” in quotations and selecting a specific document type (for example, ‘court roll’) will return results for all court rolls listed within that catalogue. You can use the Discovery help to find out more about searching.

Using the MDR in Discovery

Whether you are familiar with using the paper and online register or are using it for the first time, you might find it useful to visit our help pages, which will explain how to use Discovery and the powerful new MDR search.

This dedicated search allows you to find information about manorial records as defined by the Manorial Documents Rules. This is important to remember, as this is different to a standard search of Discovery which can be used to find general information about manorial records held here and elsewhere. The strength of the MDR tool is that it displays structured manorial information, describing the nature and location of surviving records in a prescribed format. It provides the same expertly curated and well-structured information about manors and associated records as the platform existing users will be familiar with, but importantly it also offers new functionality and a more robust technical infrastructure.

Developing Discovery and gathering feedback

The MDR is the last of four separate platforms to be retired as part of the Finding Archives project. Throughout the development of Discovery, we have sought feedback to inform our ongoing programme of documenting, prioritising and developing enhancements.

Since first incorporating the MDR and releasing a landing page for the service, we have been grateful for feedback which has clearly articulated the value of the resource and its functionality to people using it. We have used these responses to help shape the development of the dedicated search tool.

If feedback has related to other Discovery features or data, we have shared this with the Discovery team for further consideration. As a direct result of this process we have identified and prepared additional requirements for the display of additional elements for the searching and browsing of record creators, including manors.

Keeping the name Manorial Documents Register was identified as a priority very early on. Maintaining this title acknowledges the legal status of the register, and reflects our ongoing commitment to delivering it as a clearly defined service within Discovery.

Though most of the work to fully integrate the MDR into Discovery has been completed, the service will evolve as more content is added and as the need for new or enhanced functionality is identified and prioritised.

If you would like to provide feedback on the MDR or any other aspect of Discovery, please email us on discovery@nationalarchives.gov.uk or use the feedback form within Discovery.

What are our future plans?

Black, white and red map of a manor, with captions for fields and compass rose

Map of the Manor of Sturry, Kent 1643, one of many manorial documents held at The National Archives (catalogue reference: MR1/306)

The MDR includes large volumes of new and updated manorial information, and is regularly updated with changes to records information.

Since we first integrated the MDR into Discovery last summer, it has expanded in size by about a quarter, with over 50,000 more manors and 2,800 record descriptions being added or revised.

The work that goes into the computerisation of the MDR is quite staggering and you can keep up to date with progress by visiting our project page, where we publish an up-to-date map detailing the progress we are making on a county by county basis. We are preparing to launch the addition of manorial data from Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire towards the end of this year and Wiltshire at the beginning of 2016 and these will be the first counties to be launched using the new service within Discovery.

More and more researchers from across the UK and beyond are using Discovery to find information about records held by other archives. We hope that integrating the MDR into Discovery will increase its visibility and make the service more accessible to all users whether they are familiar with using the MDR or not.

If you haven’t used it yet, please do and tell us what you think!

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