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School Records: Researching Women's Colleges, Part 2 - Record Type & Content

From yearbooks to administrative records, the types of information found in college records varies, but may yield clues and some important missing pieces.


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Women's colleges are not unique in the types of documents and publications generated; similar materials might be found for other colleges and universities -- this is good news, suggesting the information presented can be broadly applied. Unless one digs deep into a school's records, grade reports at the college level are not readily found. Most available college materials include yearbooks and annuals; alumni lists and reunions; school directories and graduation lists; programs and activities publications; school newspapers and other publications; faculty and administrative records.

Many types of school materials fall into the category of ephemera, items intended for single use, but many were kept, perhaps, as memorabilia. Over time such items may have been discarded, sold, or donated, eventually finding their way to resellers and libraries. Yearbooks were intended to be kept over the years, and often were, at least during a person's lifetime. A great many yearbooks have survived and are available through a variety of resources, including the school itself. Colleges and universities are great keepers of their own history. Other types of materials, including school newspapers, as well as faculty and administrative records may have been preserved by the school and kept in college libraries or donated to local archives or historical societies.

The information found may vary based on document type, but could include such information as student name; maiden name; residence or home town; graduating class and degree attained; academic and extracurricular activities. In the case of alumni records, information might include further education and career; honors and distinctions; name of spouse (and possibly children), and whether the individual is living or deceased.

Following is a brief summary of college record types:

Yearbooks and Annuals. College yearbooks and annuals are pretty much the same thing under different names. Both typically include photos, sometimes of the entire student body, sometimes only faculty and senior class -- most will include student government, clubs, sports, etc.

Alumni Records. Alumni records typically provide information on those who have graduated from the institution; although, sometimes they may include students who attended during a particular time period. Such records include alumni rosters, lists, and directories -- again, much the same thing under different names; alumni association memberships and publications; alumni reunion lists and publications.

School Catalogues, Registers, and Graduation Lists. These publications differ from yearbooks and annuals, in that most such lists do not provide photos. In modern times a school catalog provides a listing of courses and classes, but in times past it was a catalogue listing of students.

Programs and Activities. College program and activities publications may include plays, concerts, and sporting events, etc., listing pretty much everyone who participated in the event. Another type of program that might be found is the commencement program, given out a graduation, listing graduating students.

School Newspapers, Histories, Anniversaries. School newspapers provide information not only on individuals but many aspects of college life and may have been preserved in binders or on microfilm. Many schools, at one time or another, also published school histories, which are rich with names, positions, and contextual history. Some schools celebrated anniversaries or special events, which may have resulted in an anniversary publication containing further significant information.

Faculty and Administrative Records. Faculty and administrative records were generally preserved and kept by the school. Some may have been catalogued and, in more recent times, digitized and made available through the school library, possibly in manuscript collections. This can be a very rich source of information, as illustrated in the following example from the Bryn Mawr College Book and Manuscript Collections.

The Bryn Mawr College Archives serves as a research and security repository for the official administrative and historical records of the College, the professional and personal papers of faculty, administrators, and alumnae, and unique or ephemeral items reflecting other aspects of the history of the College. Holdings include the College Presidents' papers; College and student publication; minutes of faculty, trustee, and student organizations; reports, programs, and calendars; student notebooks, diaries, scrapbooks, and correspondence; biographical files for deceased alumnae. A substantial photograph collection, numbering some 6,500 prints of which one-fifth date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, includes group and individual portraits as well as photographs of buildings, classes, sports, May Day festivities, and other College events.
The third and final article on Researching Women's Colleges will suggest resources and offer tips for locating school records.

Other Articles in This Series

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.

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