skip to content

Doctor, Surgeon & Nurses Records (Occupations)

Nature of Source

Records of those involved in the care and treatment of the sick. Before the 19th century three groups of people practiced medicine: namely, apothecaries, barber surgeons and physicians. The first apothecaries' livery company The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was incorporated by royal charter in 1617 to represent those working in the field of preparing and selling medicines. The Royal College of Surgeons was established in 1800. Physicians required a university degree to practice with many studying at Oxford or Cambridge as well as Scottish universities. From 1511, ecclesiastical courts issued licences to those practicing medicine. General practitioners emerged in the 19th century with most licensed by the Society of Apothecaries.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (Royal Pharmaceutical Society) was founded on April 15 1841 and is the professional body for pharmacists and pharmacy in England, Scotland and Wales. Pharmacists, who were usually referred to as chemists and druggists before the establishment of the Society, were involved in the dispensing of medicinal drugs. Apothecaries on the other hand were recognised as doctors or general practitioners of medicine and could both prescribe and dispense medicines. Initially, registration with the Society was voluntary for individuals in the business but from 1868 a compulsory system of registration was initiated. The society also administered entrance exams for those wishing to enter the profession, a ‘minor’ examination for those wishing to work as an assistant and a ‘major’ examination for those wishing to own and operate a business. Surviving registers and records are available at the society’s museum. The museum also holds archive copies of the trade journals, the Pharmaceutical Journal first published by the society in 1841 (Search online for early digitised editions) and the Chemist and Druggist first published in 1859.

Other potential sources for researching ancestors who practiced medicine include Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade and Professional Directories and Newspaper archives for press articles and adverts.

Details of a dentists career can be found in the annual Dentists' Registers which formally registered dentists from 1879. The register records those that attained the License in Dental Surgery (from 1860) from the Royal College of Surgeons or those that practiced dentistry as a legitimate profession before 1879. It records the name, dental practice address, date of registration and qualification of every practitioner. Be aware that until The Dentists' Act of 1921, many dentists practiced unregistered.

The unofficial Medical Directory began publishing in 1845 and from 1858 the official Medical Register has been published. The Medical Directory includes a listing of nearly every UK doctor and includes details of the person's career, qualifications, positions held and obituaries. Until the 1858 Medical Act a medical practitioner in England or Wales needed a license to practise from the established church, although the practice fell into disuse before 1858. The Act created the General Medical Council which was given the responsibility of registering those wishing to practice medicine and the power to regulate the profession. The concerns over public health led to the Public Health Act of 1848 and the creation of the post of Medical Officer of Health who worked with local authorities to improve the health of the local population. Apprenticeship indentures should also be consulted for those entering the medical profession.

No central registration of nurses existed prior to the early 20th century, although nursing schools were established from the 1870’s by large hospitals which may still retain individual records. Other records of nurses were kept by the organisation that carried out the training. In 1919, three General Nursing Councils were established, one for England and Wales and one each for Scotland and Ireland. Nurse registration began on 30 September 1921, although registration was voluntary until the Nurses Act of 1943. Midwives registration began in 1904 and those registering will appear on the Midwives Roll. Also consult Burdett’s Official Nursing Directory published between 1894-1903. The directory is available at specialist libraries with editions between 1898 and 1899 available online via Ancestry.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Guilds, Freedoms & Freemen's or Burgess Rolls
Hospital Records
Lunatic Asylum Records
Occupational and Labour Records (Includes links and guidance on calculating historical wage rates and the cost of living)
Trade Union Records
University & College Records

Where Found

Wellcome Library (Holdings include: The Medical Directory; Medical Register; Queen's Nursing Institute Registers; Register of Trained Nurses, 1891, 1892 and 1896. Wellcome Library users have online access to the Registers via the library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition)
The National Archives (Series DT, Records of the General Nursing Council for England and Wales, c1860-1984; DV, Records of the Central Midwives Board; DV 7, Central Midwives Board: Midwives Roll, 1872-1983; HE, Records of the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, 1983-1992; MH, Records created or inherited by the Ministry of Health including registers of paid officers and staff, such as nurses, appointed by the Board of Guardians)
Guildhall Library (Apothecaries' company records)
Royal College of Surgeons (Member and apprenticeship records)
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (The library holds records of the College membership since 1505. It also maintains listings of those who received Dental Fellowships, Diplomas, Licentiateships, Honorary Fellowships. The archive holds institutional and other records dating from the 1460s and extensive archival material relating to the college membership and to the history of medicine and surgery in Scotland. Holdings include minute books; administrative records; letters; diplomas, other certificates and honours and photographs. The online catalogue includes items from the College’s museum, library and archive collections)
The Royal Society of Medicine Library (Library membership is open to all members of the public)
Royal College of Nursing Library and Archive Service (The RCN Library and Archive Service contain some of the most important collections dedicated to the history of the nursing profession in the UK including ‘Register of Nurses’. The majority of records relate to the work and history of the Royal College of Nursing, and include images, recordings and objects. The RCN also holds collections from other nursing organisations and private individuals. These collections include badges, postcards, files and photographs. The RCN Archives also hold RCN library journal stock more than 25 years old.The college offers a search service for information on an individual nurse. See below for more details)
Royal British Nurses Association
(Records covering the development of nursing as a profession including minute books dating from its foundation in 1887 and membership records)
Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum and Library (Resources include the Registers of Pharmaceutical Chemists and Chemists and Druggists published annually from 1869-2010, the List of Members, Associates and Apprentices from 1841-1868 and The Register of Premises annually from 1936-2010. Other resources include books and journals and other records. The museum offers a prepaid research service to family historians and others seeking to trace the careers of individuals or the history of pharmacy premises)
The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (Resources include apprenticeship bindings, membership records, candidates’ entry books, and the lists of Licentiates and pharmacy technicians)
Royal College of Physicians Library (The collections will be of interest to those researching the history of medicine, genealogy, health and social policy and medical education)
Royal College of General Practitioners (The Archive Collections holds limited biographical information about its members. They may be able to confirm membership or hold an obituary about an early member. For more information see Researching a Medical Ancestor)
National Records of Scotland
(Holdings include original register of doctors in Scotland; General Nursing Council for Scotland nursing registers; Other registers of trained and certified nurses and midwives. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (The Heritage Centre deals with the history of medicine and medical humanities in Ireland. The centre holds a collection of archives, manuscripts, books, images. They also hold a range of sources that can help you to trace Irish medical ancestors. You can either do research in person in the reading room or you can commission our paid genealogy research service. See Tracing your medical ancestors for more information)
BDA Dental Museum (British Dental Association: The museum holds copies of the Dentists Register. These annual volumes were started in 1879 and continue today. They record the name, address and qualification of every dentist working in the UK. Today the register is compiled by the General Dental Council. The museum holds obituaries of former members)
Society of Genealogists (Index of apothecaries, 1715-1840 on microfilm)
Bodleian Library
(Holdings include: Overseas Nursing Association Archives; Burdett’s Official Nursing Directory)
County Record Offices (Ecclesiastical/church court records)

Period Covered

1100 - Onwards

Further References

Amsden, Peter. The Medical Professions & Their Archives, 2nd ed: ASAT, 2007


Bourne, Susan & Chicken, Andrew H. Records of the Medical Professions: A Practical Guide for the Family Historian: S. Bourne and A.H. Chicken, 1994


Barber, M, Directory of medical licences issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1536-1775 in Lambeth Palace Library


Bloom, Harvey & James, Rutson. Medical practitioners in the diocese of London: 1529-1725


Carruthers, Dr Barry G. & Carruthers, Lesley A. A History of Britain's Hospitals and the background to the Medical, Nursing and Allied Professions:  Book Guild Publishing, 2005


Churchill, John. London & provincial medical directory 1861-1869


Dentists register 1879- (annual) London: Various publishers


Dingwall, Robert & Rafferty, Anne Marie & Webster, Charles. An Introduction to the Social History of Nursing: Routledge, 1988 (Preview available from Google Books)


Higgs, Michelle. Tracing Your Medical Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2011


Porter, Roy. Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine: Penguin, 2003 Buy Now on Amazon
Porter, Roy. Bodies Politic: Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900: Cornell University Press, 2001 Buy Now on Amazon

Register of Nurses 1922-1968 (annual) London: General Nursing Council


Register of Pharmaceutical Chemists 1869- (annual) London: Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain


Register of Chemists and Druggists 1869- (annual) London: Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain


The Medical Directory (began in 1845, available in most major libraries)


The Medical Register (began in 1859, available in most major libraries)


Wallis, Peter John. Eighteenth Century Medics: Subscription, Licences, Apprenticeships: Project for Historical Biobibliography, 1988 (Contains references to medical men between 1700 & 1800)


TNA Research Guides:
British Army nurses' service records 1914-1918
British Army Nurses
Civilian Nursing
Military Nursing
Patients, Doctors and Nurses
Royal Air Force Nurses

Websites (Biographical and Family History Resources in the Wellcome Library) (Researching Illness) (Victorian Times Project: Sections include Health, Progress in understanding health and disease) (Royal College of General Practitioners: Researching a Medical Ancestor) (Royal College of Midwives/Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Tracing Midwives in Your Family) (Royal College of Nursing: Family history: Resources to help find registered nurses. Family history guides include: Family History up to 1921; Family History 1922 to 1943; Family History 1943 onwards; Family History during wartime)
(Royal College of Nursing: Family Search Service. The RCN offers a searching service. If you would like to search for a nurse then complete the Family Search Service form. RCN members are entitled to 15 minutes of free search time. Members of the public can request an hour’s search at the rate of £20.Up to four names will be searched for. Visit the site for the full terms and conditions) (UK Centre for the History of Nursing. The Centre is dedicated to research and education in the history of nursing. It is based at the University of Manchester and acts in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing Archives and the Royal College of Nursing History of Nursing Society) (Queen’s Nursing Institute. Established in 1887, the institute’s original objectives were providing the ‘training, support, maintenance and supply’ of nurses for the sick poor, as well as establishing training homes and supervising centres) (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Resources for family historians at the RCOG. Was your ancestor an obstetrician, gynaecologist or midwife? Published and unpublished material held by the RCOG Library and Archive could help you find out more about them and their work) (Royal Pharmaceutical Society: History of The Society) (Society of Apothecaries: The Archives: Family History) (Family history resources in the Wellcome Library) (London Museums of Health and Medicine: Details of member museums that may be able to help with research for those with ancestors connected to the medical profession) (Royal College of Surgeons of England: Family History Research) (Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide: Medical Licences Issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1535-1775, with transcribed surname index) (Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, guide to collections and catalogue) (The Society of Apothecaries’ Guide to Family History) (Royal College of Physicians Museum and garden) (Science Museum's History of Medicine) (Practising medicine) (Guildhall Library Leaflet Guide: Sources for Tracing Apothecaries, Surgeons, Physicians and other Medical Practitioners) (The Military Nursing Services: Overview of each of the nursing services giving some idea of the chances of records surviving for women who served between 1875 and 1925) (The National Archives: How to look for records of Patients, doctors or nurses) (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)

Online Databases

Hospital Records Database (The National Archives and The Wellcome Trust joint project listing repositories which hold records relating to a particular UK hospital. The database will show the present and past name and location of hospital, the administrative details and history of the hospital and the existence of lists, catalogues or other finding aids. Consult TNA's ARCHON Directory for more information about the repositories holding the records) (UK & Ireland, Nursing Registers, 1898-1968. This collection consists of a number of different registers of nursing applications from diverse organisations. The data is extracted from the ‘Register of Nurses’ held at the Royal College of Nursing in London) (UK & Ireland, Queen's Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, 1891-1931. The aims of the Institute were to apply the Queen's gift to training nurses in district work in order to supply affiliated nursing associations with thoroughly equipped workers and to put in place a body to supervise the work. The data is extracted from the Queen's Nursing Institute Registers held at the Wellcome Library in London) (Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945. This collection contains records of applicants applying to become registered nurses in Scotland) (UK, Physiotherapy and Masseuse Registers, 1895 -1980. The collection consists of a variety of registers related to masseuses, physiotherapists, bio-physical assistants, and medical gymnasts, covering the years 1895 to1980. The records detail the members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) (UK, Medical and Dental Students Registers, 1882-1937. These Registers were compiled by the General Medical Council and records all students of Medicine and Dentistry studying in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the years 1882 to 1937) (UK, Dentist Registers, 1879-1942. These Registers were compiled by the General Medical Council and records all dentists entitled to practice) (UK, Roll of the Indian Medical Service, 1615 -1930) (UK, The Midwives Roll, 1904-1959) (UK & Ireland, Medical Directories, 1845-1942)
(Occupational Records. Resources include: The Medical Directory, 1848; The Medical Register, various 20th century editions; The Dentists Register 1888 and 1937; The Royal College of Physicians List of Fellows, 1908; St Thomas's Hospital List of Old Students, June 1936) (BMJ archive: Searchable online access to every British Medical Journal article published since the journal's first issue dating back to October 1840 and includes births, marriages, deaths and obituaries)
TNA Online Collections (British Army nurses' service records 1914-1918. First World War service records for nurses who served in the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and the Territorial Force Nursing Service. TNA Online Collections is produced by The National Archives and contains online access to indexes, transcriptions and digital images of some of the TNA's most important holdings. Searches are free but a fee is levied for each downloaded item. However downloads are free if used at TNA or the Society of Genealogists) (UK Medical Registers, 1859-1959 provided in partnership with the General Medical Council. This database contains annually published books listing all of the names of doctors who were licensed to practise in the United Kingdom and abroad from 1859-1959. Also included are foreign doctors who qualified in Britain)
(Midwives Roll, 1920. Printed and published by authority of the Central Midwives Board, the records contain the date of registration, surname, residential address, date of enrolment, qualifications which includes dates followed by the Medical Schools where the Midwives qualified) (Medical Registers & Midwives Roll, including nursing records) (Ireland Medical Directory 1852; Medical Directory For Ireland 1858. The Medical Directory details the locations and publications of medical practitioners who held qualifications as either apothecaries [pharmacists] or doctors in Ireland) (Munk's Roll of Physicians: Biographies of the fellows of the Royal College of Physicians compiled by Dr. William Munk from 1518. Subsequent Harveian Librarians have continued this work) (SoG Data Online: Medical Register surname index compiled by Dr R J Hawkins, 1779. Members of the Society of Genealogists are able to view these records for free via their existing membership. Non-members can carry out free surname searches but will need to join the society to view the full record details) (Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide: Medical Licences Issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1535-1775, with transcribed surname index)
British History Online (Physicians and Irregular Medical Practitioners in London 1550-1640. The site consists of a digital library of British historical sources developed by Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. The site is free to use with a search facility linking users to full transcripts of various sources)
(Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland: RCSI Roll of Licentiates, 1785-1950. The Roll of Licentiates was signed by every graduate of the College once they had completed their studies, passed their exams and received their license. The student signed their full name and gave their place of residence) (Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive Catalogue. The digital archive includes photographs, letters, advertisements, building plans and colleague magazines)

CD Roms (The Medical Directory, 1913)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (The Medical Directory, 1895)
Stepping Stones (The Medical Directory 1895)