The origins of a specific piece of music can be difficult to find. Especially when there are multiple variations in multiple languages. Folk music is often old and translated many times.
Sometimes part of the lyrics or the title give away the origin. For instance,
The Irish Rover is probably of Irish origin. It's even easier on titles like
Eilean Mo Chridhe (respectively Irish and Scottish).
If a location is mentioned, there's a fair chance the language spoken in that location is the language of origin (for example,
The Red Rose Cafe was originally written in Dutch and
Maid of Culmore in Irish). However, this can result false positives.
My love's in Germany is Scottish, not German. Even the language of the title can be misleading.
Que Sera, Sera originated in the USA, but the title is French.
To make things even harder, titles are often translated along with the lyrics. The German
Alle, die mit uns auf Kaperfahrt fahren probably has a Flemish origin (
Al die willen te kapren varen) but originated around Dunkirk (which is located in northern France).
Garten Eden is actually a translated version of
Now we've established finding the origins is hard, what are often used tactics to find them with relatively high accuracy? Wikipedia knows much, but not everything and can't always be trusted. A large, historic database would be perfect (it would be great if the ICTM will launch something like that), but I can't imagine something like that actually exists. I'm not afraid of doing the hard work, I just don't know where to start.
How does one find the origin of old, often translated music?
The question is specifically about folk.