School Yourself: The Best School Records for Genealogy
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It’s the end of summer, and it’s back to school time. Did you ever think about just how many years we spend in school? At least twelve or more years between the first day of kindergarten and graduating college. Even longer if you attend post-graduate school.
All years at school generated more than just good memories. They generated a lot of records. As genealogist and family historians, we tend to focus on census records and vital records when tracing ancestors. But, school records are a valuable source for learning about our ancestors.
School records include school census records, admission records, report cards, diplomas, school newspapers, alumni lists, and yearbooks. These records are valuable because they put our ancestors at a specific time and place. They can be used to trace our ancestors and help fill in the gaps between vital records and census years.
Plus, these records show and tell details about the early lives of our ancestors we can’t get anywhere else. They contain pictures and provide information about how our ancestors spent their time such as the clubs they were in, the sports they played, the awards and honors they won.
Researching school records is like getting in a time machine and going back to school with your ancestors.
Top Three Places to Research Your Ancestors in School Records
Just like studying for a test at school, you’ll do better if you prepare and stay organized. Before beginning your research, start with what you know and create a basic timeline for when your ancestor started school and where they were living when. Make a list of all their possible name variations (full name, abbreviations, and nicknames) and search using all of them. Create and use a research log as you go to keep your findings accessible and organized
#1 - Family Papers
Start at home. Look through scrapbooks, files, and those dusty boxes in the attic for school records such as admission forms, report cards, diplomas, commencement programs, graduation announcements, school IDs and photos.
Evaluate and record information about each in your research log. Take note of who the item is for, what the item is, dates, names, locations, and what questions you have for further research.
For example, for a report card, you might want to record the name of the ancestor, the date on the report card, the school name, location of the school, the name of the teacher, grades given, and any comments. Information like this can help you trace your ancestors from place to place, as well will you discover patterns or provide clues for further research.
You might discover that your grandmother moved every few years because her dad was in the Navy or that nearly all of your male ancestors played football.
Lastly, make sure to scan and store everything you find for safekeeping.
#2 – Yearbooks
Like me, you might be lucky enough to have some of your ancestors yearbooks in your home. My father’s senior high school yearbook photo was the first time I ever saw him with hair! I especially enjoy reading all the handwritten inscriptions from his friends, which contain some details about his extra-curricular activities.
Yearbooks are rich in details about our ancestors. When you read their yearbook, it’s like going back in time and walking the school halls with them. You can discover what how they wore their hair, what subjects were their favorite, what sports they played, what clubs they were in, who were their friends, what causes they cared about, and more.
If you don’t have the physical yearbook, you can find many yearbooks online. Ancestry.com has over 400,000 yearbooks online from all 50 states.
And right now through September 2nd, you can search
the Ancestry.com Yearbook collection for FREE! Click HERE.
Digitized copies might also be available on the school’s website. If they are not available online, you can likely find copies in the local library and historical society.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of yearbooks:
Class photos are wonderful, but also take note of the clubs, organizations, and athletics your ancestor participated in.
Not all photos are indexed. After finding their class photo, look for them in other candid photos and activities.
Enjoy the time capsule! Flip through the yearbook and get a sense of the time your ancestor was living.
Look for relatives with similar last names.
#3 – School Newspapers
Many high-schools and colleges published their own daily or weekly newspaper. Some have been digitized and are available to search online. If you can’t find them online, contact the school’s library to see if they are available on microfilm.
High school and college newspapers covered campus and local news including sports, dances, the arts, politics, and even gossip. The ads can give you a sense of where the student’s spent their time and money.
If your ancestor did something newsworthy, you might find them in these pages with a photo. Even if you don’t find your ancestor, read their school newspaper to get a sense of the world they were living in at the time. It might also provide clues for further research.
While researching for a client, I discovered his grandfather in the gossip section of his college newspaper courting his grandmother. His grandparents had both passed several years earlier, and he knew little more than the date of their marriage. The same article mentioned he was president of his fraternity, something we had not known. That clue led me to the fraternity where I was able to obtain several photos from their records.
Are you interested in your discovering more about your ancestor’s school days? I can help. I’m Kimberlie Guerrieri and I’m a Certified Genealogist with more than 15 years of experience helping people like you discover their family histories. Contact me for a FREE call to discuss your goals and let’s get started on your story!