How do I search?

There are three separate catalogues available to search depending on whether you are looking for an archive, a printed book , or biographical information on a Fellow. Each catalogue must be searched separately, it is not possible to search across all three catalogues simultaneously.

Quick Search

Use the ‘any text’ search in your chosen catalogue to do a quick search of the entirety of that catalogue for a single term or phrase.

General tips to improve your searches

To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in inverted commas, e.g. "scientific instrument".

You can use the asterisk (*) as a wildcard to search for parts of a word or to truncate your search terms. This is useful when you are uncertain which term may have been used, or when variant spellings of names may have been used. For example:

  • e.g. a search for ‘scien*’ would bring up results for science, scientific, and scientist.
  • e.g. searching for ‘Robert Hook*’ finds instances where Hooke’s surname has been spelt both with and without an ‘e’.

Sorting your search results

Search results can be sorted by clicking on any of the column headers in the search results list. Please note that searches returning more than 25,000 results cannot be sorted. You will need to narrow down your query if you wish to sort your results.

Refining your search


By default, the search in any of the catalogues will look for records containing the word or all the words you have entered. You can choose to change the default search criteria by clicking the ‘Refine search criteria’ option. There are three ways to refine the search option, type your search term into the box for the relevant one:

  • all the words are contained in the entry
  • at least one of the words is contained in the entry
  • none of the words are contained in the entry

You can change the search criteria for most fields in the same way, except the date field.

Searching on specific fields, printed works


Author (printed works)

Please note that author names are entered in this field as they appear on the original book, so the name used across printed works catalogue records is not always consistent. For example, catalogue records for books by Robert Boyle may list the author as ‘Boyle, Robert’, ‘Boyle, R.’, Boyle, Mr.’ or ‘R.B. pseud.’.

To ensure that all records are captured in your search, it is preferable to enter your author search term in the ‘Any Text’ field.

Publication year (printed works)

Enter a year only, in format yyyy. For example: 1931

RCN (printed works)

The RCN number is a unique identifier assigned by the Royal Society to each of the printed books in our collection. You can use this number to search for a specific copy of a book you have consulted before, or if you have found it referenced in another source.

You can also use this number when requesting to view material in the library reading room to help us identify exactly which copy you want to see.

ISBN (printed works)

Books printed after 1970 have a unique ISBN assigned to them on publication, the 10 or 13 digit number is the same for all copies printed of a specific edition of a work. Use the ISBN number to search for a particular edition of a work.

Class (printed works)

Class refers to the part of the collection a printed work sits within and the location where it is shelved. Use this field to search if you have a class mark from a previous visit/search or try frequently used classes to restrict your search to certain parts of the collection. For example:

  • use ‘BIOG*’ to bring up biographies
  • search class ‘Early FRS’ for works by Early Fellows of the Royal Society

Searching on specific fields, archives


Reference number (archives)

The reference number is a unique number assigned to each item in the archive catalogue, for example MS/3/1. A reference number search is useful if you know the exact record(s) you wish to see and have the reference number from another source or previous visit.

You can also use the reference number field to limit your search to records within a particular collection by using a wildcard search. All items within a single collection have a reference number starting with the same sequence of letters. For example, all certificates of election to the Fellowship begin with the code ‘EC’, enter ‘EC*’ to only search for or within election certificates.

A list of frequently used collections and their reference numbers can be found in our guidance on what is in the catalogue.

Title (archives)

In the archive catalogue the title field is used to record a descriptive title statement for an item or collection. This will often include an author or creator, and in the case of letters the names of the letter writer and recipient.

Date (archives)

Searching by date allows you to search by specific year or range of years. For example:
  • 1660
  • 1660-1666
  • 17th century
  • c1710

Results returned for a date search include records with date ranges that incorporate, overlap or are in proximity to the search date.

Circa (‘c’) can be used within date searches, and this is interpreted to mean ten years either side of the year or period specified. Records with a circa date in the catalogue will be included in the results retrieved by searches for any date within the 10-year margin.

In the archive catalogue you can also search for a specific date using the format [d]d Month yyyy. For example:
  • 28 November 1660, or
  • 28/11/1660

The results for a specific date search will still include any records which incorporate that date so a search for ‘28/11/1660’, will also include records with the date entered as ‘17th century’ or ‘c1665’ for example. Exact phrase searching cannot currently be used in the date field search.

Wildcards cannot be used in the date field search. Instead you could consider a search using circa (‘c’) or a date range.

Access status (archives)

Some records in the archive may not be available to view either at the request of the depositor, to comply with legislation, or because they are not in a suitable state of conservation. These records will be marked as ‘closed’. Closed records can be filtered out of searches by selecting ‘open’ from the dropdown list under access status.

If you require further information about closed records please contact us.

Navigating the archive catalogue


Explore using the collections hierarchy

Archival records are catalogued in a hierarchical structure. Each archive catalogue entry displays a file structure at the top. This shows the location of the current record within the hierarchy of the collection it belongs to, helping you to see it in context and identify other useful records.

  • From an individual catalogue entry, each level above the record can be clicked to see more information
  • Detailed background information about an overall collection can usually be found in the record at the top level

To browse a full navigable hierarchy of all files and items within a collection, you can click on the reference number from the catalogue entry page.

  • This full hierarchy browser shows not only the levels immediately above the current catalogue entry, but also all the other items in the same file
  • Further files in the collection can be expanded to list the items within them by clicking the ‘+’ sign and collapsed again by click the ‘-‘ sign
A list of frequently used archive collections can be found in guidance on what is in the catalogue. Clicking on the reference numbers in this list will open the full hierarchy browser for the chosen collection.

Deciding which material to request (level field)

When ordering archives for consultation, we provide access to individual items or files. If your reference number relates to an entire collection, you may need to refine your request.

To help identify whether you are requesting a manageable amount of material, refer to the extent and level fields in the catalogue record and look to order individual records listed as ‘item’ or smaller groupings of material which will be listed as ‘files’ in the level field. If the level is listed as a ‘sub-series’ or ‘sub-fonds’ check the extent field for further information or enquire as to whether it is a manageable amount of material to request. Entire series or fonds cannot normally be requested.

Fellows associated with records

At the bottom of an archive catalogue entry you may see a list of ‘Fellows associated with this archive’. To see biographical information about the Fellow and other archive records associated with them click on the code which will take you through to their entry in the past Fellows database.

Searching for material associated with a specific Fellow


If you are looking for archives associated with a particular past Fellow of the Royal Society, the best place to start is by looking them up in the past Fellows database. At the bottom of the entry for each Fellow is a list of archives associated with that Fellow. It is then possible to click through to the archive catalogue entry for each of the records listed.

This list may not be exhaustive, and it is worth searching for their name in the archives database as well. When searching for names in the archives database try all text searches using:
  • historical variations of name spellings
  • surname only in case a full name was unknown when the archive was catalogued
  • wildcard(s) for part(s) of a name where variations are commonly used

For example, a search for ‘R* Hook*’ would return results including the abbreviate Rob. Hooke, initials R. Hooke and variant spelling of Robert Hook.

Published material authored by a Fellow will be found in the printed works catalogue, which allows you to search by author. The printed works collection also includes many biographies of Fellows. Printed works are not linked from the past Fellows database entries.

Living Fellows are not included in the past Fellows database but there may be relevant material discoverable by searching the archive and printed works catalogues.

Tips for searching the past Fellows database

Searching for royalty and nobility

Monarchs, royalty and titled nobility often have many different styles of address and their names and titles may have changed throughout their lifetime.

  • try using the ‘any text’ search if looking for titles such as Earl or Duke.
  • for Monarchs, search by regnal name in the forename field, as their surname will not be entered in the database.

Searching by nationality

To limit your search for Fellows by nationality select from the dropdown menu. Please note that searching the database by nationality does not guarantee that you will identify all Fellows from a particular country. The following limitations apply:

  • details of nationality are provided by Fellows at the time of their election
  • Fellows may have more than one nationality, and their nationality may not be the same as their country of birth or residency
  • some Fellows choose not to provide the Society with details of their nationality
  • in the case of pre-20th century Fellows, nationality has been determined from historic sources where available

Searching by gender

To limit your search by gender select from the dropdown menu. To search for Fellows of any gender leave this field blank. Please note:

  • gender information has been recorded as given by each Fellow at the time of election from 1940 onwards
  • information on earlier Fellows has been taken from historical sources and may not reflect gender self-identity of the Fellow in question

Search past Fellows database

Running multiple simultaneous searches


It is not possible to navigate multiple sets of search results for the same catalogue if you have these open simultaneously in different tabs of your browser.

If you want to save a set of search results to return to after running a new search you can do any of the following:

  • Bookmark or favourite the search results page in your browser
  • Copy the URL for the search results and save it to copy back into your browser later
  • Carry out your new search in a new ‘InPrivate’ or ‘incognito’ window of your browser (right click on your browser icon and select the option to open a new private or incognito window), or use a new window of a different browser

If you use multiple tabs for different searches, when you try to click through to a detailed record view you may not see the record you want. You will only see the correct result for the most recent search carried out.

You can have a single search tab open for each of the different catalogues simultaneously without running into this problem (e.g. one search in archives and another in library open in tabs at the same time will not conflate search results).

Collection highlights

Browse the records of some of our collections, which cover all branches of science and date from the 12th century onwards. These include the published works of Fellows of the Royal Society, personal papers of eminent scientists, letters and manuscripts sent to the Society or presented at meetings, and administrative records documenting the Society's activities since our foundation in 1660.