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School Records: Researching School Teachers, Part 2 - Record Types

In the quest to learn more for our school teacher ancestors, knowing something about the types of records created may help when it comes to searching the records and online.


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Eastern schools may sing of their little red school houses, but pioneer children of Hall County learned their three R's in dugouts, and not to the tune of a hickory stick but a mesquite sprout. They came to school on horseback, in carts and wagons, bringing boxes for seats and desks, their dinners in tin pails, and a queer assortment of books. But from these schools came professional men and women who helped to build a substantial citizenship. Teachers were heroes in those days for with all the inconvenience, the average annual salary over the state in 1896 was $234.95 (Baker 96).

The above quote from a local area history entitled, Yesterday in Hall County, Texas, provides a detailed history of education within the county: schools, administrators, teachers, students, consolidations and growth -- an example of the types of information available for those researching their school teacher ancestors.

In this second article on "School Records: Researching School Teachers," we discuss the types of school records that might have been created. The final article in the series will explore where such records might be found.

If we look chronologically at the history of the teaching profession, as discussed in the previous article, we find that town records are a likely source for early school records, including teacher appointments, assignments, and activities. Similarly, early church records are another source, especially where the church was involved in teacher selection and/or qualification and for the records of church-sponsored charity schools. Such records might include minutes, annual reports, membership records, and others.

As the management of schools became more secular and regionalized, local school districts emerged. Over time, county and state superintendents and school boards held jurisdiction over local area schools, at various times and in various places. Generally speaking, rural schools enjoyed greater local control for a longer period of time, while urban schools may have seen more centralized control earlier in their history. The administrative records of such governing bodies might include, meeting minutes; annual reports; teacher appointments; teacher contracts; teacher examination records; school employee records and lists; public notices.

Individual schools also maintained their own records, grade reports, attendance records, school censuses, teacher transfers, and school programs, souvenir books, class photos, etc.

Teaching schools from early teaching seminaries to private academies and normal schools would also have maintained records of students, placement, and possibly teacher examinations. Teaching Institutes were organized courses of study held for short periods of time, usually in the weeks before the beginning of a school year or session, and were held in various places. Most were associated with a nearby academy or normal school, although some may have been administered by the town or the local school district; thus, Institute records would likely be a part of the sponsoring organization.

Colleges and universities were great record keepers maintaining records of all all students. As Departments of Education emerged, taking a greater role in the final qualification of teachers, there may be records of examination, certification, and practicums, as well. And, as noted in the article, "Researching Women's Colleges, Locating Records," some of the materials most readily available are those more widely dispersed such as yearbooks and annuals; graduation and alumni lists, directories, and rosters; school programs, graduation programs; clubs, fraternities, sororities; school newspapers, etc.

Other records not specifically school-related may also give information relative to a person's teaching career. Such records might include census records; military draft registrations; diaries, journals, and letters; biographies and biographical sketches in larger works; newspaper articles and notices; obituaries; library and archive photo collections. City directories are another source for listing occupations (at least for males), and schools in the area, in addition to local area histories as mentioned previously.

While it's promising to consider the many types of school records that may have been created over time, they tend to be scattered, so it may take some creative research, but if you are determined, chances are it's out there. It may take a number of different records to build a complete profile -- such has been my own experience. The final article in this series will explore where these records might be found and provide some tips for researching.


Baker, Inez.. Yesterday in Hall County, Texas. Memphis, Texas. 1940.

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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