Got Doctors in Your Family Tree? Then You Need This.

Got Doctors in Your Family Tree? Then You Need This.

by Kerry Scott on 28 May 2010

If you have an ancestor who was a doctor in the United States, especially one who died between 1906-1964, you should visit the National Genealogical Society (NGS) website.  They have the American Medical Association (AMA) records for physicians, and they’re fantastic.

I have two doctors in my family.  One was Lawrence Granger Sykes, who married Gertrude O. Kasten (my second cousin, twice removed).  The other was Lawrence’s father, Herbert D. Sykes.  I ordered the files in April, and they took less than three weeks to arrive.  I was amazed at what I got.  Check out this blurb on Lawrence G. Sykes:

Sykes, Lawrence G., New York City; born in Pewaukee, Wis., Sept 8, 1887; College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago, School of Medicine of the University of Illinois, 1910; member of the Army Heart and Lung Board at Camp Arthur, Waco, Texas, 1917-1918, when he became chairman of the Army Heart Board at Camp Grant, Rockford, Ill.; in 1920 conducted first traveling tuberculosis clinic for Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association, and was tuberculosis consultant from 1920 to 1924; assistant medical director of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company from 1912 to 1924 and medical referee; medical director of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company from 1924 to 1932; medical director of the Life Extension Institute from 1932 to 1937; accident and health medical consultant for the U.S. Life Insurance Company of New York City, Bankers Life Insurance Company of Des Moines, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and the Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company of Hartford, Conn.; from 1920 to 1924 secretary of the Academy of Medicine of Milwaukee; chairman, Hartford Medical Directors Association from 1929 to 1932; chairman of the medical section, American Life Convention, 1931-1932; first and second vice-president, Association of Life Insurance Medical Directors of America from 1930 to 1932; died in his home in Broxville, N.Y. May 9 [1955], aged 67, of coronary thrombosis.

And that’s just on the first page!

The rest of the packet was just as good.  There were copies of AMA directories and a copy of what appears to have been his file card with the AMA.  The researcher at NGS went way above and beyond, including copies of federal and state census entries, birth records, and even Lawrence’s WWI draft registration card  with his physical description (tall, slender build, brown eyes).

All of this cost me $15 per file, which was a bargain.  It’s $20 if you’re not an NGS member, but if you have even a tiny interest in genealogy, you should be an NGS member anyway (seriously, if you already have an Ancestry subscription, your very next purchase should be an NGS membership…that’s where you’ll learn to do it right).

If you have doctors in your family, check it out.  It’s a great resource.

(A side note:  I actually worked for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company briefly, where Lawrence worked 80+ years before me.  When I worked there, they had a company historian, which has to be the coolest job on the planet, because you get to wallow in history all day and get a regular salary for it.  Sign me up for that.  Anyway, this company historian went looking for information on Lawrence, and found records that mentioned his promotions, plus letterhead with his name on it.  Cool.  If only all ancestors had jobs that made them so easy to find.)

Photo by clevercupcakes

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Coffin May 28, 2010 at 9:35 am

Thanks for the description of what you get for the $. I need to get a file and I’ve been putting it off. What I found with my physician ancestor was that he signed a lot of death certificates, at least five in my own family and probably hundreds around town.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo May 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm

This is a great resource for me, I’ve got loads of physicians in my family tree. It also got me thinking about other occupational resources, like nurses association for the nurses in the family, alumni records, organizations for lawyers and judges, religious libraries and associations for the pastors and ministers in the family, etc. I made a list a page long! Thanks!


Sue June 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Here I was, innocently reading your post, and blam. there’s my maiden name as the surname of one of your ancestors. I realize Sykes is a relatively common name. and I’m not aware of this particular one being in my family tree . . . but then I’m not fully informed about my family tree anyway.

To be honest, I’ve never run into a Sykes that WASN’T related to me, so I always find it interesting to find the name!


Kerry Scott June 3, 2010 at 7:12 am

Sue—I don’t have much about the Sykes family (in fact, nearly every thing I know is in this post), but if you find a connection, definitely let me know. I’m happy to share info!


Becky January 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

There also is the Directory of Deceased American Physicans, 1804-1929 on Ancestry. Not as comprehensive, but has dates, school, specialty areas, geographic location of practice etc. I have gotten some good clues from it.


M Alexander September 15, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I don’t suppose you happen to have run across any resources for researching physicians in your family tree prior to the 1880s? I have a multiple times great grandfather who I found referred to several times as “Dr. Phillips” in TX, but it was between 1850-1880, and as best I can tell he passed away shortly after 1880, so the resource you mention would cover a time period too late to help me. Any suggestions?


Kerry Scott September 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I think in a situation like that, I’d turn to newspapers first. Depending on the size of the town, I would expect that a doctor would be considered a fairly prominent citizen, so those “social news” columns would likely mention him.


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