Sporting ancestors: some resources in the Society of Genealogists’ library – Part 1: Olympians

The holding of the 30th Olympic Games in London this summer is a good opportunity to reflect on past achievements of British sportsmen and women, particularly if they happen to be our ancestors


Whether your ancestor was in the Olympics or not, it is hoped that this series of articles  on resources in the Society’s Library which first appeared in the Genealogists’ Magazine will you an insight into some of the sources we hold in the library to help you trace sporting forbears. If you have any relevant books on sportspeople that you would like to donate to our collection they would be gratefully received.

Tim Lawrence, Head of Library Services


Sporting Ancestors Part 1. Olympians.

It can be argued that the seeds of the modern Olympic Games in Britain can be traced back to 17th century Gloucestershire. Indeed the British Olympic Association, in their successful bid for the games, stated that:

‘In 1612 in the tiny village of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first ‘Cotswold Olimpicks’, an annual sporting fair that honoured the ancient Games of Greece. Those early ‘Olimpick’ competitors were as remote as you could imagine from the Olympic stars of today, and the ‘sports’ included singlestick, wrestling, jumping in sacks, dancing and even shin-kicking. But whatever the eccentric nature of the event, this was the pre-dawn of the Olympic Movement, and the Cotswold Games began the historical thread in Britain that was ultimately to lead to the creation of the modern Olympics.’

You can read more about Robert Dover, his ancestry, and the ‘Cotswold Olympicks’ in the book Robert Dover [1582-1652] & the Cotswold games (SoG Library shelf mark FH/DOV).

The Society’s library holds a number of useful sources for tracing our sporting forebears, even if they never made it to the Olympic games, and this article gives an introduction to these. The shelf mark for each item listed is given in square brackets after the title, so that it can be easily located. 

Works covering all sports

To find out if you have an Olympian in your family tree the best starting point is Ian Buchanan’s excellent British Olympians – a hundred years of gold medallists [PR/SPO]. This lists every British person who has competed in the Olympics since they began, together with their dates of birth and death and the Olympiads/events in which they competed. In addition it gives full biographical details of all Gold Medal winners.

The first edition of Who’s who in sport [SoG Library shelf mark PR/SPO], published in 1935, gives the biographies of several thousand leading sportsmen and women, together with a brief section on the history, organisation and records of each sport covered. The information it provides can be supplemented with the Oxford Companion to Sports & Games [SoG Library shelf mark PR/SPO], which gives an alphabetical listing of prominent sportspeople, as well as further information about their sports. A more recent publication is the 1994 edition of Who’s who in British sport [Apply to library staff].

Biographical works about individual sportspeople include items such as My Sporting Memories by the bare knuckle boxer, footballer and rower Bernard John Angle [SoG Library shelf mark PR/SPO]. If your ancestor was a sportsman at Oxford or Cambridge then you may well find reference to him in Fifty years of sport at Oxford, Cambridge & the great public schools [ SoG Library shelf mark UNI/OXF] which was published in 1913. This covers all the major sports at the universities and includes a biographical section.

If you would like to know more about the clothes that your sporting ancestor would have worn then

English costume for sports & outdoor recreation from the 16th to the 19th centuries [ SoG Library shelf mark TB/POR 29] should prove useful.


The Society of Genealogists will be posting further articles about resources in our remarkable genealogical library relating to specific sports and sportsmen and sportswomen throughout the Olympics.


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Italian Civil Registration Records 1802 to 1940 Awaiting Volunteers

I’m indebted to Thomas MacEntee and Geneabloggers for the following information posted: 16 Jul 2012 10:09 AM PDT

FamilySearch launched a historic partnership with the National Archives of Italy in December 2011 to digitally preserve and index its civil registration records (birth, marriage, and death) for all states from 1802 to 1940. Since the project launch more than 24 million images have been published, and 4 million names have been made searchable on
But there are 115 million historic Italian documents with over 500 million names remaining to index and publish. Tens of thousands of volunteers are needed. To meet this opportunity,

FamilySearch is requesting help from indexers and arbitrators who speak or read Italian or a closely related language, such as Spanish, or who are willing to learn a handful of simple Italian words and phrases to help facilitate the initiative.

Descendants of Italians and Italy historic and genealogy societies are especially invited to participate to help accelerate the publication of this valuable record set. Interested individuals, societies, or groups should visit to learn more. To search the completed Italian records online and to learn more about reading Italian records, visit



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Society of Genealogists Membership Summer Offer


Are you struck inside wishing the rain would go away? Need something to occupy your time  while the Olympics is  on? Come and meet some like minded knowledgeable genealogists to help you with your research and make use of the best genealogical library outside the USA.


Join the Society of Genealogists this Summer and we will waive the usual £10 joining administration fee meaning the annual subscription is just £47 or a mere £27 for overseas members. That’s just 90p per week if you live in the UK – cheaper than a cup of coffee from a well known American coffee emporium!!



PLUS Receive FREE Family Tree Builder genealogy software on CD

Download a membership application form and quote code SSP12 to gain access to the SoG’s remarkable collections in the library and online

Benefits of Membership

How to Join



Offer applies to membership taken out before the end of September 2012 and while CD stocks last.




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The Society of Genealogists has received news of a new on-line wills database published by the Kent Archaeological Society

When antiquarian and historian Leland Lewis Duncan of the Kent Archaeological Society died in 1923 his lifetime’s work, including handwritten lists and transcriptions of Wills of Kent residents and landowners who lived in medieval and Tudor times, was deposited in the society’s library at Maidstone Museum.

For 80 years local and family historians could inspect this invaluable resource only by visiting the library. Now, a team of volunteers ‑ Margaret Broomfield, Dawn Weeks, Zena Bamping and Pat Tritton – is completing the task of transcribing Duncan’s records for the society’s website, from which they can be downloaded free of charge.

Duncan’s records were written in 61 exercise books and bound quarto books, most of which survive. Their 2,188 entries were originally indexed by parish by the Vicar of East Peckham in 1934.

The records are now on a database which has two indexes. One enables the surnames of testators to found and is convenient for family historians. The other, for the benefit of local historians, lists the areas, parishes or dioceses in which the testators lived or owned land.

The areas include boroughs which were once part of Kent but are now within Greater London.

Links alongside the entries allow any of the Wills that have been transcribed to be viewed ‘with one click’.

To access the Wills visit the Research section at

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Changes to the Society of Genealogists’ Library Catalogue

The Society of Genealogists will shortly be changing to a new version of our library catalogue (SoGCAT). This includes a number of new features such as being able to search for any word in a title rather than just the first one. SoGCat lists all the books, microfiche, microfilms, CDs and other databases in the Library but as yet does NOT list all of our manuscript collections.  Do have  a look at the tutorial, tips and FAQs about searching for items within the catalogue of the UK’s National Family History Centre

Although it has been tested in advance please let us know if you spot any technical errors (see for information on how to do this).


If you have bookmarked the old catalogue in your browser, you may want to make a note of the new url which is


I hope you find the new SOGCAT to be of help in searching the contents of our unique library.


Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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