1. Establish a Timeline
Check your genealogy database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college. Keep in mind, as recently as the 1960s, children did not go to Kindergarten but may have started school at about 6 years old and beginning in First Grade.
2. Consult Family Papers and Books for school records for genealogy
Go through old family papers and books looking for senior calling cards, high school autograph books, journals and diaries, senior portraits, fraternity or sorority memorabilia, and yearbooks. If you don’t have any of these items at your disposal, try the local library in the area where your ancestor grew up. Many times, libraries have a collection of old yearbooks, scrapbooks, commencement announcements, and more. Be sure to ask a knowledgeable person what items might be in their archives.
3. Search Newspapers
Look for school announcements, honor rolls, sports coverage, end-of-year activities and related articles. Start your search with these:
- The Library of Congress’ newspaper website, Chronicling America. Search for digitized newspaper content relating to your ancestor’s school years. Also, search the Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present for the names and library holdings of local newspapers.
- Local newspapers can also be found by searching your browser for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the online card catalog or contact them to see what newspapers they have and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through inter-library loan.
- Newpapers.com is a subscription website with over 4,000 newspapers and more being added monthly.
- Ancestry.com is another subscription website that has many newspapers online.
- Lastly, my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, will teach you what you need to know to become a top-notch online newspaper sleuth.
4. Consult the Websites of U.S. State Archives and Libraries
Click here to find a directory of state libraries.
5. Contact State Historical and Genealogical Societies
In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks or school photograph collections. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large collection of Ohio school yearbooks. Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia in their small or archived collections. To find contact information to a local historical or genealogical society, Google the name of the county and state and add the word genealogy at the end. For example: Darke County Ohio Genealogy. (Click here to learn more about Google searching for genealogy and strategies you can use.)
6. Browse RootsWeb to Find School Records for Genealogy
Now hosted by Ancestry.com, the free RootsWeb websites are a remarkable tool for genealogists. Check the message board for the county and state you’re looking for. You might even consider posting a message asking if anyone has access to yearbooks or other school records for genealogy. Sometimes, you might be fortunate enough to find a RootsWeb site that offers digital images you can download from online.
TIP: Use the Google site search operator to find mentions of yearbooks on the county page you are looking at. Add the word site to the front of the Rootsweb page for the locale, then the word yearbook after it. (Genealogy Gems Premium members can watch my video tutorial on Google site search.)
7. Search for Online Yearbooks
8. Check Township Archives
You might be thinking you didn’t read that right, but you did. Townships are small areas within the county. These small townships may have their own archives or one room museums. They are often the holders of some pretty one-of-a-kind finds. The best way to determine what the township may have is to contact the township trustees. Google your township name, the county name, state name, and add the word trustee. You will likely need to give one of the trustees’ a phone call to ask what resources might be available.
9. Call the School
If it’s still open, give the school or administration office a call. They may have old yearbooks and scrapbooks in their library or on display.
TIP: Go to www.whowhere.com and type the school name in the Business Name field. Call between 3 and 4:00 pm local time, when the kids are gone but the school office is still open.
Conduct a search on the school or town you are looking for to see if anyone is selling a yearbook that you want. Also, search for old photographs or postcards of the school building that you can add to your family history. Here’s my extra trick: From the ebay results page, check the box to include completed listings and email potential sellers to inquire about the books you are looking for. (Image right: I found this yearbook on ebay. It includes several photographs of my husband’s grandfather who was a music teacher at the high school back in the 1940s.)
TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask – ebay sellers want to sell! And if all else fails, set up an ebay Favorite Search to keep a lookout for you. Check out the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #3 for instructions on how to do that.
Learn more by listening to the free podcast
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