Because more colleges and universities have existed longer than grade or high schools, finding their records is usually not as difficult. If you don't know where your ancestor went to school, check old maps, gazetteers, old city directories, and local histories. Using these will enable you to narrow down what schools were in the area at the time. If the school is still open, you should contact it directly to find out where they keep their records and what procedures you'll need to follow to obtain copies of them. Often though, the schools may have closed, had the name changed, or the records may have been shipped off to a local repository. If that's the case, you'll need to check several other places.
The records may be with the local school district, in local government offices, local or state libraries or archives, or in the custody of the local genealogical or historical society. Parochial schools' records may be found in church archives, or with a religious order that founded the school.
You'll find addresses of schools in old city directories. By cross-referencing these with your ancestor's address, you can figure out which schools he or she attended. Check employment records for information on a person's education.
Local historical societies offer collections of albums, newspaper clippings, yearbooks, student registers, and photographs for either the county or town or both. Typical entries include names of pupils, exact dates of birth, addresses, other schools attended, dates of entrance to school years of vaccination, grade levels, whether promoted, and names of parents or guardian and place of residence. Searching microfilm of old local newspapers may yield stories and photographs of school graduates, honor students, and sporting events and participants, especially from high school.
Over the last several decades, the popularity of class reunions, especially among baby boomers, has reached an all-time high. Often the reunion organizers prepare booklets about the students in the class–where they are now, what they're doing, and such. After the reunion, many donate copies to local libraries, archives, and genealogical and historical societies.
Most high schools, colleges, and universities publish yearbooks, so the most logical place to search for them would be the institutions, themselves, but you may also find copies in used book stores.. Here, you'll find all sorts of details about your ancestor's school life–what clubs they belonged to, what sports they played, and what interests they had.
A number of school records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by state or county and then under the subject heading "Schools." Early school records can often be found in state and local historical societies, courthouses, state archives, and local libraries.
Genealogical and historical publications sometimes include school records. Yearbooks, annuals, and alumni directories are available and may be found in school libraries, state and local historical societies, and public libraries. School newspapers may have been preserved in school libraries or on microfilm.
You may also find some school records—class lists, biographies of students and teachers, lists of graduates, school histories, and school registers—on the Internet. One of the first places to look online for American school records is the USGenWeb Project.
In some situations, the Internet makes it easier to locate these records through school, alumni association, and online catalog Web sites like the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Another, the Archival and Mixed Collections (RLIN AMC) file, has nearly half a million records available in its Research Libraries Information Network bibliographic database.
Universities or colleges often keep records in their own archives, and their catalogs may list what's available. Most higher education Web sites at least provide thumbnail histories of their respective institutions and Notre Dame, for example, has names of students listed in the Bulletin of the University of Notre Dame, 1850-1910 available online.
And don't forget Web sites from private schools. Many people attended a variety of parochial schools–religious schools, Native American schools, military academies, even reform schools.
Plus there are plenty of other sites that you may not have thought of searching, such as local, county, or state government sites. Today, just about every school district has a Web site, too. In addition, you'll also find reunion sites that help reunite classmates for school reunions. Just do a search for "class reunions."
By searching for school memorabilia on eBay, you'll find such items as postcards of school and class group photographs, old yearbooks, textbooks, and other publications. Just for yearbooks alone, your search results may reach nearly 1,500. And by searching for the name of your ancestor's school, you may find exactly the one you need.
Finally, you may also be able to make contact with classmates from a particular high school at Web sites such as Classmates.com, established to help old high school classmates find each other.