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School Records: Researching Students

Yearbooks are a fine thing, but not the only resource available when it comes to locating student records.


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Pretty much everyone is familiar with yearbooks as a place to turn back the years and find students in time and place; and because yearbooks were so widely distributed, many have survived the years and can be found online. However, yearbooks are not the only place to find student information.

This is the last in our series of articles on School Records. Thus far we have discussed Researching Women's Colleges (with application to colleges, in general) and Researching School Teachers. Many of the same resources mentioned in these articles apply to researching students, as well. This article focuses on the types of student records that might be found and where to locate them.

As with all genealogy research, what records are available and where to find them will depend on your time period of interest. While this article focuses on schools in the U. S., the same principles apply in whatever area you are researching. Understanding more about the history of your locale will help considerably in identifying schools and locating school records.

Report Cards. When we think of student records we immediately think of report cards or grade reports, as they are also known. If any of these take-home report cards survived the ages, they are likely to be found in home sources or sold commercially as ephemera that has been salvaged -- some may be found on private websites, online. Grade reports retained by the school are another matter, and may be found in school archives, donated to local archives, libraries, or historical societies; they can also be found in the private papers of teachers and administrators, which likewise may have been donated to a local repository and maintained as part of their manuscript collection.

Administrative Records. You may also find other information relative to individual students in the administrative records of a school. Such records are most likely maintained at the county or district level (depending on time period), and in the manuscript collections of libraries and archives.

School Census. The school census or scholastic population record is a listing of students within a particular school that can provide significant information including the teacher's name, the student's name, name of the parents, student address, and often the student's date and place of birth. Some school census records were maintained by the county and can be found within the archives of the school district or donated, as mentioned previously, or even transcribed and published by local genealogical socieites. Again, as noted in "Researching School Teachers," knowing the administrative history of schools within an area can help you zero in on records. You can also find school census records online, by student name and/or by location. Similar to the school census, school registers and school directories serve the same purpose of identifying students in attendance, although these may not contain as much information as the school census.

Yearbooks. Yearbooks abound on the Internet and in libraries and archives. Yearbooks often survive the ages in home and family sources, as well. They are a great resource not only for photos but also for social information. Yearbooks are typically given out at the high school level, their grade school counterpart being Souvenir booklets. Some schools published school histories, which could most likely be found at local libraries and possibly local archives or historical societies. The first place to check for yearbooks is online, free and fee-based on dedicated yearbook websites, commercial websites, private websites, and sites such as USGenWeb and Rootsweb.

Class Photos. Class photos are another source that can pin an ancestor in place and time. Surprisingly, class photos often survive the ages and, like school histories, might be be found in local repositories. Many libraries have photo collections and/or vertical files that contain photos. It's good to check all local repositories, even nearby university libraries or state libraries -- even the Library of Congress.

School Memorabilia. Another resource to consider is school memorabilia: those items that were intended for single use but have survived. Such items can be found online at commercial and private websites, USGenWeb and Rootsweb, to name a few. The Genealogy Today Subscription Data, School Records & Yearbooks has an extensive collection of various school reports, yearbooks, and memorabilia. You may also wish to a search, using a variety of keywords + location or your ancestor's name + location. The} search is a genealogical tool that can help you unearth valuable information that you may never have considered. A search on the keyword "yearbook," for example, returned resources such as the Missouri History Museum Genealogy Index," with its list of resources, the The Students of Southern California, in addition to the holdings of the Family History Library and other major genealogy websites.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2011.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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