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Tracing a Balliol Man

Looking for biographical information about individual old members of Balliol? Start here.

Getting started

Records of Balliol women: Balliol first admitted women students in 1979, so as yet their records are 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.

Records of living Old Members: The College Archives contain information only about deceased members of Balliol. For enquiries about living Old Members please contact the Alumni Officer, 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.

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.)

Forming Enquiries

In order to request a search for your research subject in Balliol records, you will need to provide at least:

  1. Surname
  2. Full forename
  3. Preferably, birth date and/or approximate dates when he might have attended University (most men were ca 17-21 years old).

We should be able to tell you:

  • whether or not a named individual attended Balliol College from the late 16th century onwards. None of Balliol's mediaeval admissions registers or account books survive - the college does not have records of its Fellows or students before 1540. The best source for this period is AB Emden's A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to 1540 (3 vols, not available online.) We can consult Emden’s work for you if you do not have access to a copy, but extant college records cannot usually add any information to this very thorough research. Knowledge of the early membership of the College is entirely dependent on chance appearances in legal documents and the records of other institutions.
  • if so, when
  • what degree he (and more recently she) received, if any.

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.

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Biographical information about Balliol members ca. 1540-1835

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). The information available is usually:

  • the member's full name
  • his father's name, social status or occupation, and residence
  • whether he was his father's only, eldest, second son and so on
  • his status in the College (Servitor, Commoner, Scholar, Fellow Commoner, Fellow)
  • the date of his admission and duration of his residence in Oxford
  • whether he received an exhibition (a college scholarship) and the degrees he took, if any.

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.

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Members since ca. 1835.

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:

  • Surname and forename(s)
  • Date of birth
  • Father’s name, sometimes profession, often place of residence (town/county, not a street address). NB Mothers’ names are not mentioned.
  • Father’s date of matriculation at Balliol where applicable
  • Family relationships with other Balliol men where applicable (e.g. brother of H.G. Smith, Balliol 1876). Non-Balliol siblings are not mentioned.
  • Education prior to Balliol: name of school and/or previous university
  • Date of matriculation at Balliol and years of residence in Oxford
  • Initials of Balliol tutor(s). A key to the tutors' names is placed just before the index.
  • College and University sport and society membership where applicable
  • Scholarships, exhibitions and prizes awarded where applicable
  • Dates of exams, subjects, date and class of degree(s)
  • Details of subsequent career if provided by the old member
  • Year(s) of marriage(s), wife’s name and often wife’s father’s name, number of children, if provided.
  • Date of death

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.

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Information we may have

  • Mentions in Club, Sport or Society minutes or other papers
  • Photographs (see the online Photographs database and Portraits catalogue)
  • Obituaries, if sent to or collected by the College. Obituaries of former students are not normally published in the College Record.
  • Miscellaneous other information – we do keep files on past members
  • Entries from the Dictionary of National Biography, Who’s Who and other similar reference books

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).

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Information we usually do not have

  • Precise dates of birth of students before the 1880s (although this can often be estimated from the given age at matriculation)
  • Names of relatives other than the father, or any other details about the family
  • Copies of essays, dissertations or theses. Dissertations and theses may be held in the University Library.
  • Details of course work or examination results. This information is generally collected by the University rather than Colleges.
  • Information on a student’s post-Balliol life, career or family, except what they send us for the Register.

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Why isn’t there more information about students?

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.

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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.

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Estates Records

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.

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- Anna Sander


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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.
Updated 11.viii.14
 
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