Family history / Biographical information
Looking for biographical information about individual old members of Balliol? Start here.
Living Old Members: The College Archives contain information only about deceased members of Balliol. For enquiries about living Old Members, please contact the Development Office, noting that under the Data Protection Act the College is not able to provide any personal information about any living Old Member to any third party.
Records of Balliol women: Balliol first admitted women students in 1979, so as yet their records are nearly all still closed. Oxford’s early (and now former) women’s colleges were Lady Margaret Hall, Somerville, St Hugh’s, St Anne's and St Hilda’s.
Before sending an enquiry to the archivist, check these essential sources online:
A key source for individuals in medieval Oxford is AB Emden's A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to 1540 (3 vols, not available online.)
In order to request a search for your research subject in Balliol records, you will need to provide at least:
We should be able to tell you:
Note: Most students matriculated (formally registered as members of the University) at Balliol when they first came up. However, some did not, particularly during certain periods, and in such cases we may not have any record of their attendance or residence. Until the 20th century, many students came to Oxford without ever intending to get a degree. Except for those entering the professions, the experience of having been at university and a modicum of study was often enough to continue into a successful career.
Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses provides good information on those who matriculated at the University from 1500-1886. Foster is now available in searchable formats online (see above). Foster's information rarely adds to that in the College Registers, and vice versa. However, though generally reliable, Foster is not infallible. His work is based largely on University records, and can occasionally be misleading in two ways. Firstly, especially in the earlier part of the period, admission to and residence at the College without matriculation in the University or graduation was quite common - such cases are not listed by Foster at all. Secondly, migration between Colleges was much more frequent than it is now. Migrations were not explicitly noted in University records, so Foster attributes some Balliol men to other Colleges, and vice versa.
The most useful Balliol source is the series of annual lists drawn up in ten manuscript volumes by Andrew Clark about 1910. Clark's lists are based on a systematic examination of the admissions and degrees registers (which survive from 1636) Bursars' books (from 1544) and records of corporate acts (from 1514). These list all known members of Balliol up to 1822, but after that include only Fellows Scholars and Exhibitioners (i.e. not ordinary Commoner undergraduates), as Clark felt that by that time the UNiversity Calendar provides adequate basic information. The information available is usually:
So far, Clark's Lists Vols 1 (1520-1590), 3 (1621-1644), 5 (1674-98) and 6 (1699-1719) are available online here.
Neither age at admission nor previous places of education were recorded by the College. Mothers’ names and family relationships with previous College members were not recorded either, though there are many instances of a man following his brother, father, uncle or grandfather in the College.
Details of individual students are listed in 7 editions of the published Balliol College Register for students and Fellows 1832-2000, arranged by year of matriculation at Balliol. Detailed entries begin in 1854; these are based on a) student records held here and b) information sent to us by Old Members, so they vary widely in the amount of information available. The 2nd and 3rd editions, covering matriculations 1833-1950, are available to read online. Entries usually follow the format below:
NB most entries are only 3-4 lines long, and not every type of information listed above will be available for every individual. Details of post-Balliol life depend heavily upon the individual concerned bothering to update the College. We can provide a facsimile of the Register entry.
Up to 1920, the entries in the printed registers usually include most of what can easily be discovered about members from College sources, although sometimes additional details about sporting and social activity, academic work and the occasional disciplinary peccadillo can be found through more extensive research.
From 1920 there are files of correspondence, admission forms, letters of recommendation etc. for many (and from 1945, for all) members, but these are closed if they relate to living persons or are less than thirty years old. There is a large collection of group photographs ca. 1860-1970, but many have no identifications indicated. An online searchable database covering the principal albums is available.
We also actively collect material about our alumni, and ask for reciprocal information exchange. It quite often happens with genealogical research that enquirers know a lot about some alumnus which is interesting to us, and anything about alumni which is put into our files will benefit future researchers.
These categories apply to ca. 1850 onwards. If we have a photograph, we can often provide a good digital version of it. (See our Reprographics Policy.)
If a member is found to have received an exhibition, the name of the exhibition may be an important clue, as eligibility was very limited. Thus Snell Exhibitioners, for whom detailed biographies have been published, were always graduates of Glasgow University. Similarly, Blundell's Scholars were always from Blundell's School, Tiverton, Devon. Foundation or Domus Scholarship places were without regional or other restrictions, but were in the gift of individual Fellows, each of whom had a place at his disposal. The name of the Fellow to whom a Scholar owed his nomination is sometimes recorded: since nepotism was rife this is often helpful. Because there were regional and age restrictions on eligibility for exhibitions and scholarships, appropriate evidence had to be produced. A number of certified baptismal register extracts which were presented for this purpose survive (mostly of the early nineteenth century).
College records tend to hold little information about individual students’ time here, except mentions in Society papers or sport photographs. Until relatively recently, a student’s course of study tended to be decided in tutorial meetings and was usually not recorded at all. The college holds very few examples of student essays or other work.
Exams and academic records in general are administered through the University rather than the Colleges and so any record of actual exam marks will be in the University Archives. For similar reasons we have no lecture lists etc. The University’s old examination papers can be a source for information on subject curricula. In College records, marks and progress for individuals are recorded in Masters’ and Senior Tutors’ Handshaking papers where these survive, but they do so only patchily.
Balliol Alumni from Blundell’s School
There has been a strong link between Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon, and Balliol College for four centuries. See also the Lists of Blundell Scholars and Blundell Fellows.
Members of New Inn Hall
Balliol absorbed New Inn Hall in the 1880s, and acquired its records, including its admissions and other records for 1831-1887. No pre-1800 records for New Inn Hall or its members survive at Balliol.
The College's estates records, like the archives of any ancient landowner, can be enormously helpful to the genealogist, but usually a very specific initial lead is needed. Speculative searches for details of individual persons are not generally worthwhile, except in a small number of cases where the College has had an interest in practically a whole parish and there are convenient lists of tenants and occupants. One such case is Ufton, Warwickshire, for which there are manor court records, rent books etc. of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, and surveys of the nineteenth which give details of all occupants and their families.
All images are copyright Balliol College.
The archives and manuscript collections of Balliol College are open by appointment to enquirers in person in their new accommodation at St Cross Church, Holywell.
Enquiries should be sent in writing (email or post) to the Archivist.
There is no charge for Archive enquiries, but donations for Archive purposes are always appreciated.