Top free websites for ancestors’ hospital and health records


27 July 2016
Wellcome-Library-lo-res-19120.png Wellcome Library
Learn about healthcare in the past with 3 free websites

We often hear that our ancestors’ lived short, unhealthy lives, that food was scarce and work was shattering. But what was their health actually like, and what caused their illnesses, and ultimately even their death?

You may have already ordered a death certificate for some of your ancestors, and on here you’ll find their cause of death. This may be occupation-related, perhaps a health issue that runs in the family, or maybe due to their bleak living conditions. Cramped housing, lack of clean water and heating would have contributed to disease, and with the lack of antibiotics, even relatively minor problems could escalate tragically. All too many death certificates for children cite teething and fever as a cause of death, for instance.

To help you learn about healthcare in the past, check out these three websites below, each of which are free to access and extremely informative. It’s unlikely that you’ll find your ancestor named, but nevertheless you’ll find them very interesting to explore. For even more about the health and medical care of your ancestors, don't miss the September issue of Family Tree!

Hospital Records Database (HOSPREC)

This is a database hosted by The National Archives (TNA) that shows the location of the historical records of UK hospitals.

There are over 2,800 entries, and although the database is not currently being kept up-to-date, it is still very useful. It will tell you where a hospital was located, whether it has changed its name, what type of hospital it was, and where its historical records are kept.

The Isle of Thanet Joint Isolation Hospital, for example, was based in Ramsgate and changed its name four times before it closed in 1986. Records for the hospital, including admissions and discharge registers for patients, can be found at East Kent Archives.

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Historic Hospital Admissions Record Project

This site houses details of more than 140,000 children admitted to four hospitals in London and Glasgow between 1852 and 1921. The records tell you the name and age of the child, where they came from, and the date and reason for their admission.

Archaic Medical Terms

This regularly updated site helps to decode unfamiliar medical phrases that are no longer in use. These are often noted on death certificates or in hospital admission registers and can be hard to read, let alone understand. So, if want to know what our ancestors’ doctors meant by illnesses such as ‘rising of the lights’ or ‘blackwater fever’, then this site is for you.

Find out much more about the health and medical care of your ancestors with the September issue of Family Tree, on sale from 3 August 2016. Dr Simon Wills picks out his top FREE websites for researching hospital and medical records. Order your copy today or subscribe and save!