Researching a medical ancestor
The RCGP was founded in 1952, and thus holds only limited biographical information about its members. We may be able to confirm membership, or hold an obituary about an early member, but for most ancestors prior to 1952 you will have to seek out sources in other institutions.
The following publications may assist you in beginning your search for medical ancestors.
- Higgs, Michelle, “Tracing Your Medical Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians” (Pen & Sword Books: 2011)
- Bourne, Susan and Chicken, Andrew H., “Records of the Medical Professions - A Practical Guide for the Family Historian” (Self-Published, available in Wellcome Library)
- Medical directory (1845 - date)
- Medical register (1859 - date)
These annual publications should be your starting point as they include names, addresses, qualifications, medical school and some publications for each doctor. The Medical Register was a mandatory list of practitioners, whilst the Directory was a commercial venture and so not compulsory, although it can contain more information about individuals. There is an obituary section, but notice of a doctors’ deaths usually comes from the year they disappear from the publication! Sometimes medical directories can be accessed through Google Books, but are available in the BMA, Wellcome and Guildhall Libraries.
- Wallis, P. J. and R.V., “Eighteenth Century Medics (subscriptions, licences, apprenticeships) 2nd Edition” (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Project for Historical Bibliography, 1988).
This index is largely to the information from subscription lists of books published in the eighteenth century including medical treatises and other works. Available from The British Library or Wellcome Library.
University Medical School Records
For a full list of the types and abbreviations of medical qualifications, see the front of a copy of the Medical Directory. The most common were:
- MB = Bachelor of Medicine
- BM = Bachelor of Medicine
- ChB = Bachelor of Surgery
- BS BChir = Bachelor of Surgery
- MD = Doctor of Medicine
- DM = Doctor of Medicine
The Register or Directory will tell you the Medical School your ancestor trained with, and you can then contact them or the university archive directly for further details. The alumni or membership publications of medical schools may include more information about the career of an individual. Some have journals which regularly publish obituaries or news.
Royal Medical Colleges
The medical directory or register will note the membership of any colleges. Information for members is across the board limited, there is more likely to be information on Fellows, those that were awarded prizes or who served on college committees or as officers at some stage.
Royal College of General Practitioners
The term ‘general practitioner’ did not become common until the 1820s. These doctors might initially belong to the Physicians or Surgeons Colleges, or hold some kind of joint qualification, but most probably obtained licentiateship of the Society of Apothecaries. The medical registers or directory probably hold the most information on them.
The RCGP began in 1952 but it was not until 1965 that members could use MCGP (Member College of GPs). In 1967 membership by examination was introduced, the College received its Royal designation, and a year later began admitting fellows. In 1970 the GMC agreed it could be a registerable qualification, leading to two designations:
MRCGP – Member of the Royal College of GPs
FRCGP – Fellow of the Royal College of GPs
The college holds an obituary roll of members up to 1979 with extracts of published obituaries. Obituaries of our members may appear in the BJGP (British Journal of General Practice) or the BMJ. We have a small collection of restricted information in the archives, contact the Archivist for more information.
Royal College of Physicians
The term ‘physician’ originally described someone diagnosing internal disorders, rather than operating on them or dispensing medicine. Not all Physicians belonged to the Royal College. The hospital records database may help with hospital based doctors.
FRCP [LON] – Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians London
- The RCP maintained biographies of members (1518-1825), later only fellows (1825 – the present day), in a Munk's roll. See the online index.
- Physicians in London and the vicinity 1529-c.1767 can sometimes be traced in ecclesiastical licensing records which can be found in local record offices and at the Guildhall Library. John Baach - A Directory of English County Physicians 1603-1643. 1962 is based upon ecclesiastical Records.
FRCPE – Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh
- Founded by a charter in 1681, and a supplementary one in 1920 allowed the entry of women
- For obituaries see The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh [Previously called Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh].
MRCP [UK] – membership was first introduced in 1860 as a steeping stone between Licentiate and Fellowship. Over the years candidates were examined on general medicine and a special subject. When the MRCP [UK] was agreed upon in 1971 the special subject was stopped.
Royal College of Surgeons
The term 'surgeon' traditionally described a person who performed operations with the use of surgical instruments. However some surgeons, particularly in the 19th century, also worked in other areas of medical practice.
Surgeons' Lives; a compendium of illustrated biographies of notable Fellows spanning the College's 500-year history, from the 16th century to the present day. [to be published 2005].
See also The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh obituaries section.
FRCS [Eng] = Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
For biographical information about surgeons, whether in London or elsewhere, who belonged to the Company of Surgeons, 1745-1800, or the Royal College of Surgeons (of England) 1800- see Plarr's Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons, 7 vols. covering the years 1844-1996. For later obituaries see Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons.
FRCS [Ed] = Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was granted its “Seal of Cause” by Edinburgh Town Council on 1st July 1505. This was ratified in the following year by King James IV of Scotland. It is to this charter that the College traces its origins as the oldest medical incorporation in the world.
Double and Triple Qualifications
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Scottish medical colleges began to offer joint medical and surgical qualifications. The Double Qualification in Medicine and Surgery was established between the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1859. Recipients were listed in the Medical Register as having the letters "Lic.R.Coll.Phys.Edn., Lic.Fac.Phys.Surg.Glasg."
The Triple Qualification came into being in 1884 and was offered by the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. It resulted in extremely long letters after the qualifying person's name. In the Medical Register for 1891, for example, Robert Brooks Popham, is listed as "Lic.R.Coll.Phys.Edin, 1886. Lic.R.Coll.Surg,Edin, 1886. Lic.Fac.Phys.S urg.Glasg., 1886.
- See "Alexander Duncan, Memorials of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow", 1599-1850, Maclehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1896
- Johanna Geyer-Kordesch and Fiona Macdonald, Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, The History of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 1599-1858, Hambledon Press, 1999
- Andrew Hull and Johanna Geyer-Kordesch, The Shaping of the Medical Profession, The History of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons o f Glasgow, 1858-1999, Hambledon Press, 1999
- James J. Beaton, Roy Miller and Iain T. Boyle (eds), Treasures of the College, Carnyx Group, Glasgow, 1998
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
FRCOG - Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
This College was founded in 1929. See "The lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: 1929-1969" compiled by Sir John Peel Heinemann Medical Books, 1976.
Later obituaries are published in the RCOG News (formerly President's Newsletter). These would only tend to be of the really "important" Fellows and Members. The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology used to carry them but not any more. Other than that, the deaths of all Fellows get reported to Council and therefore are noted in the minutes - contact the archivist for further details.
Royal College of Psychiatrists
FRCPsych - Fellow of Royal College of Psychiatrists
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional body for Psychiatrists in the British Isles. It began in 1841 as the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane. It was later known as the (Royal) Medico-Psychological Association. It changed its status to a medical royal college with membership by examination in 1971.
Membership lists were printed in the Journal of Mental Science from the 1850s to the 1960s; these are in the College Library. Year Books from the 1930s to late 1969s listing members are in the archives. The British Journal of Psychiatry [1962- previously Journal of Mental Science (1855-1962) until recently published obituaries of all important psychiatrists. The Psychiatrist carries current obituaries.
Royal Society of Medicine
The Royal Society of Medicine is an independent educational organisation for:
- others involved in medicine and health care.
Formed out of a number of medical societies. Today it provides CPD for health professionals, has a large library and archive. Is another place to look for ancestors or contextual information about the world in which they worked.
Society of Apothecaries
LSA - Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries
LMSSA - Licentiate in Medicine, Surgery and Midwifery of the Society of Apothecaries
The term 'apothecary' traditionally described a person who dispensed medicines and who would now be called a chemist or a druggist. The Society was incorporated as a City Livery Company by royal charter from James I on 6 December 1617. In recognition of apothecaries' specialist skills in compounding and dispensing medicines.
In 1704 the Society won a key legal suit (known as the Rose Case) against the Royal College of Physicians in the House of Lords. Which ruled that apothecaries could both prescribe and dispense medicines. This led directly to the evolution of the apothecary into today's general practitioner of medicine. From 1815 onwards most medical practitioners who were described as apothecaries can be found in the licentiateship records of the Society of Apothecaries. Before that date many "apothecaries" (particularly those outside London) belonged to no professional body, and their activities may well be unrecorded. A list of all apothecaries from 1715-1840 (on microfilm) has been published by the Society of Genealogists.
Other Royal Medical Colleges
For a complete list of Royal Colleges in all specialties, there is a list on the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges website. Some may not have a formal archives programme, but may be able to assist with enquiries.
Doctors in the Forces
- Medical officers serving in the Army, 1660-1960, are listed in A Peterkin, W Johnston and R Drew. Commissioned officers in the medical services of the British Army, 2 vols (1968). Available at Guildhall Library and many other reference libraries.
- Prospective Navy surgeons had to be examined by, and receive certificates from, the Barber-Surgeons' company or (from 1745) its successor bodies. The Surgeons Company [later College of Surgeons later Royal College of Surgeons]. Guildhall Library has records of certificates issued 1705-45:
- More detailed information about naval surgeons can be found in the Admiralty records, 1660-19th century. At the National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Surrey, TW9 4DU: these are described in Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (PRO readers' guide 24, 2002). Guildhall Library has a typescript index of naval surgeons' certificates 1700-54, taken from Admiralty sources. From 1793 surgeons are listed in most of the annual volumes of the Navy List. Available at Guildhall Library.
- Details of medical officers in all branches of the armed forces from 1845 can be found in Medical Directories: see above.
International Resources for Doctors
- Irish Medical Directory 1843-1846; Medical directory for Ireland. 1852-1860 In the past. Particularly before the establishment of the Republic of Ireland, doctors qualified and/or practising in Ireland were included in the Medical Directory. It is still not uncommon for Irish doctors to have spent some time training in the UK. There is now a separate Irish Medical Directory, which includes obituaries online.
FRCPI - Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland was founded in 1692 and has a complete set of registers of Fellows and Members. A charge is made for doing genealogical research.
FRCSI - Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was granted a Charter on 11th February 1784. In 1844 a supplemental Charter was obtained from Queen Victoria. The chief provision of this was the institution of the Fellowship which divided Graduates into Licentiates and Fellows. The Mercer Library holds the records of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Their collection includes an index of the Kirkpatrick Archive of the Royal College of Physicians of Irelan. A collection of newspaper cuttings and earlier material about Irish Doctors up to 1954.
MICGP - Member of Irish College of General Practitioners. Until this College was founded in 1984 many Irish general practitioners belonged to the Royal College of General Practitioners.
'Tracing Medical Ancestors' - available from Mary O'Doherty, the Archivist at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland ,123 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland.
- J B Lyons A pride of professors: the professors of medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 1813-1985. RCSI 1999
- J B Lyons Brief Lives of Irish Doctors 1978
- C.A. Cameron History of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and of the Irish Schools of Medicine. 1916
U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)- History of Medicine Division Website. Their collection includes dictionaries of medical biography, medical directories, and obituary indexes, primarily from the 19th century.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons Obituary Database
- American Medical Directory 1906-1990 became Directory of Physicians in the United States 1990-date
- Directory of deceased American physicians, 1804-1929: a genealogical guide to over 149,000 medical practitioners. Providing brief biographical sketches, published in 1993 by the American Medical Association [AMA].
- Medical register and directory of the United States. Systematically arranged by States: comprising names, post office address, educational and professional status of more than fifty thousand physicians. With lists of medical societies, colleges, hospitals ... with abstracts of medical laws of each State. Notices of mineral springs, etc. / by Samuel W. Butler 1878
- The Medical directory of the city of New York published under the auspices of the Medical Society of the County of New York. New York, 1886-1905
- Medical directory of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut 1889-1949
- The medical and dental register-directory and intelligencer of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware. George Keil, editor, published: Philadelphia, 1892.
Medical Journals may contain obituaries:
- Holloway, Lisabeth M., Ernest N. Feind, and George N. Holloway. Medical Obituaries: American Physician's Biographical Notices In Selected Medical Journals Before 1907. New York, Garland, 1981. p.513.
- The New England Journal of Medicine (1812 - date) published obituaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Often a Google search for the ‘American Society/Association/Academy/College of *specialty*’ will bring up the correct organisation. Below are a list of specialties in American health care:
- Family Physicians
- Obstetricians & Gynaecologists
- Preventative Medicine
The Osler Library has, for many years, maintained an "obituary file" of Canadian medical obituaries and death notices. This file is an index which refers researchers to the full obituary
- Canadian Medical Association
- College of Family Physicians of Canada
- Also available to consult is the Canadian Medical Directory
Australia and New Zealand
Australian Medical Pioneers Index, a database of over 3,000 pioneer doctors, from the 1700s through to 1875. It includes doctors who were registered or qualified in Australia, were resident in Australia, or visited here in a professional capacity, before 1875. Ships' surgeons, convict doctors, general practitioners and medical specialists are included. Until the first Australian medical graduates entered the profession in the 1860s, all Australian doctors were educated and obtained their qualifications overseas.
In the later colonial period most new doctors were Australians who were trained in Melbourne or Sydney. A number of Australian doctors prior to 1948 will have done some or all of their training in the UK and will be included in the UK Medical Directory in the overseas section.
FRACP, Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians
The Royal Australian College of Physicians was founded in 1938. It is a professional organisation consisting of over 9,000 Fellows and Trainees combined. Fellows are qualified physicians and paediatricians who completed their training with the College. They practise in all Australian States and Territories, New Zealand and in many countries throughout the world. RACP News publishes obituaries.
FRACS, Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Founded in 1927 The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is an internationally recognised organisation for 5400 surgeons who are based mainly in Australia and New Zealand. Approximately 90 per cent of all surgeons practising in Australia and New Zealand are Fellows of the RACS (FRACS). It's publication Surgical News includes obituaries.
FRANZCP, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
Rubinstein, WD and Hilary L Rubinstein, 1996. Menders of the mind: A history of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 1946-1996. Melbourne: Oxford University Press
The history of the birth and development of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Physicians. As a specialist medical College and charts the likely future of the College in relation to probable developments. In the nature and more than forty interviews with prominent College members, conducted between 1993 and mid-1995.
FRACOG, Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
The Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was formally established in 1978. The prefix 'Royal' was acquired in 1980 when it became the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RACOG). The College Archives contain the administrative records of the College, and personal papers of Fellows and Members, which may provide a further valuable resource for research.
- For Directory information. Check the Australasian Medical Directory and Handbook 1883-1900 Medical Directory of Australia 1948 - date https://www.mda.com.au/
- The Medical Journal of Australia. This was founded in 1914 as an amalgamation of the Australasian Medical Gazette. (Published by the NSW Branch of the British Medical Association since 1881). And the Australian Medical Journal (published by the Victorian Branch of the BMA since 1856). Obituaries published in recent issues are available online and copies of earlier issues can be ordered at http://www.mja.com.au/.
Up until the 1960s many South African medical professionals undertook all or some of their training in the United Kingdom and information about them may be found in UK Medical Directory and other UK sources.
FCMSA, Fellow of the College of Medicine of South Africa
- The Colleges of Medicine South Africa formerly South African College of Medicine formerly College of Physicians, Surgeons, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was founded in 1955. The College also incorporates the College of General Practitioner of South Africa from 1970. Which itself was originally a Faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners 1958-1968]. The journal, Transactions of the College of Physicians, Surgeons and Gynaecologists of South Africa 1957-1971, became Transactions of the College of Medicine of South Africa from 1971.
- For directory type information, look at the Register of Medical Practitioners, Interns and Dentists for the Republic of South Africa [formerly Medical and Dental Register for the Union of South Africa] 1924-1998
- South African Medical Journal published by the South African Medical Association. [Previously Medical Journal of South Africa [1913-1926]. Previously Transvaal Medical Journal 1905-1913] publishes obituaries.
There are several places to check for an obituary of your ancestor. If they were a member of a Royal College there might be one in their publications (see Royal Medical Colleges section for more details), or in their alumni or university medical school publications. Remember to search the issues after the death for a year or so in case the organisation was not notified of the death immediately.
General Medical Publications also printed obituaries. See:
- the Lancet from 1823,
- the BMJ (British Medical Journal) from 1828,
- Medical Times (later Medical Times and Gazette) from 1839-1885,
- and the Edinburgh, from 1805 and Glasgow, from 1828, Journals.
These can be found at the BMA and Wellcome Libraries.
Local, regional and geographical medical journals can also be consulted. Ask the British Library about where to find the Journals of Medical and Scientific Societies. Local newspapers are another option and you should consult your local authority archive to see where they survive. The Wellcome Library also has a run of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ which is another source for obituaries.