Search for a nursing ancestor
We have digitised the records of over 1.5 million nurses who trained and worked in the UK and Ireland 1921 - 1968. These are available online through Ancestry.co.uk.
We offer a searching service of these Ancestry records. If you would like us to search for a nurse then please complete the Family History Search Service form.
We would also recommend reading Tracing Nurses: A guide to British nursing sources for researching family and local history. This is a detailed RCN History of Nursing Forum guide for family and local history.
State registration of nurses was one of the first RCN campaigns, along with a consistent curriculum and standard examination. In December 1919, Nurses Registration Acts were passed for England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
Three separate General Nursing Councils (GNCs) were established:
- one for England and Wales,
- one for Scotland and
- one for Ireland.
Each was responsible for maintaining a register of nurses, approving training schools and setting examinations.
The registration of nurses was opened on 30 September 1921. Qualified nurses had to pay a fee to be on the register which was published annually from 1922 until the late 1940’s, thereafter quarterly.
From 1950 only newly qualified nurses were published. Existing nurses had until 1923 to join the register and until 1943 only nurses who had completed a recognised course of training were permitted.
However, with the Nurses Act 1943, which made registration a legal requirement, nurses who could produce a certificate that they had completed a course of training before the beginning of July 1925 were given one last opportunity to register.
These are the publications that have been digitised and are available on Ancestry.co.uk:
General Nursing Council for England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland Registers: 1921-1968
The information provided in the registers varies over time, but will include:
• Name (including maiden name where appropriate)
• Registration date and number
Sometimes, they also may include:
• Home address
• Place and date of qualification
• Other personal details
The Registers were divided into the titles general part, reserved for female nurses, with supplementary parts for fever nurses, male nurses, mental nurses (with a special section for nurses for ‘mental defectives’) and sick children's nurses.
Other available records include:
1) The College of Nursing Registers 1916-1923.
2) Scotland, Nursing applications 1921-1945: these are the handwritten, completed application forms to join the GNC Scotland register.
3) Burdett’s Official Nursing Directory: 1898 & 1899. Contains lists of training hospitals and institutions and a directory of Nurses.
4) Burdett’s Hospitals and Charities: 1905; 1922/3; 1928: Contains lists of training hospitals and institutions, including names of senior medical staff.
5) Royal British Nurses Association Roll of Members: 1909.
6) Guy’s Hospital Nurses’ League: 1937.
Prior to 1919 records of nurses were kept independently by individual hospitals. Many surviving records from hospitals are in local archives.
Health authorities are required to keep confidential records for the shortest practical time, though some hospitals may have older records. Administrative records of hospitals are normally closed for 30 years.
All of the above records are also publically available through Ancestry.
Midwives were registered with the Central Midwives Board, created in 1902 following the Midwives Act. The following midwifery records, held by the RCN, were digitised by Ancestry:
7) Central Midwives Board for Scotland Roll of Midwives 1917 – 1968 (although 1959 is missing). Some editions have handwritten amendments.
The membership and certification records for the Central Midwives Board (CMB) are held at the Wellcome Library and the information for 1904-1959 has been digitized by Ancestry.
• The nurse could have been an S.E.N. (State enrolled nurse) or a QNI nurse (Queens Nursing Institute – which is district or community nursing) or even a midwife.
• Double barrelled names and married names can often cause confusion.
• During the occupation in Jersey nurses had an enforced separation from the GNC and although they continued training, they were only allowed to join again in 1946.
• While the 1943 Act made it compulsory for practising nurses to register, it wasn’t easily enforced and many nurses didn’t. In terms of generally not finding people on the register who were definitely nurses, it’s probable that S.E.Ns weren’t so tightly policed in terms of registration. Nurses who took casual work or short contracts probably didn’t have to worry much about being caught for not being registered. They wouldn’t have been paid very much and probably a lot of them didn’t want to pay to be registered. There wasn’t any difference in fees regardless of whether you were fully qualified or an assistant nurse/S.E.N.
• If the nurse only worked in wartime then she would more likely be registered with organisations like the British Red Cross, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), The Territorial Force Nursing Service or Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS).
These are some resources which you can also look at, but we don’t search them here as they don’t form part of our records.
• Queens Nursing Institute (QNI - district nursing) – like the nursing registers, these have been digitised onto Ancestry.
• The National Archives (TNA) - particularly useful for military nursing records.
• Royal Medico-Psychological Association (1891 - 1951) - trained and registered Mental Nurses or Attendants. They are now the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
• Royal British Nurse’s Association (RBNA) (1887-1966) - kept the first 'list' of qualified nurses. There are 10,000 nurses on this list held at King’s College London Archive – this is now available online as transcriptions of entries.
• Scarlet Finders – a resource when researching nurses and nursing during WWI.
• The British Red Cross - you can find records of VAD’s here.
• Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) – early 1900’s military nursing.
• The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) – you can now search for more recent nurses registered with the NMC here.
More hospitals and Royal Colleges are starting to digitise their records so bear this in mind when you are searching.