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Using School Records and Archives in Britain

School admission registers are rich sources for the genealogist. Quite a lot of grammar school and private school registers are now documented. They can include date of birth, where born, where living, and names of parents. Government-funded school records may contain your ancestors' details and give a unique description in log books on life in the school.


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If your ancestor came from an English village then it is pretty easy to ascertain the name of th school and search for its records if they survive. But if your ancestor came from, say, London, then first you have to ascertain where they lived and look for the schools name in the area. It is also worth noting the school-leaving age, so you are not looking for a child that has already left school. By 1880 children up to the age of 13 were expected to go to school. The school-leaving age by 1918 was 14 years of age. It rose to age 15 much later in 1947 and, latterly, age 16.

The local authority and county archives for the county in which the school was located are a good starting place. Trade directories and commercial directories that began to come out in the middle of the1800's will have the names of the various schools in the descriptions of each town and village. There can at times be quite a few private, fee-paying schools; small, private, grammar schools; church schools; and charity schools, etc. If you have an address for an ancestor, an old map can be of help to see the location of the nearest school.

If your ancestor went to one of the public/grammar schools, you have more of a chance of finding records, as they diligently kept records of their scholars. Many have been published.

Some private schools are quite well known, and these all have published registers of their pupils. If you are fortunate to have an ancestor going to one of these schools, you are likely to reap information such as parents names, addresses, age at starting the school and leaving; plus, some give a short biography of the pupils life after leaving school, along with their career, etc. Also, it is likely that with the large private schools, forefathers may have attended the school; so with the registers one can follow a family through generations.

For government-funded schools, realistically, from about 1870 onwards, the schools started to keep lists of their pupils, so it's reasonable not to expect much before then. The types of records available for the government-funded schools are school admission registers, school log books, and minutes. The school log book covers the every-day running of the school, incidents that occurred, names of the teachers, and school attendance, etc. — good for adding the little extras that make family history come alive.

Some schools were initiated by certain charities such as the City of London's livery companies; these records are held in the Guildhall Library in London. The London Metropolitan Archive has school log books and registers for the ones that survive. If your ancestor was in a workhouse, from 1834 modest education was given to workhouse children. Any records for these would be found in the parish Poor Law Union Records. Resources include, Colin Chapman's guide The Growth of British Education and Its Records or for London, Cliff Webb's An index of London Schools and their records.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

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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