How can I find out if my relative was a midwife?
- Talk to family members who may be able to confirm that your relative was a midwife rather than a maternity or district nurse.
- Does anyone in the family have any documentation such as certificates, photographs or registers belonging to your relative?
- Have you or other family members got copies of her birth, marriage or death certificates? These may show occupation. These are available from a number of sites on the internet.
- The original Midwives’ Roll from 1904-1959, covering England and Wales, is stored at the National Archives at Kew. If you have not visited before you will need to take proof of identity and proof of address in order to obtain a visitor’s pass. It is advisable to look at the main National Archives website before visiting. It is also available via Ancestry.co.uk, at the Wellcome Library, and at the British Library from 1907 onwards. You will need to register in person to join these libraries: identification requirements are similar to those of the National Archives.
- The Midwives’ Roll for Scotland from 1917 is held at the National Library of Scotland.
- Registers of midwives in Northern Ireland (the titles varied over time), which cover the period from 1922 onwards, are held in the Medical Library of Queen’s University, Belfast.
- Midwives usually advertised their services in local trade directories; these are worth consulting for the period in question.
- If your relative was a midwife from the late 19th century she may appear, as such, on a decennial census; these are available online if you subscribe to Ancestry.co.uk, or your local County Library and County Record Office will have a copy on film or fiche to view at no charge. You need to take all the information you have about her; a research or library assistant will usually help you to find your way around the census documents.
- Please note that census data cannot be viewed by the public until 100 years after it was taken, hence the 1911 census is the most recent available.
Updated by Catherine Ebenezer, March 2017
Tracing a family member’s registration as a midwife
Midwifery registration was introduced with the Midwives Act of 1902 in England and Wales. Similar legislation was implemented in Scotland in 1915 and in Northern Ireland in 1922. The regulatory body known as the Central Midwives Board oversaw the education of midwives and maintained the Midwives’ Roll. They also had the power to remove a name from the roll in the event of a midwife malpractising. ‘Handywomen’ were untrained and unregistered helpers who attended women in childbirth. By 1936 they had been phased out. Before 1902, some midwives held certificates from the London Obstetrical Society and various lying-in hospitals furnished midwives with certificates. A very early certificate now resides in the archives of the Royal College of Midwives, London.
Tracing birth details / hospital records
Obtaining details about our birth or that of others is more complex than the common genealogical process of obtaining certificates of birth. Everyone has the right to access their own hospital records under the Access to Records Act 1990 and the Data Protection Act 1998. One needs to apply formally in writing to the appropriate hospital (archives or records manager). An indication for the reason for access request is usually required. The hospital has to respond by law and there is usually a fee payable. This information applies to the applicant’s own records only.
If an historian requires access to another person’s records for research purposes, then those records are protected and can only be accessed by special permission. This initially may require the researcher to make an application to an ethics committee and to the record keeper or gatekeeper; in the case of hospital records, perhaps to the Regional Health Authority. In essence the records are protected for 100 years; nevertheless permission is still often required depending on the motive for accessing them.
Was your great-grandmother a midwife?
Although the title and form of the regulating body for midwives has changed over the years, it remains the case that the name of every midwife who has qualified in Britain since 1902 has been recorded. However, there is no record of the names of thousands of women who practised as midwives prior to the Act.
De Partu is embarking on a project to capture and record the names of women who practised in Britain prior to the implementation of the 1902 Midwives Act, with a view to promoting midwifery research and assisting family historians. As there was no systematic central record keeping in earlier centuries, we welcome your help in identifying new candidates for this register. Some midwives from as far back as the sixteenth century have already been traced.
Appropriate evidence includes:
• GRO certificates of marriage or death
• Coroner’s court record
• Bastardy case court record
• Entry in a parish register
• Census record
• London Obstetrical Society record
• Hospital record
• Family history records
Register of midwives pre-1902 identified to date (see Members’ area)
If you know the name of any midwife who practised before the 1902 Act and have further information about her, please email Julia Allison so that she can be added to the register: firstname.lastname@example.org.