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Local history in the Oxford DNB

The online Oxford DNB is much more than an A–Z dictionary in electronic format. It's also a historical database to find people who shared common attributes—for example, date of birth, place of residence, occupation, or religious affiliation. Online, the Oxford DNB becomes an excellent resource for local history work and family research.

You can visit our new local history page here and download our new poster here.

Here are a few ways to use the Dictionary to learn more about the men and women who've shaped your region.


Please note: to view the following searches you’ll need access to the complete ODNB online. Nearly all UK public libraries now subscribe to the ODNB. Library members can log-on from home or anywhere (at anytime) using their membership card: details of how to do so are available here. As well as UK public libraries, the ODNB is also available online via many schools, colleges, and universities worldwide.

People searching

Create sets of people with shared biographical details. From the subscriber homepage use the ‘date, place, occupation’ link to discover everyone in the Dictionary:

Then combine searches. For example:

Full Text searching

From the subscriber homepage use the ‘full text’ link to find references to a county, city, town, or village in the Dictionary's 65 million words. For example:

  • all mentions of Derby as a place (but not as an aristocratic name or horse race etc): there are nearly 700 references
  • search those involved with the Somme in 1916

Reference searching

From the subscriber homepage use the ‘more’ link and then click on References Search to find local archive resources relating to people in the Oxford DNB. For example:

  • you're doing a project on letter-writers: use Archive search to find collections of letters held in archives near to you. Then read the subjects' lives to put their writing in context.
  • you're visiting Canterbury Cathedral and want to know more about the people whose monuments and effigies you can see there. Use the Likeness search to learn more about the people commemorated.

Image searching

With more than 10,600 portrait images, the Oxford DNB also provides the largest published collection of British portraiture. From the subscriber homepage use the ‘Image’ link to find and view selected images. For example:

  • you're studying images of medieval women or Victorian businessmen: select images by date and profession and then compare portraits over time.
  • you're interested in early modern social status: look at the Dictionary's 160 portraits by Van Dyck and Reynolds—compare images and biographies to find out who sat for the artists? how was status reflected in portraits? how far the image reflects the person?

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