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School Records

I was looking through my old year book and I noted how a year book is like a time capsule filled with glimpses of a segment of history. It is not just the photographs of fellow students as much as the clothing, the colloquial phrases and reflection of a period of time. My year book spoke and reminded me of what it was like during the middle of the 1970’s.
There is a wealth of information in year books, some embarrassing, some fun, but all a snap shot of history. School records are often an overlooked source of genealogical research. Over the history, schools were the very hub of a community. From the first one room school houses, through grade school and high school to Colleges and Universities, many documents can be found to enhance a researcher’s quest for data on an ancestor. It is also where the community often came together, showing civic pride and establishing relationships with others. Parents, students, teachers, and administrators cheered together for an hour or so together. So it is not surprising much of the character of the community, the students and of the times is captured in year books.
Evolution of Yearbooks
Yearbooks have evolved year after year. I took a peek at my grand niece’s 2010 yearbook and was struck at the changes in the schemes and themes and how they were communicated with the advancement of graphics and digital technologies. And I thought I was proud of our “color” photo section in 1977. It would be interesting to see the advance of school publications over the last two hundred years laid out on a floor. From a list of graduates on a yellowed piece of paper through small paper booklets to the hardcover publications until you reach the slick covered issues of today. I suppose, soon yearbooks will be handed to a student in a CD or thumb drive.
Types of Records
There are quite a few different types of documents and records a researcher should be aware of in relationship to school records. Sometimes early school records in the 1800’s can be a treasure trove of data, listing the head of households, guardian names, nick names and occupations. Some records can be found on the internet, but mostly you will have to discover where such local records have been kept. Some records have been copied, and cataloged and can be found in local historical societies, Courthouses and libraries while others remain in the school district’s control. Some books about one room school houses have been written in recent months that may assist a researcher.
Some of the less researched records that may still be accessed are: Accounts, Enumerations, District Reports, Censuses “Scholastic Family Census” or “Scholastic Annual Reports and Census”, School Board Minutes, Alumni publications, Fraternity and Sorority records, reunion records, and Student or Case Files. These records may still give a glimpse of specific accounts or events or might give more generalized view of issues which were of concern at a particular time period.
Records more often sought are: Enrollment Cards and Rolls, Pupil’s Annual Records, Class Lists, Report Cards, transcripts and Year Books. These are the records which often have more historical significance attached to them.
Website Sources
USGenWeb Project has some class lists and biographies, you can look at. Some states, like Texas have a very good database of student enrollments. The Family History Library has early school records. There are classmate organizations, some attached to social sites like and other sources would of course be found at Cyndi’s List and can be rounded up by doing a search online with a search engine.
Some other things to think about
Sometimes overlooked in researching school records is the simple process of writing to a former alma mater which is still in existence and ask for any data concerning a student. You might have to prove that you are a relative and that the student is deceased before files would be released. Often, a researcher will have to do some hunting around to discover what school an ancestor could of attended in a particular region or local, especially if that school no longer exists or changed its name.
School records are just another tool in the tool kit which can be used to discover how our ancestors conducted themselves. The records give interesting insights which otherwise may not have been known, records which have been sitting in some archive, just waiting to be discovered.

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