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Biography and family history: general resources

Portrait of a male doctor with three female nurses

A doctor with nurses. Studio portrait. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

The Library has a lot of information about the lives of medical and healthcare personnel and patients that family historians and biographers may find useful. This subject guide lists directories, biographical dictionaries and sources of obituaries.

A comprehensive guide listing all the biography and family resources we hold is available in PDF format [353.64 KB].

Background reading

British archives: a guide to archive resources in the United Kingdom
by Janet Foster and Julia Sheppard, 4th edition published 2002
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection YHC.41
Full details in catalogue

A dictionary of medical & related terms for the family historian
by Joan E Grundy, published 2006
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection YMM/GRU
Full details in catalogue

Family history on the net
by Colin Waters, published 2009
Shelfmark: Gallery YHC/WAT
Full details in catalogue

Records of the medical professions: a practical guide for the family historian
by Susan Bourne and Andrew H. Chicken, published 1994
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /BOU
Full details in catalogue

Tracing your medical ancestors: a guide for family historians
by Michelle Higgs, published 2011
Shelfmark: Gallery YHC/HIG
Full details in catalogue

Biographical dictionaries

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Gives brief biographies of significant figures in the history of the United Kingdom.
Available online from Library computers

Dictionary of American biography
Request from Library stores for use in the Library  

Dictionary of Australian biography
Request from Library stores for use in the Library 

Nouvelle biographie nationale [Belgian dictionary]
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Dictionary of Canadian biography
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Dictionnaire de biographie française
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Deutsche biographische Enzyklopädie (DBE)
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Dizionario biografico degli italiani
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Niew Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Dictionnaire historique & biographique de la Suisse
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

World Biographical Information System Online
Includes American, British, French and German biographical articles from printed reference works published from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
Accessible online to all registered Library users

Subject catalogue of the history of medicine and related sciences
Published by the Wellcome Library in 1980, includes five volumes that lists biographical sources (including material not in the Library). Information relating to biographical material published after 1991 can be found on the Library catalogues.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection YHS.AA9
Full details in catalogue

Biography Index
A cumulative quarterly index to biographical material in books and magazines (1946 to present). Check the Library catalogue to see if a reference is held by the Library.
Shelfmark: BW
Full details in catalogue

Directories

Who’s who and Who was who
Available online from Library computers 

Burke’s peerage & baronetage
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Burke’s landed gentry
Shelfmark Quick Ref. Collection BYB.41
Full details in catalogue

Cockayne’s complete peerage
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYB.41
Full details in catalogue 

Schools and Universities

A selection of registers of students who have attended public schools, such as Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Lancing, Marlborough, Rugby, Sherborne and Winchester are available.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYB.41.ZTS

A selection of registers of students who have attended the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (and their various individual colleges), St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Trinity College Dublin are held.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYB.41.ZTU

Local history

Record society publications of probate records or consistory court material and biographical dictionaries relating to particular counties, towns or regions are available.
Shelfmarks: Quick Reference Collection BYB.43... to BYB.47...

A digital collection of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919, is available freely online at the Historical Directories website: (http://www.historicaldirectories.org/).

The Library holds a variety of printed trade directories for particular towns or counties, chiefly from the early nineteenth century.
Shelfmark:s Quick Reference Collection BYD.43... to BYD.47...

Biographies

Alongside autobiographies and biographies of medical and scientific personnel, books about famous patients are arranged in alphabetical order of the subject of the biography. Use the All catalogues search  to find material on a particular person.
Shelfmarks: BZP [medics] or BZPX and BZPXA [patients]

Obituaries

The Library catalogue contains references to over 18,000 obituaries. Here are some tips on searching the catalogue for obituaries:

To find a specific obituary:
Choose the “Name/Brand/Title” option from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box. Enter the individual’s surname in the search box and click on the ‘submit search’ button.

To browse all the obituaries:
Choose the “Genre/Medium” option from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box and enter the word ‘Obituaries’. In most cases the record will simply tell you the journal in which the obituary is located but in a few cases there is a link to the relevant page in an electronic journal.

Other sources of obituaries

The Gentleman’s Magazine
Contains obituaries of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century individuals. The  Library  holds printed copies of The Gentleman's magazine biographical and obituary notices, 1781-1819 index volume, and a full set of the magazine online.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYB.41.AA7-8
Accessible online to all registered Library users

Times digital archive
Obituaries, and notices of births, marriages and deaths, published by The Times newspaper from 1785 to 1985 can be searched for on the online Times Digital Archive.
Accessible online to all registered Library users

19th Century British Library Newspapers
This database contains 48 historical newspapers.
Available online from Library computers

Doctors, physicians, surgeons and apothecaries

Medieval

Medical practitioners in medieval England: a biographical register
by C H Talbot and E A Hammond, published 1965
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41.AA2
Full details in catalogue

16th century onwards

Lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London [Munk’s roll] Biographical sketches of Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians 1518-1997, in 10 volumes.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

Medical practitioners in the diocese of London…1529-1725
by J Harvey Bloom and R Rutson James, published 1935 Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /BLO
Full details in catalogue

Directory of medical licences issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1536-1775 in Lambeth Palace Library
by Melanie Barber
Part 1 Vicar general series licences, 1576-1775, published 1997
Part 2 Faculty office series licences, 1535-1764, published 2000

The directory details those licensed to practice in the province of Canterbury. Until the 1858 Medical Act a medical practitioner in England or Wales only needed a license to practise from the established church. In practice, the system fell into disuse after the mid-18th century. Shelfmark: Gallery CB.4412.AA5-7

Gloucester and Hereford Consistory Courts
Extracts from records of the courts relating to physicians and surgeons, compiled by A W J Haggis, are held in the archives (MS. 5350). Request from library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Apprenticeship indentures, account books, recipe books, letters, and so forth are held in the archives. Search on the relevant surname in the “Any Text” field of the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

17th century

Directory of English Country physicians 1603-1643
by John H Raach, published 1962 Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41.AA6
Full details in catalogue

18th century onwards

Eighteenth century medics
by P J and R V Wallis, published 1988. Lists 18th century personnel mentioned in subscriptions, licences, and apprenticeship papers.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection folios BYD.41.AA7
Full details in catalogue

List of the graduates in medicine in the University of Edinburgh from MDCCV to MDCCCLXVI
List of Edinburgh medical graduates, 1705-1866.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.4646
Full details in catalogue

List of Sussex medical apprentices
1710-1752 Manuscript compiled by A W J Haggis is held in the archives (MS. 5353).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Hunterian Society, London
Records and manuscripts, 1748-1985, are held in the archives (MSS. 5520-5624).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Military Hospital Society
London Membership lists, minutes and accounts, 1764-1767, are held in the archives (MS. 5404).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Medical Society of London
Microfilmed minutes, 1773-1938, are held in the archives (AMS/MF/4).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

The Medical Register, 1779, 1780 & 1783
Unlike the 19th century Medical Register, inclusion in this volume was not compulsory. Only the 1783 edition includes a name index. The three volumes are available in the Library in printed form and online as part of Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41.AJ ECCO
Accessible online to registered Library users

St. Albans Medical Club
London Administrative records, 1789-1990 (MSS. 6216 & 6994-7017).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge
London Proceedings of the Society, 1790-1882 (MS. 5282)
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Lyceum Medicum Londinense Minute books
1792-1805 (MS. MSL.140)
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Sydenham Medical Club, London
Treasurer’s books, membership lists and a photograph album, 1796-1928, are held in the archives (MSS.6208-6215).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

19th century onwards

Askesian Society, London
Minutes of experiments and demonstrations performed at meetings of the Society,
1801- 1808, are held in the archives (MS. 6135).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

A list of persons who have obtained certificates of their fitness ... to practise as apothecaries, from August 1, 1815, to July 31, 1840[- July 31, 1877] Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /SOC

Obituaries in The Lancet (1823-present)
Can be found using either the indexes of the printed volumes or online in the e-journal.
Shelfmark: Serials/LAN (print journal)
Available online from Library computers only
Full details in catalogue

Society of Noviomagians, London
Proceedings of this convivial club composed of members of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1830-1905 (MSS. 5305-5307)
Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (Plarr’s lives)
Biographical sketches of Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons 1843-2002, in 9 volumes.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /LIV
Full details in catalogue

List of the fellows and members of the Royal College of Surgeons of England ... 1845 [1850, 1855, 1859-60]
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /ROY
Full details in catalogue

The Medical Directory, 1846-present
Lists most practising and retired doctors in Britain and its colonies, although it is not compulsory for a doctor to be in it. Entries provide details of addresses, qualifications, places of training, places of work and any publications.

The format changes over the years. At some stages the volumes list doctors in a straight alphabetical sequence and at others divides them between London and the Provinces, or even subdividing the Provinces with separate sections for Scotland and Ireland. You should carefully check the contents page to ascertain the arrangement used.

Doctors’ deaths are usually deducible only from the year that they disappear from the directory but some include an obituary section.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

Obituaries in British Medical Journal (1857-present)
Can be found using the indexes of the printed volumes or online. Manual request from Library stores for use in the Library: Closed stores serials S7455
Available online in the Library and at PubMed Central (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/). 

The Medical Register, 1859-1989, incomplete
This is compiled by the General Medical Council and records all doctors entitled to practice. Available in the Library in print, and online from Ancestry Live Edition. Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Accessible online to registered Library users
Full details in catalogue

Medical students' register, 1882-1937, incomplete
Compiled for the General Medical Council.
Manual request from stores for use in the Library: Closed stores serials S7714
Full details in catalogue

Society of Apothecaries, London: Licentiates to whom the diploma of the Society in medicine, surgery and midwifery was granted between July 1st 1887 and December 31st, 1906 [- 31st December, 1948]
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /SOC
Full details in catalogue

20th century

The lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists:1929-1969
by John Peel, published 1976 Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /PEE
Full details in catalogue

Nurses and midwives

Central registration of qualified nurses only dates from the early twentieth century; prior to this the various bodies involved in training nurses kept records of their own personnel, but no central register existed.

16th century onwards

Gloucester and Hereford Consistory Courts
Extracts from records of the courts relating to midwives, compiled by A W J Haggis, are held in the archives (MS. 5350).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

17th century onwards

Midwives' licenses
A collection of licences, chiefly from the Welsh Marches area, 1687-1728, is held in the archives (MS. 3544).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

19th century onwards

Nightingale nurses, 1854-1856
A list of nurses who worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea is held in the archives (MS. 5479/1).
Request from library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Queen's Nursing Institute, 1887-1997
Records, including the national roll of its nurses and records of their periodic inspections, are held in the archives. The section of particular biographical interest to the family historian is SA/QNI/J: the indexed records of nurses. Request from Library stores for use in the Library

The Register of Trained Nurses, 1891, 1892 & 1896
Issued by the Royal British Nurses’ Association.
Manual request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

20th century

The Midwives Roll
1904-1959, incomplete
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

Register of Nurses 1916-1923
Issued by the College of Nursing Ltd.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection, BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

The Register of Nurses 1930-1950
Incomplete run. Issued by the General Nursing Council for England and Wales.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

Nursing guide, handbook of Nurses' League, and register of nurses trained at Guy's Hospital
1920, 1923 & 1932
Shelfmarks: Medical Collection WY23 1920G99n
Medical Collection WY23 1923G99n
Medical Collection WY23 1932G99n
Full details in catalogue

Military, naval and colonial medical personnel

General resources

The Medical Directory, 1846-present
Lists most practising and retired doctors in Britain and its colonies, although it is not compulsory for a doctor to be in it. Some editions include lists for army or navy personnel. Other irregular sections are:

  • ‘Practitioners resident abroad, registered under the Medical Act of Great Britain and Ireland, 1858’
  • ‘Medical Officers of the Naval, Military & Indian Medical Services and of the Mercantile Marine’.

Entries provide details of addresses, qualifications, places of training, places of work and any publications. The format changes over the years. At some stages the volumes list doctors in a straight alphabetical sequence and at others divides them between London and the Provinces, or even subdividing the Provinces with separate sections for Scotland and Ireland. You should carefully check the contents page to ascertain the arrangement used.

Doctors’ deaths are usually deducible only from the year that they disappear from the directory but some include an obituary section. Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41

Full details in catalogue
Army

Commissioned officers in the medical services of the British Army, 1660-1960
by A Peterkin, William Johnston and R Drew, published 1968 Includes only career medical officers, not those conscripted.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /WEL
Full details in catalogue

Royal Army Medical Corps muniment collection
The administrative records of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) are held at the National Archives but its muniment collection – a collection of diaries, photographs, writings by individual RAMC personnel – is held by the Wellcome Library.

A general “Any Text” searh on the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue will pick up references to particular individuals or units. Items are indexed by the particular conflicts to which they refer. There is also a printed catalogue of the RAMC collection. Request from Library stores for use in the Library

Navy

A list of His Majesty's ships ... of the Royal Navy: to which is added, a list of the captains, lieutenants, masters, and commanders.
Also, a list of the principal officers of His Majesty's land forces, 1741. Bound with other works including Rider's British Merlin and The court kalendar.
Request from Library stores for use in the Library: EPB Almanac
Full details in catalogue

A list of the medical officers of His Majesty's Navy, 1823
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /NAV
Full details in catalogue

The new Navy list, containing the names of all the commissioned officers ... also the masters, medical officers, pursers, chaplains, schoolmasters and the officers on full pay of the royal Marines, 1843
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /NAV
Full details in catalogue

Colonies

Roll of the Indian Medical Service, 1615-1930
by D.G. Crawford, published 1930
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41 /CRA
Full details in catalogue

Poplar Hospital, London
A list of marine pensioner inmates formerly serving with the East India Company, 1843- 1860, is held in the archives (MS.2271).
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Veterinary surgeons

Cash books, recipe books and vets’ bills document this area of practice. The most significant group of records is the Norman Comben Collection of ephemera, containing documentation relating to veterinary practitioners, farriers and agricultural chemists across the United Kingdom from the late 18th century to the early 20th (MSS.7562-7569).
Full details in catalogue

Veterinary Records Database
Provides the location of surviving historical records of veterinary surgery in the United Kingdom.
Available online from Library computers only.

Dentists

The Medical Directory
Licentiates and graduates in dental surgery are listed from 1866 to 1924.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

The Dentists Register, 1879-1986, incomplete
Compiled by the General Medical Council and records all dentists entitled to practice.
Request from Library stores for use in the Library
Full details in catalogue

Medical and dental students' register: lists of medical and dental students registered during the year, 1911-1937: lists of medical and dental students registered during the year, 1911-1937
Compiled for the General Medical Council.
Manual request from Library stores for use in the Library Shelfmark: Closed store serials S7716
Full details in catalogue

Pharmaceutical chemists and druggists

Annual register of pharmaceutical chemists and chemists and druggists, 1882-1992
Incomplete. Compiled by the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
Shelfmark: Quick Reference Collection BYD.41
Full details in catalogue

The Pharmaceutical records database
Records the location of surviving records of the pharmaceutical industry in this country.
Available online from Library computers
Full details in catalogue

For more information

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