Enquiries about former students of the University are one of the most frequent type we receive. We have Student Records going back to the very star of the University but the quantity of detail begins with little more than a name. Although additional details creep in by the 18th century, they really only expand noticeably over the course of the 19th century. This page has been created to guide you through what you can expect to find, which records may be relevant to you and how to approach your research.
The history of student administration is complex. Today these affairs are handled by the University Registry but, in earlier periods, they were handled elsewhere. Prior to 1791 each professor matriculated his own class. Students often attended more than one class. In 1791 and up until 1810, the students attending the literary and philosophical classes enrolled themselves in one continuous list, as did also the students attending the Scots and civil law classes. Medical students, previous to 1763, matriculated with each professor they attended. From 1810 all medical students were annually enrolled in one alphabetical list. From 1811 all the students annually enrolled themselves in one continued list and describe themselves as literary, medical or law students. Previous to this date, the total number of the literary and philosophical students that have matriculated cannot be accurately known, from the circumstance of the greater number of them attending more than one class in the same session. From about the 1820s students were also matriculated according to faculty.
The matriculation of students was not so strictly enforced before 1809, so numbers are probably less than students who attended the College. In 1812 it was stated that every student must provide himself with a matriculation ticket, for which the fee was 10 shillings. Students at the time could enrol between 10am and 3pm in the Library which seems to have carried out this part of the matriculation process. It also stated that the entering of a name in the matriculation album was the only legal record of attendance in the University. Matriculation involved a different process for medical students. As part of the process of matriculation a solemn promise of obedience and good behaviour was taken called a Sponsio Academia and is annually prefixed to the list of students who matriculate or enrol themselves each year in the album. It appears that the Sponsio had previously been taken in the Great Hall of the College, accompanied by an exhortation from the principal. The Sponsio then appears to have been part of signing the matriculation album prefixed to the annual lists of students from 1762. The Sponsio did not involve any religious test.
From 1833, detailed schedules of classes and achievements were kept for medical students only. Similar records do not exist for other students until the 1890s. In 1869, more detail is gathered on each student at the time they first matriculate.
Prior to the start of the Matriculation Albums in 1627, the only record we have of students are their signatures in the Laureation & Degrees Albums. These only exist for students who went through the formality of graduation. Many did not.
Once the Matriculation Albums start, there is the potential of finding the student in both records series. However, some students did not formally matriculate. Instead the contracted privately with individual Professors to attend specific classes. It is however the case that to graduate a student would have to first matriculate.
This means that although there may be secondary evidence that someone did attend the University, they may not appear in the official records.
Nineteenth Century Changes
The establishment of the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science in the late 19th century resulted in more detailed records of degrees awarded in these areas being created. Parallelling what had happended in relation to medicine, these recorded details of the academic achievements within the course of study.
Indexes and Lists
There are various published lists of students - see Bibliography of Published Sources for further detail.
Medalists and Prizewinners
The University Calendar began in 1858. It recorded these annually. Such awards were sometimes but not always noted on the student's graduation record. As a rule, the medals and prizes themselves are not held in our archives. Those we do are either random exemplars or relate to someone of note. In neither case are our holdings comprehensive.