Now What: MD Ancestors

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Q. My great-great-grandfather was supposedly a physician in the mid-1800s. He left Pennsylvania for Ohio, and died in 1870. How can I research where he got his education and verify that he was a physician?

A. Start with the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Deceased Physician File, 1864-1970. In these records, you may find an obituary and other biographical information, such as specialties and medical schools your ancestor attended. The file is available on microfilm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library (FHL) <> in Salt Lake City. To find the film, go to the Web site and click the Library tab, then Family History Library Catalog. In the Author search, type American Medical Association. Results show the physicians’ names in alphabetical order; they’ll include some Canadian doctors, as well. You can borrow the film for viewing at an FHL branch Family History Center (FHC). To find one near you, call (800) 240-2331 or go to <>, click the Library tab and then Family History Centers.

The National Genealogical Society (NGS) also has the AMA file and will search it for $20 per name (the fee is $15 for NGS members). Go to <> and scroll halfway down the page, then click Deceased American Physicians for details.

To research physicians who practiced before 1864, look for the two-volume Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929 (American Medical Association, out of print); you’ll find it at many libraries and on film at the FHL. You also can purchase the books on CD-ROM from<>.

If you don’t find your ancestor in the AMA files, check city directories from your ancestor’s towns to see what medical schools were in operation. The College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania), which opened in 1765, was the first medical school in the United States. Ohio had a number of schools, including the Medical College of Ohio. It was founded in Cincinnati in 1819 and merged with the University of Cincinnati in 1896. (A different Medical College of Ohio was established in 1964 in Toledo.) Check online to see if the colleges still exist or have changed names. If the schools are still around, write to their registrars to inquire about your ancestor’s records.
From the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine.