England Occupations, Nurses, Midwives, Veterinarians (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Mecidine (cont.)


The LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) leaflet #9 describes their considerable holdings in this area. Rose writes on tracing nursing ancestors. The survival of records for those who trained or worked in workhouse infirmaries is generally good in London.

Registration for nurses started in 1921 after the Nurses Act of 1919 including a general register and separate sections for male nurses, fever nurses, mental nurses and paediatric nurses. Although untrained nurses already competent and experienced were allowed to register in 1921, from that time on all registrants had to have completed an approved three-year training programme. In 1943 a roll of assistant nurses was established, and these two rolls from their beginning until 1973, partially indexed, form part of the Public Record Office’s holdings, see their leaflets D79 (Civilians) and M55 (army nurses). For further details on nursing records see Daykin (Nurses and Midwives Records in The Family and Local History Handbook. 6th edition, page 25-27. Genealogical Services Directory, 2002), and Bourne and Chicken (Records of the Medical Professions. A Practical Guide for the Family Historian. Self-published, 1994. FHL book 942 D27bs).


Experienced and sensible midwives have always been a part of history, but there were a lot of ignorant, dirty ones who transmitted diseases between patients as well as causing the death of mothers and children (Lodey). In 1511 the church instituted the first licensing system in order that a midwife could baptize a sickly infant thought unlikely to survive until a minister could arrive. The prevailing superstition was that witches would use the flesh of unbaptized children to boil with nightshade and antimony to make ointment (salve) to allow them to fly! A licence had to be obtained from a bishop or archbishop in order to practice in his jurisdiction. By 1603 a woman had to affirm that she was of the Protestant faith, (though exceptions did occur), and that she was competent through serving an apprenticeship with an experienced midwife. The registers may include testimonials from six to eight midwives or ladies she had successfully delivered (see chart below).

CHART: Example of Midwife’s Licence from Register of Diocese of Canterbury (FHL film 1836361)

April the 30th 1742 before the Worshipful Sam: Lisle D.D.
Surrogate to the Wor[shi]pful Tho: Tenison Comey er pt

A licence passed to Mary WADDELL wife of Peter WADDELL of Mersham in the Diocese of Canterbury to practise the Art of Midwifery within the Diocese abovesaid, She having first ex[hibi]ted a Certificate of her Skill in that Art and also taking the Oath on this Behalf.

Licensing of midwives by the church died out in the 18th century, but at the same time female midwives were largely ousted by male ones (Prest). This trend was reversed in the 19th century. The trained Midwives Registration Society (now the Royal College of Midwifery) was formed in 1881 and although formal qualifications were not required many would have held a diploma from the London Obstetrical Society. A central Board for regulation of the profession was set up in 1902, and from 1921 midwives had first to become qualified nurses before entering this specialty. Fincher (The Seventeenth Century Midwife. Journal of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Vol 8 #7, page 263) has some early history, and there is a good two-part article by Lodey (Old Occupations: A Labour of Love [Midwives). Family Tree Magazine. Part I in Vol 6 #9, page 4-5; Part II in Vol 6 #10, page 4-5) on midwives.


The veterinary profession derives from the old trade of farriery and in 1844 the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons was established. For another 37 years the members co-existed with farriers in providing medical services, but the 1881 Veterinary Surgeons Act restricted the practice of animal medicine to qualified vets (Bailey 1977, Davies). Cole recommends a history of the profession by Pattison (The British Veterinary Profession 1791-1948. J.J. Allen, 1984). Roper (The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Family History News and Digest Vol 13 #4, page 157-159) has provided an up-to-date survey of sources at the RCVS, including a complete card index of vets from the 1790s to the 1950s, and information about the International Dictionary of Veterinary Medicine.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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