The following provides information and advice on making genealogical enquiries at the library of Royal College of Surgeons of England. There are also links to other sources of information regarding tracing medical ancestors and genealogy in general.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a charity and has as its primary focus of activity the education, training and examination of surgeons in order to promote and advance the highest standards of surgical care for patients. However, the library is now able to accommodate genealogical researchers and we have moved the most relevant historical sources into the main library reading rooms.
Making an appointment
Genealogists are able to make an appointment to visit the College library and make use of the sources available. We ask that you contact us well in advance as space is limited and so we can inform you of any possible closures or disruptions.
Researching your family history at RCS
When planning to visit the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England for genealogical research the following should be borne in mind:
- we may not necessarily come up with much information unless the ancestor was a Fellow of the College (FRCS)
- If your ancestor was solely a member (MRCS), it is unlikely that we will hold any detailed information. See clarification of the difference between 'MRCS' and 'FRCS' in a historical context
- our records go back to 1800 (apart from the examination books, which merely state the date of passing and town of residence, back to 1745)
- the earliest Medical Directory is 1845
- the Society of Apothecaries also used to licence surgeons to practise as apothecaries
- our membership records generally do not contain details of births, marriages and deaths
If you are unable to visit us, we can still provide a limited enquiry service. Should you find that your ancestor had clear College connections, please return the enquiry form to the following address enclosing a £15 search fee which applies whether any information is found or not. We will acknowledge receipt of your enquiry within 5 working days and endeavour to answer your queries within 10 working days (although at times of high demand it may take longer). Please include details about your ancestor and your full contact details. Try to gather as precise details as possible, including dates, and record these in a clear form, distinguishing family legend from hard facts. Please bear in mind that many early practitioners had very few formal qualifications and often adopted the term 'surgeon' to embellish their medical claims.
Email enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information concerning academic historical research, please consult the relevant pages of our collections section.
Should you require the services of a professional researcher, we recommend that you contact the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA).
Museums & Archives
The Royal College of Surgeons of England
35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields
London WC2A 3PE
Online resources from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
SurgiCat is the online catalogue for the archive and museum collections at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The Catalogue currently holds records of approximately half of the College's deposited manuscripts. These relate to the history of the College (but do not hold the College's own records) and the Hunterian Museum and more generally to the history of medicine and surgery.
Lives of the Fellows
The library has been compiling an online collection of biographical memoirs of past fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons. This is available on the website Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online. Records for all past fellows have yet to be added, so please check the website for details of progress. If the person you are looking for isn't here the library we may still hold information on them.
Other online resources
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
If your ancestor turns out not to have been a member or fellow of this College, it may be that they were in fact a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
The Worshipful Company of Barbers
The Worshipful Company of Barbers amalgamated with the Surgeons Guild in 1540, then in 1745 The Barber-Surgeons Company divided again. Today the Company of Barbers has closer ties with surgeons than with barbers.
The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London
From 1672 until 1922, the Society of Apothecaries manufactured and sold medicinal and pharmaceutical products. In the nineteenth century the Society was given the right to conduct examinations and to grant licences to practice medicine in England and Wales.
The Royal College of Physicians
Your ancestor may have been a member of the Royal College of Physicians. The College was established by Henry VIII in 1518. The Heritage Centre pages include a section called 'Family History' that provides details of the resources available, including 'Munk's Roll' containing biographies of Fellows and College archives.
Royal College of General Practitioners
The Royal College of General Practitioners Archives pages include a section entitled 'Tracing your medical ancestors'. This provides details of directories, records and sources, both UK and overseas, as well as helpful information concerning the qualifications awarded by the different Medical Royal Colleges.
Printed sources held in the library
A guide to the key printed sources for genealogists held in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Please note that the suitability of materials for photocopying must be checked with library staff as some sources may be fragile.
- The Link Between the Naval Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of England
- A Brief History of Women in Surgery by Michele Gunning
More family research links
You may also be interested in the websites indexed within the Family Research section of the College Links database:
Biographical research - Information on family history research from the Royal College of Physicians. Includes access to the online version of Munk's Roll. This indexes reference details of fellow's entries in the print version held at the College.
GENUKI - UK and Ireland Genealogy - GENUKI is a "virtual reference library" of genealogical information that is of particular relevance to the UK & Ireland.
Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section - The Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library is the local record office for the City of London. Its holdings date from the 11th century.
Helpers (Higher Education Libraries in your PERsonal history reSearch) - Online guide to using the resources held in London University's libraries and archives for family and local history research.
Hospital Records Database - Information on the existence and location of the records of hospitals in the UK compiled as part of a joint project by the Wellcome Trust and the National Archives.
London Metropolitan Archives - About the Archives and a database of genealogical sources.
National Archives - The Public Record Office is the national archive of the United Kingdom and contains the records from the 11th century of central government and the courts of law. The web site has a catalogue of its collections.
Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online - A biographical register of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Researching a medical ancestor - Advice and links from the Royal College of General Practitioners.
Society of Genealogists - The Society of Genealogists Library contains a large collection of family histories, civil registration and census material, and over 9000 Parish Register copies.
SurgiCat - Online catalogue of the museum and archive collections at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Wellcome Library - A search can give you references to BMJ and Lancet obituaries and other biographical information.