This review outlines the use of documentary evidence of historical flood events in contemporary flood frequency estimation in European countries. The study shows that despite widespread consensus in the scientific literature on the utility of documentary evidence, the actual migration from academic to practical application has been limited. A detailed review of flood frequency estimation guidelines from different countries showed that the value of historical data is generally recognised, but practical methods for systematic and routine inclusion of this type of data into risk analysis are in most cases not available. Studies of historical events were identified in most countries, and good examples of national databases attempting to collate the available information were identified. The conclusion is that there is considerable potential for improving the reliability of the current flood risk assessments by harvesting the valuable information on past extreme events contained in the historical data sets.