Change is something we can always count on, but that doesn’t make it any easier, does it? Understanding why the change is happening, how it affects you personally, and what you can do to adapt, does. So, when FamilySearch announced the end of their long-standing microfilm lending program, I immediately sought out the key expert who can answer these questions for you.
FamilySearch’s Goal for Microfilm and the Family History Library
It seems like only yesterday I was interviewing Don R. Anderson, Director of the Family History Library about the future of the library and FamilySearch. Back then, in 2009, he made the startling statement that their goal was to digitize all of the microfilms in FamilySearch’s granite vault. (Click here to listen to that interview in my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast episode 16.) Fast forward to today, and we see that in less than ten years that end goal is within sight. We are also seeing the ending of a service nearly every genealogist has tapped into at some point: the microfilm lending program. Family historians have been able to place orders for microfilm to be shipped to their local Family History Center where they could then scroll through the images in search of ancestors.
On August 31, 2017, this service comes to an end.
Fear of the Unknown
It’s sort of scary to see this come to an end before every last roll of microfilm has been digitized and put online (just head to social media to read some of the concerns). It’s definitely been comforting to know that the records you need are just an order form and two weeks away.
I have always found that being armed with information helps alleviate fear, and so upon hearing the news, I reached out to FamilySearch to arrange a special interview with Diane Loosle, Director of Patron Services at FamilySearch. In this special Genealogy Gems Podcast interview, we take the time to really comb through what the end of the microfilm lending program means for you, and what your options are for records access going forward. I’ve been anxious to get this information into your ears and hands, and have spent the entire weekend producing this episode and transcribing it for you.
The Interview: The End of the FamilySearch Microfilm Lending Program
Lisa: One of the constant challenges for genealogists is gaining access to genealogical records that they need for their particular family history research. I imagine that you’ve had that challenge yourself. Thankfully, since 1938 the FamilySearch organization has been microfilming records around the world. They’ve been making these records available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and through a tremendous lending program with their Family History Centers located worldwide. And that may be where you’ve gotten your hands on a couple of microfilms and records over the years. But of course, as the Internet has been more accessible over the last two decades, this is changing the landscape of record access. So more and more we are gaining access to digitized records online, and this has led to a really big change in the long-standing microfilm lending program.
I’ve invited Diane Loosle, the Director of Patron Services Division at FamilySearch, to talk about the change that’s occurred, what it means for you, and what your record access options are going to be going forward. Diane, thanks so much for joining me today.
Diane: I’m so happy I could come, and thank you for inviting me.
The Reasons Microfilm Lending is Coming to an End
Lisa: I imagine that you’ve been very busy with the changes. I know that the last day of the microfilm ordering was August 31, 2017. And you know FamilySearch has been digitizing records for years, so we are going to be shifting from microfilm to digitization. Why is right now the time that the change is happening, where you’re actually discontinuing the physical microfilm lending?
Diane: This is such an exciting time Lisa. We’ve been looking forward to this day for many, many years because when you think about the fact that you can get access to these images immediately in your home, for the most part – there are some that you have to access through a center or library, but the majority are in your home – that’s pretty wonderful. And so we are moving to a place where all of our fulfillment for your needs for your records is going to be digital and that’s what this change is all about.
So the reason that it’s happening now is that, a couple of different reasons. First, we have moved through a lot of the microfilm and have had those digitized and they are up online. So it was a good point with that.
We’ve also seen a huge drop in the orders of microfilms. So there’s not very many being ordered now, so that kind of lined up.
And then also our supplier. We have a single supplier for vesicular microfilm, and I think that’s important to understand that we’re talking about a certain type of microfilm because we use that type to make the copies and send them out to you. We have a single supplier, and that supplier has been kind of raising prices and giving us the indication that they would rather not be in that business. And so with all those things together, and the fact that we would like to take the resources that we are currently using to duplicate films, and send them out, and ship them and all of that, we’d like to take those resources and move them towards bringing you more records digitally.
It seemed like the right time to make this decision to finally finish it. Now we do have some of the collection that has not been completed of course, and I think that’s what’s causing most people concern is, “What happens? Can I get access to that during this time that you are still finishing it off?”
Lisa: Exactly, and you know I have visited the distribution center for your lending program, and it was massive and it looked really complicated. And then when you add on the idea that the access to the actual film itself is changing.
I just got a camera from my uncle, and it’s got 25-year-old film in it. It took me all day to find a local store that could develop it for me!
So, it’s like a perfect storm of a lot of technological changes, which is exciting, because as you said we can access things from home.
Digitization and Publishing Limitations
I know that when it comes to the microfilm that you guys have, the goal has been to digitize all of it. But explain to folks what the limitations are in terms of, do you have the rights to lend it, do you have the rights to digitize and put up online everything that you have microfilmed?
Diane: Right. So we are always limited by the rights associated with the collections because the record custodians stipulate those when we do the agreements. And in microfilm, we’ve been circulating things. Our intention is to circulate digitally everything possible legally for us to do. And that’s the majority of the collection.
Now in the process of doing this, what’s happened over the years is that laws have changed around Data Privacy, particularly in Europe and some other locations around the world. And as we’re going through and reviewing all of these, you can imagine these thousands of contracts for this process, we’re discovering that there are some that because of the changes in the Data Privacy laws, they really should not have been continuing to circulate because of those changes.
So those would then in the future be restricted because of the Data Privacy issues. And those are usually very modern records, those that have living people in them.
So there will be a set of records that maybe you could have gotten on microfilm previously that you would not now be able to get digitally. But that’s because they shouldn’t have been in circulation anyway because of the data privacy changes. But for the most part, what we’re circulating microfilm-wise you will have access to digitally.
Now, about 20% of the collection you have to access through the Family History Library, or through a Family History Center or affiliate library because of the contracts we have. And that was also true with the microfilm of course, and now it’s true with the digital images as well, based on the contracts, so there will be a certain set that is in that category.
Family History Center Affiliates
Lisa: Help us understand what affiliate centers are.
Diane: Affiliates don’t have to return the film they have. Affiliates are usually public libraries or Family History Centers in an LDS chapel. Local leadership will decide. So if they keep them, you can still access them. And the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will maintain a large microfilm collection as well. Go to familysearch.org and in the right corner, you’ll find the Get Help link (and click Contact Us). Search by zip code for affiliates near you. They will appear on a map. Libraries have extended hours compared to Family History Centers.
The best way to find out where the films are still located, both physical and digital, is the FamilySearch Card Catalog. Many people aren’t that familiar with the card catalog. Look for the Camera icon, then click to go to the document image.
Lisa: Let’s dig into that a little bit. So we’re talking about, you mentioned the term “affiliate centers” and I know that there are some locations which aren’t technically affiliates. Can you help define that for us? How do we figure out, before we make the jaunt over to the local family history center if that’s one that actually can still have some of the microfilm. Help us sort that out.
Diane: So if you go to any center or affiliate library out there, and I’ll tell you how to find those in just a minutes, they can keep whatever film they already have on hand. There’s nothing that’s saying that they need to send it back. Now that is dependent on decisions made at the local level. So, you know, the leadership of either the affiliate library, which is normally in a public library, or a family history center which is often in an LDS chapel, the local leadership there will make a decision about, you know, the film and what happens to them in the future, but we’re not asking them to send them back. So you’ll still be able to access them. And the library here in Salt Lake will maintain a large microfilm collection as well. So, it will still be available that way.
Now the way that you find these locations is if you go into FamilySearch, up in the right-hand corner there’s a Get Help link, and the Get Help link lets you get in touch with us. And then you can search actually using your zip code to find which centers and affiliate libraries are near you, and both will appear on the map that appears. So, uhm, you can find out which ones are near your location.
The affiliates are, as I said, often public libraries, so they may have extended hours beyond what the family history center might have because the family history center is often as I said in a chapel and manned by volunteers. And so they may not have as many hours as your affiliate libraries may have.
How to Identify Where the Films are Located
Lisa: So whatever they may have had on hand when the lending program came to an end, they had the option to decide if they were going to hang onto it, or if they were going to send stuff back. There’s going to be some just at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Do we go into the card catalog to identify where the existing films are still located?
Diane: Yes, so the best way to find out what’s available both digitally and where the films might be physically located is through the FamilySearch Catalog on familysearch.org.So if you go to Search on FamilySearch, and then Catalog, you can look up your location, look up the records your interested in, and it will tell you where those can be found.
Now, if it’s available digitally, and actually most people I’ve talked to where they would have this concern about “oh goodness, I’m not going to have access to my films!”, when I’ve talked with them, and we’ve looked them up, their records were already available digitally, they just didn’t know it. So, if you go in the catalog and look it up where it lists the microfilm, there will be a little camera icon out to the right-hand side, and if you see that little camera icon, you can click on that and that takes you straight in to the digital images for that record.
Now we publish those, we do about digitize about 1,500 microfilms a day at the vault. And we publish those pretty immediately up on to the website through the catalog. You will not find those through the Historical Records part of FamilySearch under Search Records. They’re just through the catalog, so there’s a much larger collection available through the catalog than what you see in the Historical Records section.
How Films are Prioritized for Digitization
Lisa: When we get notifications, I know I get your press releases and such on the new records that are coming out, does that include those? Because we do publish every Friday kind of a run down for all of our listeners out there, what the newest records are that are coming online.
Diane: It does not currently. That publication only includes things that are published online in the Historical Records section of the website. However, with this change, we’re looking to change that so it will include those being published to the catalog. Now the challenge with that is the volume! Because 1,500 films a day is a lot.
And these films, because the way that we did this initially, we prioritized all of the films that had been ordered in the last five years to make sure that those were available digitally, so it’s been kind of piecemeal a little bit.
So, you might have two or three films in a full collection that have been digitized and the rest maybe not, at this point, and so trying to help you understand what is and is not available through that publication. We’re still working through the details. But the intention is, as we go forward, will be to prioritize filling in those collections where maybe one or two films have been digitized and the rest have not yet. We will go through and make sure the whole collection has been digitized. And then we are going to introduce a process where you will be able to let us know if there is a film that you absolutely need. You can let us know, and we will work that into our prioritization and try to get that to you as quickly as we can. You know if you think about how long it took to get a microfilm to be delivered to you once you ordered it, you can think about it’s kind of the same time frame when it might then be available to you digitally.
How to Request that a Microfilm be Digitized
Lisa: How could they be contacting you to make that kind of request?
Diane: We are working on that process right now, trying to finalize it. So there’s kind of two options we’re looking at at the moment: One, you would contact us through our support line, the Help Line. The other is that we would just have a form up that you would fill out. Now the form is going to take more time to get established and up. So we may go out of the gate with not as ideal of a process, but we want to make sure that we can let us know, so we’ll be clear about what that is as we get closer to September 1st.
Lisa: When we get into the catalog, have you already flagged which ones are going to have restrictions, they are just not going to be able to be digitized? Because I think some people might be thinking “Maybe I should just hold on and wait, over the next couple months maybe they’ll get to this one, I’ll put in a request.” But I imagine that’s going to be a big job if you have to go in and try to flag every single one that you know you’re not going to have the rights to digitize. Tell us how you’re going to deal with that.
Diane: Well, that has not occurred and would be pretty impossible to do at this stage, just because of the volume of what we’re dealing with trying to go through. We’re doing it as we go to digitize the films. And so, we discover it as we go, as opposed to knowing it ahead of time.
Lisa: So if they put in a request, you pull it out, go ‘OK well let’s look at doing this,’ and then realize, no, this one’s not going to be able to do it. Then at least they would get that information?
Diane: Yes, they would. Well, what would happen is we’re working on a way so that in the catalog you would be able to identify that. So for example, a request actually came from the community out there that we be able to distinguish if a record can be viewed in my home, or if I have to be at the facility to view it, or if there is some other restriction on it. And so, because of that feedback, we thought “So let’s see if we can figure out a way to help people understand that.” Now, these things probably won’t be ready right out of the gate. But we’re looking for ways to make it simpler for you to understand what the challenges are with the record that you’re trying to access.
Gaining Access to Microfilm and Some Restricted Digitized Records in Person
Lisa: Sure. So, if we’re looking online and we see a record, and it’s not been digitized yet, would we at this point, until you get more formalized processes going, would you still encourage people to get in touch with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? What other options are they going to have to gain access?
Diane: So first what I would do is I would look, because we’ll maintain the film inventory, so we know where the films are located, so I would first look and see, is this film available somewhere near me? Or if I have an opportunity to come to the Family History Library, and the film is there, great. But, so first look and see if you can locate it, then you can let us know through the channels that we’ll have available to you what the film is, and then we’ll put it into the list to be prioritized to be digitized. But I would always encourage folks to look and see if they are located near where that film already is because that would be much quicker for them to get access to that.
Lisa: If Salt Lake City is the only place, then, of course, this really whittles down to the big fear of everybody, is “Oh that one film I’m going to need, it’s only going to be in Salt Lake City and I can’t get there.” What other kinds of options might a person like that have?
Diane: Well, so I think that there are some options available to them because we have a large group of professional researchers who come to the library every day, and those folks could probably be useful to you in looking up those records and getting copies of whatever is needed. So that’s one option that people could take to do that.
The majority of what we’ll have, I don’t think the case would be that the only place you can get it is the Family History Library. If we do have a fair number of collections that are in that category as we finish this process off, then we’ll look at ways to provide some access where we can. But that access would probably be in a digital way as well. So that would be my suggestion, that they reach out to those who are here every day and could take a look at that. And I think you know there are other websites where you can get access to professionals as well, or just good samaritans, you know, that want to help you out.
Lisa: Absolutely, and there are lots of those. Finally, are there any records that the people listening are going to completely lose access to?
Diane: The only ones that would be in that category is because of data privacy. So, if there was an issue with, you know, a law changed, that made it so that we could no longer provide access to those. But that would have been true in the microfilm world as well.
Lisa: Exactly. So really, it really doesn’t change in that respect. We’re not losing records, we’re changing up how we access them. And I think you’ve helped shed a lot of light on kind of what the process will be and it sounds like you have a big job ahead of you.
“We’re not losing records, we’re changing up how we access them.” Lisa Louise Cooke
Shifting Resources to Meet the Goal
Lisa: How quickly do you think it’s going to help once the lending process is let go of, that the resources start going to all of this other work now that you have to do on the digital side?
Diane: I think it will move pretty quickly for us to, you know, start to do more with the resources we have. For example, we’re collecting around three million images with three hundred camera crews out there, about a week. So, that’s a lot! And we want to shift a lot of resources. Another place we’d like to capture more is with Africa and the oral genealogies project that we have, and gain more access there. So, we’ll be shifting to those. And then, of course, the vault is moving at a pretty good clip already, with about 1,500 films a day, so I think we’ll be able to keep up pretty well with the demand that’s coming at us from people. But, we’ll evaluate that as we go, and determine if we need to boost up more there or not, to be able to move more quickly for folks.
Empowering Genealogists to Learn More
Lisa: Any other questions that I didn’t think about that you’ve been hearing online, in social media, that you’d love to give us some input on?
Diane: Well, we have had some questions from some of the affiliate libraries about how do they get the access? So that’s been happening online a little bit. And so we just want them to know that we’ll be reaching out to them via calling all of them actually, and helping them through this process of setting up the things that they need to technically to be able to get access to the images digitally. So that’s definitely something they should know.
The other thing is that we have a lot of people who don’t actually know how to use the catalog [laughs] because you know they’ve grown up in a search world, or looking at the historical records the browsable images, and a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a lot of different ways to access the records on FamilySearch. So you have Search, which is a very small percentage of the collection actually, compared to the whole, and then you have the Historical Records that are only browsable, and that you can go in and look at the images browsing, and then you have everything that’s been published through the catalog. So there’s kind of three places that they need to look. So I think that’s the biggest piece I’ve seen: people just don’t know. They’re not aware of where to find those things. And you know eventually, it will be nice, maybe when those things come together. But at this point in time, they’re separate. And that’s because we wanted to ensure that you would maintain access. If we could just publish them quickly and maintain access for you, that’s the best in our minds.
Lisa: Absolutely! Well, I know that Sunny Morton here at Genealogy Gems is going to be joining us in future episodes talking more about just those different areas. And I love the way that you kind of laid it out for us because I think a lot of people weren’t that familiar with the differences. And she’s going to be helping us get a little savvier in that ongoing research.
Diane, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me, and to answer some of the questions. I know that you know that the emotions that run high are only because people are so passionate about family history, and they are so appreciative of what FamilySearch has done. It’s been an amazing resource that you guys provide to the public for free, which is just absolutely invaluable. And I know that I have a lot of confidence in where you guys are going because you always are out there looking forward. How far out into the future you guys look and you plan for is just phenomenal! It’s not just about us accessing records, it’s going to be for generations to come, and I love the fact that you guys are really laying the groundwork for that.
Diane: Well, thank you, Lisa! We are all about getting you access to records so that you can find your ancestors, and we will always be about that. I’m glad that I could come and help people to understand what’s happening and hopefully be a little less concerned about the change. I know it’s difficult, but it’s a wonderful change too.
In this episode I’ve got another blast from the past for you. We have reached deep into the podcast archive and retrieved episodes 5 and 6.
In Episode 5 we touch on using the video website YouTube for genealogy, and then I walk you through how to Bring Sites Back From the Deadwith Google. Then we wrap things up with a cool little way to Spice Up Your Genealogy Database.
In episode 6 I have a gem for you called Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors, and we cover the free genealogy website US GenWeb
Episode: # 05 Original Publish Date: March 25, 2007
Email this week from Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe: “Congratulations on your podcast! I am sure it will help many folks out there. I was glad to see the fine Irish families of Scully and Lynch on your latest show notes!”
GEM: You Tube Follow Up Note: The Genealogy Tech Podcast is no longer published or available.
YouTube in the news – the concern was raised by Viacom this month about YouTube benefiting from their programming without compensating them, which could mean copyright infringement. While the course of YouTube could change depending on the outcome of this suit, the attraction for family historians remains strong because of the nature of the content.
Pinnacle. Final Cut for MAC. Limits with Movie Maker
I posted 2 videos – A Nurse In Training Part 1 & 2
When you get a “File Not Found” error when clicking on a link, it doesn’t mean the information is always gone forever. You may be able to find it in the Cache version.
Google takes a snapshot of each page it examines and caches (stores) that version as a back-up. It’s what Google uses to judge if a page is a good match for your query. In the case of a website that no longer exists, the cache copy us a snapshot of the website when it was still active hidden away or cached.
Practically every search result includes a Cached link. Clicking on that link takes you to the Google cached version of that web page, instead of the current version of the page. This is useful if the original page is unavailable because of:
2.A down, overloaded, or just slow website – Since Google’s servers are typically faster than many web servers, you can often access a page’s cached version faster than the page itself.
3.The owner’s recently removing the page from the Web
Sometimes you can even access the cached version from a site that otherwise require registration or a subscription.
If Google returns a link to a page that appears to have little to do with your query, or if you can’t find the information you’re seeking on the current version of the page, take a look at the cached version.
Hit the Back button and look for a link to a “cached” copy at the end of the URL at the end of the search result. Clicking on the “cached” link should bring up a copy of the page as it appeared at the time that Google indexed that page, with your search terms highlighted in yellow.
If you don’t see a cached link, it may have been omitted because the owners of the site have requested that Google remove the cached version or not cache their content. Also, any sites Google hasn’t indexed won’t have a cache version.
Limit: If the original page contains more than 101 kilobytes of text, the cached version of the page will consist of the first 101 Kbytes (120 Kbytes for pdf files).
It allows you to browse through 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.
To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported.
GEM: Spice up your database
Search Google Images, then Right click and save to your hard drive.
Find something that represents what you do know about that person. It really does help you see them more as a person and less as an entry in your database – their occupation, a reader, a sport, etc.
Episode: # 06 Original Publish Date: April 1, 2007
You can learn more about Jewish roots at the 350 Years of American Jewish History website JewishGen, The Home of Jewish Genealogy
GEM: Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors
In the episode #5 I shared a little gem that would spice up your genealogical database – adding silhouettes and artistic images to the file of an ancestor when you don’t have a photograph.
Probably the most famous silhouette these days are the silhouettes used by Apple for advertising the iPod digital music and audio player. It may surprise your teenager or grandchild to learn that the first silhouettes were done hundreds of years ago.
Back then silhouettes (or shades as they were called), they paintings or drawings of a person’s shadow. They were popular amongst English royalty and the art form quickly spread to Europe. A silhouette can also be cut from black paper, and was a simple alternative for people who could not afford other forms of portraiture, which, in the eighteenth century, was still an expensive proposition.
The word took its name from Étienne de Silhouette, but it’s uncertain as to whether his name was attributed because he enjoyed this art form, or as the story goes because the victims of his taxes complained that they were reduced to mere shadows.
Either way, the popularity of Silhouettes hit new heights in the United States where they were seen in magazines, brochures and other printed material. But they faded from popularity as Photographs took over in the 1900s.
As a follow up, I want to share with you a simple technique for creating your own silhouettes. You can use ordinary snapshots to create a visual family record.
Take a photo of a person in profile against a neutral background.
Blanket the photo background with white acrylic or tempera paint
Fill in the image with a heavy black permanent marker, curing the shoulders down for a classical pose.
Add fun details like cowlicks, eyelashes, hats, and jewelry that express the person’s personality with a fine felt-tip pen.
Photocopy the doctored photos onto quality art paper. Since glossy papers work print best, you could also use your computer scanner to scan the image into your hard drive. From there you can add it to your database, or print it out onto glossy photo paper for mounting.
To represent folks in your family tree, create a silhouette of your father to represent his Great Great Grandfather, and add a farmer’s hat and rake to represent his profession of farming. Chances are dad has inherited some of his profile anyway. Have fun with it and be creative. But of course be very sure to label to silhouette appropriately as a creative interpretation rather than a literal rendering.
You can also do silhouettes of your family including extended family and arrange the portraits together on a wall. Use black painted frames in a variety of shapes and sizes and hang in a way that represents the family tree / relationships.
Silhouettes%20:%20Rediscovering%20the%20Lost%20Art<img%20src=”http:/www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=genegemspodc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0970115105″%20width=”1″%20height=”1″%20border=”0″%20alt=””%20style=”border:none%20!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;”%20/>%20″ >Silhouettes: Rediscovering the Lost Art
Last year the website celebrated its 10th Anniversary. The USGenWeb Project consists of a group of volunteers working together to provide Internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. The Project is non-commercial and fully committed to free access for everyone. Organization within the website is by state and county.
You can go to the homepage of the website and click on the state of your choice from the left hand column. From the state page you can select the county you wish to search in. However, when I know they name of the county I want to search in, I’ve found it’s often quicker just to search at google.com and do a search like “genweb sibley county mn” The choice is yours.
Remember to use the Google search gem that I gave you in episode one (see episode #134 http://www.genealogygemspodcast.com/webpage/episode-145-a-blast-from-the-past ) to quickly search within the county website. Many don’t have search engines of their own, and so that’s when I first really started using that search technique. These county sites are often very rich though, and after a focused search, it’s rewarding just to wander the site. It will help you become more familiar with the county!
You’ll likely find databases of Births, Deaths, Marriages, townships histories, plat maps, surnames, and a host of other topics. Because each county has its own volunteer coordinator, the information you will find varies from county to county. And as always, info is being added regularly, so you need to book mark them and return on a regular basis to see what’s new.
Be sure and share your resources as well. That’s the power behind the GenWeb project – volunteers. Volunteering your county resources will enrich other’s experience and will likely lead to connections that will continue to further your own research.
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.
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.
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.
2. Consult Family Papers and Books for School Records
Go through old family papers and books looking for things like:
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:
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:
Grandma (back row, far right) with her 7th grade class.
And Grandma’s senior portrait, 1930:
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button at Chronicling America
On the Directory search page, enter the state, county and town:
Search the U.S. Newspaper Director for the school location.
On the results page, click the “View complete holding information” link:
Click “View the holdings”
Now you can view all of the known available locations for this item:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Podcastepisode #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.
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.
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.
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.
Barry Landau Sentenced to 7 Years for Thefts From National Archives, Other Institutions
Washington, DC . . . U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake yesterday sentenced Barry H. Landau to seven years in prison, and three years of supervised release, for conspiracy and theft of historical documents from cultural institutions in four states, including the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.
The items stolen from the Roosevelt Library, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration, were seven “reading copies” of speeches that Roosevelt delivered. They contained his edits and handwritten additions, along with his signature. They have all been recovered.
Landau’s co-conspirator, Jason Savedoff, will be sentenced at a later date.
Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said he was pleased that Judge Blake “recognized the seriousness of this crime and meted out an appropriate punishment that will serve as a warning to others who may contemplate stealing our nation’s history.”
“There is a very special bond that forms between researchers and research institutions. It’s kind of like an insider’s club. We speak the same language, share the same interests, explore the same minute details of historical knowledge that will eventually fill in the fabric of our shared history as a nation,” the Archivist added.
“When a researcher turns out to be a thief and steals the documents that are the very underpinnings of our democracy, our trust and respect for the community is shaken. Barry Landau is just that thief. Dressed in the guise of a scholar, he ingratiated himself with our staff and stole priceless documents from the Franklin Roosevelt Library. In essence he robbed from all of us—our collective history. And he did far worse damage to numerous other research institutions around the country.”
The Archivist said that because of incidents such as those involving Landau, the National Archives and other research institutions around the world have become more vigilant over the last few decades. They have instituted a number of measures aimed at preventing theft, such as closed-circuit cameras, clean research room rules, exit searches, and increased staff surveillance.
“When a theft does occur, we rely on the Office of the Inspector General and the Justice Department to build a case and bring the perpetrator to justice,” he added. “I want to thank them for their hard work.”
Lynn Bassanese, Acting Director of the Roosevelt Library, recalled that when Roosevelt dedicated his library on June 30, 1941, he declared it an “act of faith” in the American people.
“Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff violated that faith by taking advantage of the trust and confidence that the Roosevelt Library’s staff has for its researchers,” she said.”With the successful return of the stolen documents, the Roosevelt Library renews its commitment to protect and preserve the records of the Roosevelt Presidency and to make them accessible to the American people for generations to come.”
According to Landau’s plea agreement, the “reading copies” of Roosevelt’s speeches were stolen when he and Savedoff visited the Roosevelt Library on December 2, 2010.
“Reading copies” are the actual copies of the speeches from which the President read. They contain edits and handwritten additions made by him and bear his signature.
Four of these “reading copies” of speeches were sold by Landau on December 20, 2010, to a collector for $35,000. Three other “reading copies” of inaugural addresses delivered by Roosevelt, valued at more than $100,000 each, were recovered from Landau’s apartment in New York City during court-authorized searches, including the water-stained reading copy of the inaugural address Roosevelt delivered in a steady rain in 1937.
Judge Blake also ordered Landau to pay restitution totaling $46,525 to three dealers who purchased the stolen documents from Landau, not knowing they were stolen. She also ordered Landau to forfeit all the documents recovered during searches of his New York apartment.
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people.