Family History Resources at Archives & Special Collections

Genealogy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a health sciences library,  but the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections has a remarkable range of resources for ancestor hunters. The department holds the records of Columbia’s four health science schools (medicine, nursing, dentistry, and public health) documenting a history dating back to 1767. We also hold many of the surviving records of the College of Pharmaceutical Science (1829-1976), originally known as the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York, though it was never located at the Medical Center.

Course Catalog
1860 Course Catalog

That many schools over that many years means numerous graduates – over 20,000 between 1769-2016 for the medical school alone – and some are bound to have left a paper trail.  When you count students who attended but didn’t graduate, the number is even larger.  

The descendants of those students add up to a considerable tribe, making genealogical requests a sizeable part of the department’s reference work.   For those family historians having an ancestor with a Columbia connection, here are some of the resources that may be helpful:

Course catalogs of the University and the individual schools dating from the early 19th century will often have lists of students and graduates. These sometimes mention the student’s hometown and, in the case of the medical school, the name of their “preceptor” – the practicing physician they were apprenticing with.  Most of these have been digitized and can be found on our Digital Collections page.

Yearbooks: while we have scattered volumes dating to 1908 for the dental school and to 1920 for the College of Pharmacy, the earliest School of Nursing yearbook is 1936 and the medical school’s first wasn’t until 1947.  These too have been digitized and are available through our Digital Collections page.

Student Records - Hand Signatures
               1810 Student Register

Student records exist in abundance for the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons but considerably less so for other schools.  We hold student registers for VP&S that contain information on all matriculated students during 1816/17-1861/62 and 1875/76-1908/09; as well as graduates’ records of those who actually received the medical degree from us during 1828-1857 and 1873-1902. Information in these records varies greatly depending on date, so it’s helpful to read the finding aid beforehand. We also hold 20th century VP&S student records up through the Class of 1989, the access of which is regulated by the Family Educational & Privacy Act (FERPA). We have only fragments of 19th and early 20th century student records for the schools of dentistry, nursing and pharmacy and none at all for public health. Student records of the other schools are held by the University Registrar’s Office.

Other resources include class photographs; alumni directories; and the School of Nursing’s alumni magazine, the 1906-1960 issues of which have been recently digitized. The department also has databases of medical school obituaries and Civil War veterans.

Happy hunting!


Last Revision

Explore Further