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.
My how time flies and it’s flying further and further way from when our ancestors’ got their photographs taken, which can make the task of identifying and dating them harder and harder. Don’t fret my friend because I have the coolest free tech tool for you that can help you zero in on the date of your photos.
David Lowe a Specialist in the Photography Collection of the New York Public Library will be joining me today to tell you all about it.
In this episode we’re also going to be talking about some important genealogical records that you may be missing at Ancestry.com. I wrote about How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry in the Genealogy Gems newsletter which linked over to my article on our website, but this is so important that we need to talk about here together.
In my newspaper research (at) newspaper.com I came across election results that included, of course, all towns, townships, and the county covered by the newspaper.
Though the election results were not of interest to me in my research, I was pleased to see residential information that can help me confirm my ancestors’ in records that include their address or town.
Boundaries moved over the years, so my family may not have moved but their location may have been reassigned which gives me pause as I locate them in records.
In this particular case, the last location I had for them was not listed BUT the new location was detailed under the new name.
Using “Election results” search I found more information in my research area. Hoping this information will help other genealogists like me.
Your podcasts and other offers are the best I’ve found and worthy of my genealogy budget. I’m happily retired and have time to soak it all in. I’m using your Research Plan to manage my findings!
I am the de facto family historian for my huge Italian family.
We had our 62nd annual family reunion last July and as I have explained to family members who is a 3rd cousin and who is a 2nd cousin once removed I am flummoxed as to why they have left ambiguity in family relationships.
Why are 2nd cousins’ parents and 2nd cousins’ children both referred to as “once removed”?
Why isn’t there a distinction, such as “2nd cousin once ascended” and “2nd cousin once descended” so the vertical moves through the tree can be distinguished?
I am a data scientist so I don’t like ambiguity!
Including ascending and descending indeed can be done when explaining relationships. Read more at:
The Relationships and Cousins page at the Weinel Genealogy website:
I am new to podcasts and love listening to your podcasts.
I started a new job over 2 months ago and your podcasts keep me sane.
First of all, driving from Austin to San Antonio Texas is a tough drive and I am now doing it weekly. I was struggling to fit in any genealogy with my new job so I turned to podcasts to keep me in the genealogy loop. I have listened to many different podcasts and yours is my favorite. I learn something new every week and actually quite entertaining! It really helps pass the drive timely quickly. Thank you!
Email Lisa Louise Cooke:
If there’s something you’d like to hear on the podcast, or if you have a question or a comment like Kristine, Mark and Audrey did, drop me a line here or leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021.
My favorite part about the holidays is reconnecting with family. I love swapping stories and reliving moments together. But, keeping these memories alive can be hard. That’s why I’m giving my family the most meaningful gift this year – StoryWorth.
StoryWorth is an online service that helps you engage with your loved ones, no matter where they live, and help them tell the story of their lives through unique and thought-provoking questions about their memories and personal thoughts.
The way it works is that : Every week StoryWorth emails your family member different story prompts – questions you’ve never thought to ask. Like, “What have been some of your life’s greatest surprises?” and “What’s one of the riskiest things you’ve ever done?”
After one year, StoryWorth will compile every answered question and photo you choose to include into a beautiful keepsake book that’s shipped for free. That way it’s not just a one-time conversation, but a book that you can refer to again and again as a vital part of your family’s history.
You never know what family history StoryWorth will uncover, not just about your loved one and family, and sometimes even yourself!
Preserve and pass on memories with StoryWorth, the most meaningful gift for your family.
Interviewee: David Lowe, Specialist II from our Photography Collection
New York Public Library Photographers’ Identities Catalog: http://pic.nypl.org/
Do have old family photos that you’re trying to identify? Hopefully they have the photographer’s imprint on them, which might include their name and even their location. And if they do, then you can research that photographer to try and find out when they were in business, and therefore, narrow down the time frame when the photo was taken.
In this gem we’re going to take a look at a website that can help you research those photographers. It’s called the Photographers’ Identities Catalog, also known as PIC, and it’s hosted by the New York Public Library.
It’s an experimental interface to a collection of biographical data about photographers, studios, manufacturers, and others involved in the production of photographic images.
David Lowe, Photography Specialist at the New York Public Library, is the driving force behind this project and I’ve invited him to the podcast to help us tap into this terrific resource.
What are the origins of this database?
The information has been culled from trusted biographical dictionaries, catalogs and databases, and from extensive original research by NYPL Photography Collection staff.
The function of the database is two-fold:
To assist with the genealogical research of the photographers
Strive to capture the history of photography
What time frame does the database cover?
The emphasis is on 19th to mid-20th century photographers, and is international in scope.
How we can use PIC to find the photographers we’re researching?
The database includes over 130,000 names, and leans toward showing broader search results.
Start here at the New York Public Library’s Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC) database website:
Enter the photographer’s name in the search box. You may way to start broad by just entering the surname, depending on how common it is.
Searching for photographers at PIC
Use the filters on the left side of the website to narrow your search. You can also click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner to reveal a search box where you can enter a location.
If you find an error or would like to contribute information to the database, click the Feedback button in the bottom right hand corner.
Here’s an example of a search I ran for Minnesota photographer, C. J. Ostrom:
Searching for a photographer in the NYPL Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC)
Why are there so many photographers listed on a tiny island off the west coast of Africa?
That’s not actually an island, and there’s not actually anyone there. That point is located at the coordinates 0’ latitude & 0’ longitude, and we use it to map information when we don’t know a location (in the cartography world, it’s often called “Null Island”). If, for instance, we know someone was born in 1872, but we don’t know where, we put the point on Null Island. You can help us evacuate the island by finding locations we’re missing!
Lisa’s Search Tip:
One of the ways I research photographers is by searching the US Federal census. In 1880 for example you can specifically search by occupation and location. Enter “photographer” in the occupation field and enter a location if known. For the entire United States that results in about 9100 photographers in 1880.
How to search the 1880 census for photographers. Results: 9,116!
Searching for photographers in Minnesota in the 1880 US Federal Census.
Can users submit corrections or new information that you don’t have?
NYPL welcomes your contributions. Use the feedback link in the bottom right of the map on the website or email email@example.com.
It is helpful if you include the Record ID number to identify the photographer in question. That ID can be found after the Name, Nationality and Dates of the constituent.
How to contribute photographer information to NYPL’s PIC database
Tomorrow is Bill of Rights Day, in honor of the day when the first ten amendments to the Constitution took effect in 1791.
The Bill of Rights added specific freedoms and government limitations to the three-year old Constitution. Among them are enshrined freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right to peaceably assemble and bear arms. Also the right to petition the government and be secure in property.
When the Bill of Rights was passed, America’s population of about 4 million in the then-14 states had available about 100 newspapers exercising the First Amendment freedom contained in the Bill of Rights.
Today’s population is around 330-million, and chooses from nearly 7,500 newspaper publishers nationwide.
You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at www.census.gov.
Transcription of the 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing 12 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.
Article the first… After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.
Article the second… No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Article the third… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Article the fourth… A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Article the fifth… No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Article the seventh… No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Article the eighth… In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Article the ninth… In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Article the tenth… Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Article the eleventh… The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Article the twelfth… The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate John Beckley, Clerk of the House of Representatives. Sam. A Otis Secretary of the Senate
New North American genealogy records online this week! Featured are U.S. military, passenger and yearbook records (including WWII film footage); regional collections for New England and Great Lakes; Congressional statutes; and over 63 million Mexican genealogy records...