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Edinburgh lives


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of people who’ve shaped British history, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. The ODNB currently includes the life stories of 58,500 men and women who died in or before 2009.



James Boswell

Of these 58,500 people, more than 4600 have close ties to Edinburgh—through families, education, work or residence.


Below you’ll find some famous (and some less familiar) Edinburgh faces, including James Boswell (left), and (below) cookery school founder, Christian Wright, and the pioneering balloonist James Tytler. Then discover the ‘who and how’ in Edinburgh by searching the ODNB for people by place.



James Graham RL Stevenson James Tytler
Walter Scott Sarah Mair Roy Williamson Henry Raeburn
Muriel Spark Margaret Sinclair Henry Littlejohn Henry Wood
Christian Wright George Heriot Adam Black Robert Knox


Who and how? in Edinburgh

As well as looking for people by name, you can also search by place, for example:



(NB: You'll need to be logged into your library's subscription for these searches.)



How do I search?

Finding people in the Oxford DNB is easy.


  • to discover more Edinburgh people simply use the ‘place’ option on the People Search page. You can find people who were born, baptized, educated or resident in Edinburgh (or elsewhere), or who died and were buried here. Search by county, city, town, village, church, and even street.
  • you can also search the ODNB’s 67 million words for places (e.g. Arthur's Seat). For this use Text Search.

We also have more tips on using the ODNB for local and family history.


What else does the Oxford DNB offer?

  • Free biography podcast: as well as 58,500 life stories, the ODNB publishes a twice monthly biography podcast featuring some popular entries from the collection. There are now over 175+ episodes in the archive. Recent highlights include Diana, princess of Wales, George Orwell, John Lennon, and Bobby Moore.
  • Life of the Day: sign up for a topical biography delivered to your inbox.
  • Follow us on Twitter for more historical figures in the news.
  • Don’t forget: the ODNB online is available free—anywhere, anytime—via Edinburgh libraries: just type your library membership number in the box here. We also have a quick YouTube guide on logging-in from home.

> Read the Oxford DNB, free and at home, using your library's subscription

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