Top 10 Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy

Have you found all the school records there are to be had for your ancestors? Most of us haven’t, and the chances are very good that there are still some gems out there waiting to be found. Here are ten solid strategies that will help you track them down for your genealogy research. 

10 strategies for finding school records

Watch episode 82 below.

Because the movement for compulsory public education didn’t begin until the 1920s, many people assume that there few records to be had for genealogical purposes prior to that time. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children attended school much earlier.

In fact, it may be surprising to learn that the first public school in what is now the United States opened in the 17th century. On April 23, 1635, the first public school was established in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Boston Latin School, established 1635 first school

Illustration of the Boston Latin School  by Ebenezer Thayer, courtesy of Wikimedia

It was a boys-only public secondary school called the Boston Latin School, and it was led by schoolmaster Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler. The school was strictly for college preparation, and produced well-known graduates including John Hancock and Samuel Adams. It’s most famous dropout? Benjamin Franklin! The school is still in operation today, though in a different location.

Thousands of schools serving millions of students have been established in the U.S. since the inception of the Boston Latin School. (According to 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there are 132,853 K-12 schools in the U.S.) This means that the chances of there being school records for your ancestors is great indeed!

10 Solid Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy 

Here are 10 proven ways to find your ancestors’ awkward yearbook photos, sports triumphs, and much, much more.

1. Establish a Timeline of your Ancestor’s Education

Check your genealogy software 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.

To keep my search organized, I decided to create a simple worksheet form in a Word document. It allows me to identify the right time frames, locations, and other pertinent information for my search, and record my progress along the way. 

Premium Bonus Download: Click to download the blank school records worksheet for your own school research use. (Premium Membership required.)

2. Consult Family Papers and Books for School Records 

Go through old family papers and books looking for things like:

  • school photos
  • senior calling cards,
  • high school autograph books,
  • journals and diaries,
  • fraternity or sorority memorabilia,
  • yearbooks and more.

When I dug through boxes and my grandmother’s cedar chest I found several records like…

a Report Card:

Example of a report card school genealogy records

My grandmother’s brother’s 6th grade report card found among family papers.

Grandma’s class picture from the 7th grade in 1925, Chowchilla, California. She is in the back row on the far right, and her brother is the boy in the center of the back row:

School Records: 7th grade class

Grandma (back row, far right) with her 7th grade class.

And Grandma’s senior portrait, 1930:

School records: senior portrait

Grandma’s senior portrait from 1930

3. Google for Academic Family History

From the professional website of the state archives to the family history site cobbled together by a cousin you’ve never met, the potential for finding school records on the vast expanse of the internet is limitless! Google is the tool to help you locate websites that include school-related records with lightning speed. 

Since I’m not sure which school my grandmother attended, I started off my search for my grandmother’s school with a simple query for the history of schools in the county where she lived as a child:

google search for schools

Google search for the history of school’s in the county

I was pleasantly surprised at the first search result. It’s a newspaper article from the Madera Tribune literally outlining the history of how the schools evolved in the county! It details such things as the driving forces behind where schools were located, when they were founded, and which ones at the time of the article were no longer in existence. 

history of schools article - genealogy records

History of Madera Schools Outlined in the Madera Tribune, September 1955.

Next, I focused my attention on the grade school listed on Grandma’s brother’s 6th grade report card that I discovered during my search of family papers. I Googled the name of the school, county and state.

A search like this can literally deliver millions of results. In fact, this specific search brings up over 1 million search results.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa Louise Cooke’s book is available in the Genealogy Gems Store

You can typically reduce the unwanted search results by 90% by using search operators. These symbols and words give Google further instructions on what you want done with the words you are searching.

While I cover a large number of operators in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m going to use just one of the most popular to dramatically improve my search for the Sharon school. 

In the example below I put quotation marks around the name of the school. Doing this explains to Google that I want this phrase to appear exactly as I typed it in every single search result. You’ve probably noticed that when you search a phrase by itself, you’ll receive results that include only one of the words, or the words spelled differently, or in a different order. The quotation marks search operator prevents this from happening. It mandates that the phrase appear on every result exactly as you typed it.

google search for the school

Using Search Operators to Google the Grade School

Notice that I didn’t put quotation marks around the county name or the state. I recommend using search operators sparingly, at least in your initial search, to ensure that you don’t miss out on good results. If I were to put quotations marks around “Madera county” I would not receive any web pages that do mention Sharon School but just don’t happen to mention Madera County as a phrase. 

Notice also that this search resulted in just over 11,000 results, a small fraction of what I would have received had I not used the quotation marks! Even more important is that the results on the first few pages of are all very good matches. 

I could try a few more variations such as adding words like history, genealogy or records

My googling led me to the Internet Archive where I found old silent color movies shot in the 1940s. There were several films and one featured the local school in the area where my relatives lived. Many, many people were filmed! Could one of those faces be one of my relatives?! Learn more about finding genealogical information includes school records by watching and reading 10 Awesome Genealogy Finds at the Internet Archive.

using internet archive for genealogy

Click image to watch episode 43.

4. Search Newspapers

Historic newspaper are also a wonderful source of honor rolls, school sporting events and anything else having to do with school life.

While there are certainly more historic newspapers online than ever before, it’s still a fraction of what is available.

A visit to the Chronicling America website can help. At the home page click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button: 

Newspaper directory at Chronicling America

Click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button at Chronicling America

On the Directory search page, enter the state, county and town:

U.S. Newspaper Directory searching for the school town

Search the U.S. Newspaper Director for the school location.

On the results page, click the “View complete holding information” link: 

newspaper directory location Chronicling america

Click “View the holdings”

Now you can view all of the known available locations for this item:

U.S. Newspaper Director known holding locations

The item I searched for has three known locations.

In my case, the Chowchilla newspaper of the early 20th century has not been digitized and is not available online. However, the California State Archives in Sacramento has an extensive collection of microfilm. I was able to make the trip in person, and was certainly glad I did! They not only had the newspaper I needed but also countless other resources that were helpful for my genealogical research. 

School record: newspaper clipping

My Grandma listed by name in the newspaper for making the Freshman high school honor roll.

Here are additional resources to help you find newspapers for your school records research:

  • Local newspapers can also be found by searching for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the library’s online card catalog or contact them directly to see what newspapers they have and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through inter-library loan.
  • Click here to visit Newspapers.com by Ancestry website.  This is a subscription website with over 14,900+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s and millions of additional pages being added monthly.
  • Click here to search Genealogy Bank – (This page includes a 7 day free trial option.) This popular subscription website has over 11,000 newspaper, 95% of which Genealogy Bank says are exclusive to their website. 

5. Consult U.S. State Archives and Libraries

The public libraries and state archives across the country are a treasure trove of genealogical resources, and that includes school-related records.

While it’s easy to stop by your local library for a search, it may not be as easy to make your way to the public library in the town where your ancestors lived. Turn to the internet to do your homework regarding the repositories, their holdings, and the most convenient and economical way for you to access them. 

A great place to start is the WorldCat website.

Start by conducting a search. Once you find an item of interest, enter your zip code under the “Find a Copy in the Library” section to identify where it’s available. 

worldcat search for school records for genealogy

Enter your zip code to determine your proximity to the libraries and archives.

As you can see, the name of the libraries are hyperlinked so that you can click through to the item on their website. This makes requesting a look-up or photo copy very easy. 

I can’t stress the value of State Libraries enough. Gere are three more excellent resources:

  1. Click here for the List of U.S. state libraries and archives at Wikipedia.
  2. List of U.S. State Libraries and Archives at the National Archives. 
  3. Click here to read Archivist Melissa Barker’s article called Using Vertical Files in Archives.

6. Contact State Historical and Genealogical Societies

In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks, school photograph collections or other records. 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 for a local historical or genealogical society, Google the name of the county and state and add the words genealogy, history and / or society at the end. For example: Darke County Ohio genealogy society

7. Search for Online Yearbooks

One of the most exciting genealogical record collections to have come out in recent times is Ancestry.com’s U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999 collection. It is an indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks from across the United States.

Old school yearbooks for genealogy

In June of 2019 Ancestry replaced old records with new updated records for most of the yearbooks found on the site. They also added new records from 150,000 yearbooks that previously only had images available. Later in August of 2019 they improved the collection even further by adding a staggering 3.8 million new records. This update also included 30,000 new image-only books.

Ancestry also has an extensive indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks for Canada. Click here to search the Canadian collection. 

MyHeritage has an international collection of yearbooks. In the menu under Research go to the Collection Catalog and search for Schools & Universities.

Additional websites featuring yearbooks include:

Old-Yearbooks.com – According to the website, “Old-Yearbooks.com is a free genealogy site, displaying old yearbooks, class rosters, alumni lists, school photos and related school items. All materials on this site are the property of the submitter. You may not use the images, text or materials elsewhere, whether in print or electronically, without written permission from the submitter or this site.”

Classmates.com – “Register for free to browse hundreds of thousands of yearbooks! You’ll find classic photos of friends, family, and even your favorite celebrities. Viewing the books is always free, and you can purchase a high-quality reprint.”

E-Yearbook.com – Their goal is to digitize all old high school, college & military yearbooks. The site has millions of yearbook pictures digitized, they say they are adding thousands of new pictures every week. “From our estimates, we offer the largest collection of old high school, college and military yearbooks on the Internet today.”

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.

School Records found in the township records

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.

Search for township trustees to find old school records

Google search example

9. Search ebay Auctions 

The auction website ebay is the perfect place to look for school record and memorabilia, particularly hard-to-find yearbooks. 

Conduct a search on the school or town you are looking for to see if anyone is selling a yearbook that you want. (You’ll need a free ebay account to do this.) Also, search for old photographs or postcards of the school building that you can add to your family history.

ebay search for school records

Initial search for school items at ebay

When I searched for Chowchilla California School, several auctions for school-related items from Grandma’s high school came up. Unfortunately, these are auctions for yearbooks after she had already graduated. But no worries! This search is only for today. Tomorrow someone could put up an auction for exactly what I want. There’s only one problem: no one has enough time to search every single day!

A way to save time and ensure that you don’t miss new auction items is to save your search.

Click the Save this search button toward the top of the page:

ebay saved search for school item auctions

Click the Save button to save the search you just ran.

By doing this, you will be sent an email any time a new auction comes up that meets your search criteria. You can learn more about setting up ebay saved searches for family history by listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #140

Here’s another one of my favorite strategies: After you run your initial search, check the box on the results page to include completed listings. 

ebay completed search for school records

Click the Completed search box in the left hand column

In the revised “Completed” search results you may see some items that are of interest. If the item has a green price, it means the item was sold. If the price is black, it did not sell.

Each item will also have a link that says View Similar Active Items. Click that to see a list of items currently for sale that are very similar to one that you wanted.

You can also contact the seller of any item to inquire about the unsold item or to ask whether they have related items.  

school records for genealogy

Bought on ebay: A yearbook from the school where my husband’s grandfather was a music teacher 

I bought the yearbook above on ebay several years ago. It includes several photographs of my husband’s grandfather who was a music teacher at the high school back in the 1940s.

10. Call the School

If the school is still in operation, try calling the main office of the administration office. They may have old yearbooks and scrapbooks in their library or on display. If they don’t, they may very well be able to tell you where they can be found. 

You can obtain contact information by Googling the name of the school and the location.

Good times to try calling a school are mid-morning after kids are settled into class, or between 3 and 4:00 pm local time, when many of the kids have gone home but the school office is still open.

Best school records for genealogy

Tell Us About the School Records You Find

Using these strategies you are bound to find more school records for your genealogical search. Please leave a comment below and share what you found, where you found it, and which strategy you used. It will inspire us all to keep looking! And if you have a favorite strategy that we didn’t mention here, please do share that too. 

Resources

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 234

In this episode we take a look at a subject that is difficult, and yet ultimately faced by all genealogists: Downsizing. Whether you need to help a relative downsize, or it’s time for you to move into a smaller place or just  carve out more room in your existing home, this episode is for you. You’ll hear specific action steps that you can follow to the make the job of downsizing easier and more productive. 

Also in this episode we’ll cover the latest genealogy news, and take a quick look at the 1830 census. 

Listen now, click player below:

Episode #234 with Lisa Louise Cooke
October 2019

Download the episode (mp3)

Please take our quick podcast survey which will take less than 1 minute.  Thank you!

Genealogy News

New and Returning genealogy-themed television Shows:

A New Leaf on NBC

A New Leaf will be included in the Saturday NBC morning programming block called The More You Know beginning October 5, 2019. 

From the Ancestry Blog: 

“Each week ‘A New Leaf’ will follow people on the cusp of key life inflection points, who using family history, genealogy, and sometimes AncestryDNA® analysis will go on a journey of self-discovery and learn from the past while looking to the future. In partnership with Ancestry, Fuentes will join families as they learn the importance of appreciating and understanding their family history and ancestors in order to make important life decisions. ”

Website: https://www.nbc.com/a-new-leaf

Finding Your Roots on PBS

Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s sixth season of Finding Your Roots on PBS will have two new episodes this fall and eight more in January 2020.

The new people featured include Melissa McCarthy, Jordan Peele, Isabella Rossellini, Gayle King, Terry Gross, Queen Latifah and many more.

Check your television schedule and cable provider.

Website: http://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots/home/

The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes on Oxygen

Another new show that taps into genetic genealogy is The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes.

It premieres October 12 at 8 p.m. on the Oxygen channel.

Website: https://www.oxygen.com/dna-of-murder

New Services for Genealogists:

Legacy Tree Genealogists Offers a New Consulting Service

Visit: https://legacytree.com/genealogygems

From the press release:

“Genealogist-on-Demand: Legacy Tree Genealogists Launches Virtual Consultation Service Offering Access to Family History Experts, Any Time, Any Where.

Legacy Tree Genealogists announced today the launch of a new service—45-minute, virtual one-on-one consultations with a professional genealogist. At only 100 USD, these consultations provide users with a cost-effective resource to have their research questions answered in real-time by a professional genealogist, from the comfort of their own home. 

Users have the option to schedule either a DNA Consultation with a genetic genealogist who can explain their DNA test results, or a Genealogy Consultation with access to one of their worldwide researchers with expertise in regions around the globe, including England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia.

Tailored to your specific research questions, the one-on-one consultations are conducted utilizing screen sharing technology that allows the user to share documents, records, or DNA results with the genealogist in a secure, virtual environment.

Legacy Tree will continue to expand its consultation offerings to include additional regions in the near future in order to continue to serve the global genealogy community.”

Larsen Digital Now Digitizes Your Old Negatives

Visit the Genealogy Gems page at Larsen Digital here and use the coupon code GENGEM.

In the past I’ve told you about the incredible work that Larsen Digital did for me getting some of my old home movies digitized. Well, they’ve just launched a new service where you can send them your old negatives and they will convert them into beautiful high-resolution digital images that you can use. We’re talking 4000 dpi images!

I’ve had boxes of negatives in my closet that I inherited from my paternal grandmother. She had negatives for all sorts of pictures that are either long since lost or the photo album went to someone else in the family.

I really had no idea what these old photos would turn out to be, but I ended up with wonderful images of my great grandmother, my grandparents, my Dad when he was a kid, and countless relatives.

The service is called Value because it’s less expensive than the Pro which includes restoration. It’s a great way to get all your old negatives digitized. Then you can decide if there’s further restoration you want done on select images.

DIY: You can do color correction and repairs yourself with a simple free app like Adobe Fix. See my book Mobile Genealogy for much more on using this and other apps for genealogy.

Negatives can deteriorate over time just like photos. The sooner you get them digitized the better condition images you will have.

Larsen Digital is offering Genealogy Gems listeners a great discount on both the new value service and the Pro negative digitization service, as well as 35mm negatives & 35mm Slides.  Visit the Genealogy Gems page at Larsen Digital here and use the coupon code GENGEM.

Here are a few examples of old negatives that I had digitized by Larsen Digital.

 

Newly digitized negatives by Larsen Digital

My Dad with this family’s first TV set!

 

Digitized family photo

Never before seen image of my great grandmother (seated), her daughter and grand daughter. Watch the video that autoplays on this page to see how I restored this photo after receiving the digitized image.

It’s really kind of amazing to think I’ve sat on these negatives for so long. I’ve been sending the pictures to my Dad and he’s been emailing me back not just the names and dates, but the stories behind many of these photos.

Findmypast Now Supports Tree to Tree Hints

Long gone are the days of having to search for genealogical records all alone. When you have any part of your family tree online on any of the “Genealogy Giants” websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast and FamilySearch) they do a lot of the hunting for you. They deliver hints that have a good chance of matching up with your ancestors. Your job is to carefully review them and determine if they are your ancestor’s records. 

(Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Listen to Premium Podcast Episode #175 devoted to hints at Ancestry that includes a bonus download guide on Genealogy Hints at a Glance.)

Up until now, Findmypast offered hints on birth, marriage and death records. Now they are joining the other Genealogy Giants in offering hints based on other user’s family tree on their website. 

Read the rest of my article here.

The free podcast is sponsored by:

Rootsmagic

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software for her master family tree.  Visit www.RootsMagic.com

GEM: Downsizing with Family History in Mind with Devon Noel Lee

Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mind here.
(We hope you enjoyed the interview. Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting our free podcast by using our link.)

Hear the Interview with the author of Downsizing with Family History in Mind

Click the image to order your copy. 

At some point we all face downsizing. Whether we are helping our parents downsize to a smaller house, or we need to downsize our own belongings to carve out a spare bedroom or just make room in a closet. it’s never really an easy task. And I think it’s safe to say it’s even more difficult for the family historian, because we collect a lot of paper, photos and other things that are often near and dear to our hearts.

Devon Noel Lee and her husband Andrew Lee of the Family History Fanatics YouTube channel have taken on this challenge themselves and they’ve written a new book called Downsizing with Family History in Mind. Here to help you make the tough choices and clear the clutter is Devon Noel Lee.

There are many reasons for downsizing:

  • To move to a smaller place
  • Absorbing inherited genealogy
  • Divorce
  • To free up space in your own home

Downsizing the sentimental items is the hardest part of downsizing.

Question: A lot of us just think, well it’s a Saturday morning, I think I’ll just do some decluttering. But you say in the book that decluttering doesn’t work. Why is that?

Devon’s Answer:

“There are three things that experts teach us that are absolutely wrong:”

  1. We don’t give ourselves enough time for nostalgia.
  2. We’re really bad at evaluating what’s going to last for the long term
  3. We use the wrong boxes when decluttering – all the experts say to use Keep, Sell and Donate.

Devon recommends the following boxes:

  • Keep
  • Giveaway (combining sell and donate) – to family, societies, archive, university special collections, libraries, etc.
  • Trash (or recycle)
  • Process

How to “process”:

  • Digitize
  • Process the information in your binders and get rid of the binders if no one wants them.

Use it:

  • Sad to say, most people don’t want your family china. Give yourself permission to use it and enjoy it now. Make memories with it!
  • Let your children play with things.

Four Basic Downsizing Principles in the book:

Reduce:  Divide things into the boxes.

Preserve: This is when you’re going to digitize the things in your process box. Photograph objects. Transfer your genealogy into software and online trees.

Reclaim: Take everything out of the process box after processing, and divide into Giveaway, Trash and Keep. Don’t put things into storage!

Showcase: Put on display what you found worth keeping so it can be enjoyed. Transform what you have into something that is easier to pass on like videos, podcasts, scrapbooks. Focus on story-based items.

From Lisa: It puts us back in control as to what happens to it. Making sure the right people get it.

I’m a big fan of displays. If we haven’t taken a moment to get something on the wall – to put a display together – how can we expect our family to appreciate it and embrace our family history values? 

Question: Many downsizing projects are much more than a single day. When you’re faced with a really big job, where do you recommend that people start, and where should they put their primary focus?

The book includes action plans for folks who have:

  • just an hour
  • Weekend
  • 3-6 months
  • 6-12 months

Capture what is right now:

  • Photograph the outside of the home.
  • Photograph what’s inside.
  • Then focus on photographing the collections in their context.

Mentioned by Lisa:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #21 includes a Gem called Thanks for the Memories. In it, I share an example of mentally walking through my Grandma’s house and capturing all of my memories on paper.

Get a piece of paper or pull up a word document.  Close your eyes for a moment and visualize a favorite memory from your childhood. 

In my case I started with a favorite place, my maternal grandma’s house.  But perhaps yours is the back alley where you and your friends played baseball, or your great uncle’s garage where he showed you how to work on cars.  Whatever is meaningful to you.

Now, open your eyes, and write your thoughts one at a time.  Just free flow it. They don’t have to be complete sentences. 

Later you can try your hand at writing more of your actual experiences or memories of a person.  Again, it doesn’t have to be a novel or sound really professional.  It’s just the memories from you heart.

Family Photos:

Question: If we have piles and piles of family photos, particularly ones we’ve inherited, how to do we decide which to keep and which to toss? Or do you ever toss?

Devon’s answer:

Get rid of the duplicates!

Keep 1 of the biggest and best and throw the rest away. Don’t bog yourself down with hours spent trying to track down someone else to give them to.

Get rid of blurry, overexposed, underexposed, and meaningless photos.

Unlabeled photos:

There will be some circumstances where you will not be able to keep them. You can’t go into debt for unlabeled photos. You want to separate them from the labeled so that other family members don’t throw them all out together.

If you have time, try to identify them by asking relatives, and posting them to DeadFred.com.

If you can, donate the remaining unlabeled photos to orphaned photo collectors, or toss.

You did the best you can. Don’t feel guilty because your ancestors didn’t label their photos.

Question: What advice do you give your readers who are faced with what to do with their genealogy when they don’t have descendants or when no one in the family wants it? What encouragement can you offer when there is no one who descends from you, or there is no one who wants them.

Devon’s answer:

If you think you don’t have anyone in your family who is interested, you’re wrong.

Downsizing and organizing will increase the chances of someone willing to take it later.

If you don’t have anyone in your immediate family who wants your stuff, start looking for distant cousins actively working on a surname. They won’t want everything. You will have to divide the material. They want it organized.

Do it while you’re living – don’t leave it to someone else.

Digitize it and get it online where it can be shared.

From Lisa:

Getting your stuff in good condition makes it more desirable.

Our collection, broken up, may have much more value to other people.

Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mind here.
(We hope you enjoyed the interview, and thank you for using our link.)

The free podcast is sponsored by:

MyHeritage

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click the logo to learn more.

 

GEM: Profile America – The 1830 U.S. Federal Census

Saturday, October 5th.

The national census to be taken April 1 next year will be the 24th time this once-a-decade count has been conducted since 1790. The fifth census in 1830 profiled a quickly expanding nation, counting nearly 13 million residents — an increase of more than one-third in just 10 years.

New York remained the largest city, while second and third places were a near tie between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Also, among the 10 biggest cities were Charleston, South Carolina, and Albany, New York.

In the decade to follow, Cyrus McCormick invented the grain reaper, opening huge sections of the Great Plains to agriculture, and Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

Sources:
POP Culture: 1830  

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Why I Wish the DAR DNA Policy Was a Little Different

why the DAR DNA

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) accepts limited DNA evidence to prove descent from a Revolutionary War veteran. In my opinion, the DAR DNA policy is a little too limited. Here’s why–and what you can do.

Membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has been a holy grail for U.S. genealogists for 125 years. With its requirement of proof of a “lineal bloodline descendant from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence” in three categories: birth, marriage, and death, as well as proof of Revolutionary War Service, membership is exclusive to those with an iron-clad paper trail.

That is, until 2014, when the DAR added DNA evidence to its list of acceptable documents proving a relationship to a Revolutionary War ancestor.

What does the DAR DNA Policy Accept?

The DAR only accepts one of the three forms of DNA testing which is the Y chromosome test, or YDNA. The YDNA traces only a direct paternal line, making it a great choice when trying to link living males with their Revolutionary counterparts. This YDNA is basically passed unchanged from generation to generation, making the modern day holder of the YDNA the proud owner of possibly exactly the same YDNA that fought the Redcoats. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

The DAR recently announced that to further help those wanting to use their YDNA as part of their application, they have formed a project at Family Tree DNA, the company that provides the YDNA testing. Projects are absolutely the best way to get the most out of your YDNA testing. There are surname projects, location projects, haplogroup (deep ancestral group) projects, and even special interest group projects, such as this one for the DAR.

While the results of the testing are only available to members of the group, the statistics page gives us an idea of the scope of this project. They currently have 1,242 total members and what looks to be about 430 YDNA tests completed (though it is admittedly difficult to tell based on the chart online.)  This means if you think your paternal line may be a candidate for the DAR, you can have a representative of your line tested and compared to the group. If you find a match, you will have relative certainty that you do connect to that Patriot, and can then be more confident in your traditional research in pursuit of the necessary paper connections.

In April the DAR opened up project membership to include mtDNA and autosomal DNA. They will not be using these two kinds of DNA in their applications (yet), but hopefully this project will pave the way for the addition of those tests in the future (though, for several reasons, inclusion of these tests in the application process will be more difficult.)

Though, in all honesty, they have made the YDNA process difficult enough. Let’s say that you are actually able to trace down multiple generations to find a direct male descendant of your Revolutionary guy to be tested, an individual who is, the DAR mandates, “sharing your maiden name or your mother’s maiden name,” and you convince that unassuming relative to give up his saliva, you still are only half way there. The DAR guidelines also state that you have to have a second individual who is “a descendant of the same Revolutionary War ancestor through a different unbroken male lineage that has been previously proven on a DAR application…” (I added the emphasis here.)

A Practical Example of the DAR DNA Policy

OK, so let’s say you are a genealogical whiz and, let’s face it, you were lucky, and you find two such candidates and have them tested.

Well, the DAR tells us that those two men must match EXACTLY on the 37 YDNA markers tested. Now there is no telling when that YDNA might experience a mutation. So to me it seems a little unfair to require perfection. So it is possible, that even after all the work of finding the right guys to be tested, the test itself may work against you, as even one difference is enough to keep this YDNA off of your application, at least for now.

So while I applaud the DAR for using YDNA testing at all, and for spearheading a special interest project at Family Tree DNA, the reality is that the limitations of direct paternal line genealogy and the requirements of testing make it unlikely that very many will be able to take advantage of the YDNA in their DAR applications.

However, there are a few things you can take away from this article now:

  • First, collect those DNA samples whenever you can, especially for key relatives, like your paternal line and the oldest living generation (whose DNA is less likely to have experienced any mutation.)
  • Second, keep your research paper trail strong. Nothing in the near future of the genetic genealogy industry tells us that distant relative connections (like to your Revolutionary War ancestor) will be provable by DNA alone.
  • And third, definitely look at crowd-sourced studies for your particular DNA. Those surname, location, haplogroup, and special interest group projects I mentioned from FTDNA are just some of the ones that might help your research—or that you could use to help someone else’s. I’ve talked about these studies before: click here to read about them.

My Complete DNA for Genealogy Research Guide Series

I am Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, and the author of a series of genetic genealogy quick guides. My guide called Y Chromosome DNA for the Genealogist is the perfect tool to help guide you through the testing and analysis process. Click here to learn more about this guide and here for all of my guides, or click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos, also available to Gems fans for a special price.

Thanks for sharing this post with your genealogy friends who do DNA research (especially those who may have Revolutionary War ancestors!)

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