Using Ancestry: Oxford and Cambridge, by Sherry Irvine, CG, FSA Scot

Oxford UniversityA few weeks ago a database, Oxford University Alumni, 1500 to 1886, was added to the British resources at (and is also available to those who have a World Deluxe membership). It is a register of students, graduates, and officers who attended Oxford University. A Cambridge University database for the period 1250 to 1900 has been available at Ancestry for some time. These resources make available the information contained in two publications:

Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 and Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714. Oxford: Parker and Co., 1888-1892.

Venn, J. A., comp. Alumni Cantabrigienses. London, England: Cambridge University Press, 1922-1954.

Until 1832, Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in England. Durham University was founded in 1832 and the University of London in 1836; two colleges of the University of London had been established in the 1820s.

About the Databases
University lists may not be something you considered consulting; after all, a small percentage of the population attended university. However, there is a consideration to bear in mind, particularly those of you searching for evidence of English connections before 1660. The number of students attending Oxford and Cambridge rose significantly in the latter half of the 1500s, during the reign of Elizabeth I. You have a better chance of finding a university connection at that time than at any other up until the twentieth century.

In either database you can expect to find the name of the student, his birthplace, birth year, degree obtained, date of matriculation and age at matriculation, and his father’s name. Numerous entries include details of lives and occupations after attending university, and some include relationship information. This example from the Oxford University list tells us a lot about Lawrence Clarke, including his father’s name, an alternate spelling of his surname, the name of his brother, and that when admitted he was a poor boy (indicated by p.p.).

Clarke, Lawrence, s. Edm., of Great Kington, Dorset, p.p. Wadham Coll., matric. 14 July 1673, aged 16; B.A. from Magdalen Coll. 1677, as Clerke, brother of Nicholas 1664.

A general comparison between the Oxford and Cambridge lists shows that the Cambridge entries usually provide more information. The Cambridge list includes teachers. For any Oxford University result you can view the image of the printed page of the original volume. The Cambridge University details are presented as a transcript.

Searching the Databases
First of all, it is worthwhile to make the search, whether or not you consider the family had sufficient social standing. Some students received financial help. Nearly all clergymen of the Church of England attended Oxford or Cambridge. As the sample entry shows, not everyone attending Oxford or Cambridge came from a wealthy family.

There is another reason. When you can readily search records that contain lots of personal details, don’t skip the opportunity. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I suggest you search the Oxford and Cambridge lists separately. Within the list of English resources, found here you can see the database titles under the heading England Directories and Membership Lists.

The search tools are not the same for both databases. For the Oxford list you have three fields to play with: first name, last name, and keyword. Cambridge gives you seven: first name, last name, keyword, birth year, death year, entry year, and college.

Next Steps
Put your results against those in other contemporary records. There are enough facts in these listings to lead you to other important records if your search turns up a student at university in the 1800s (e.g., parish registers, probate, civil registration, and census).

Also compare any results to previous research you have done and to any lists you have made of possible connections. The details in these entries will help in sorting out family members.

Rogers, Colin D. The Family Tree Detective, 3rd edition. (1997)

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Sherry Irvine, CGRS, FSA Scot, is an author, teacher, and lecturer specializing in English, Scottish, and Irish family history. She is the author of “Your English Ancestry” (2d ed., 1998) and “Researching Scottish Ancestry” (2003), and she is a contributor to several publications. Since 1996, she has been a study tour leader, course coordinator, and instructor for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. Recently she served a two- year term as president of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Online Classes
Sherry Irvine has teamed up with Helen Osborn for a new series of online courses. For more information, visit

One thought on “Using Ancestry: Oxford and Cambridge, by Sherry Irvine, CG, FSA Scot

  1. My mother was Irvine Currie youngest daughter of Alexander and Barbara Sutherland born 4/4/1901

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