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 over 60,000 men and women who died in or before 2016.


James Boswell


Of these 60,000 people, almost 7,500 have close ties to Edinburgh.

Click on the images below to find some famous (and some less familiar) Edinburgh faces, including James Boswell (above), and (below) cookery school founder, Christian Wright, comic Ronnie Corbett, and the pioneering balloonist James Tytler.

James Graham RL Stevenson James Tytler 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?

The Oxford DNB includes the life stories of more than 60,000 men and women. Online you can search for where they were born, baptized, lived, died or were buried, by date range or location.

  • The advanced search ‘life event’ feature can be used to find people near you—be they men and women baptised in Edinburgh (189), those born in Whitby (28), or those buried in Exeter (133). Used in this way the ODNB is an excellent resource for school projects or family history.
  • Text searching across the Oxford DNB’s 68 million words, you can also make links between people and places: for example, we’ve 102 references to “Clapham Common”, 27 to the “River Trent”, and 51 to “Snowdonia”.

What else does the Oxford DNB offer?

  • Free biography podcast: as well as 60, 000 life stories, the ODNB publishes a twice monthly biography podcast featuring some popular entries from the collection. There are now over 250 episodes in the archive. Highlights include Diana, princess of Wales, George Orwell, John Lennon, and Margaret Thatcher.
  • Follow us on Twitter for more historical figures in the news.

More about the Oxford DNB