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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