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.
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’s even larger.
The descendants of those students add up to considerable tribe, making genealogical requests a sizeable part of the department’s reference work. For those family historians having an ancestor with a connection to one of Columbia’s health science schools, 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 with whom they were apprenticing. 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 exist in abundance for the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons but considerably less so for other schools. The medical school has 23 volumes of student registers (1816/17-1861/62, 1875/76-1908/09) and 48 boxes of graduates’ records (1828-1857, 1873-1902). The registers hold information on all matriculated students while the graduates’ records are of those who actually received the medical degree from us. Information in these records varies greatly depending on date, so it’s helpful to read the finding aid beforehand. 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. 20th century student records for the medical school (up through the Class of 1989) are held by us; access is regulated by the Family Educational & Privacy Act (FERPA). 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.
Above: Page from the student register of the Columbia College Faculty of Medicine, 1810.