Explore school records for genealogy research and discover clues to finding your ancestors. School census records, yearbooks & more!
Ancestors can be found in school records?
From my office window, I watch the neighborhood children walk to school each morning. They are so cute! I also cannot believe how much these neighborhood kids have grown! They are also a reminder our ancestors did the same thing.
Education was important to many of our ancestors. It might have been limited to only a few years. It may have been sporadic due to seasonal farming activities.
One thing is for sure, it looked different from what our children experience today. However, just like our schools today, the schools our ancestors attended kept records.
School records exist and can potentially provide a wealth of information to you the genealogy researcher.
Types of School Records To Use In Your Genealogy Research
Quite a few types of school records will benefit your genealogical research.
SCHOOL CENSUS RECORDS / SCHOOL REGISTERS
School census records or the school registers list the students who attended the school and when they attended. The age of the student is often included and from that a birth date can be inferred. Some school registers list a parent’s name and even a parent’s occupation! When a parent’s name is listed, you can determine sibling and family groups.
Below is an example of the 1890 school census for Ashe County, NC.
Notice only the parent or guardian is listed along with the number of male and female children enrolled in the school.
In the absence of the 1890 federal census, a school census can be a partial substitute for the 1890 census.
Here is another example from the 1860 Granville County, NC school register.
This excerpt records the names of the pupils along with their ages and the days they attended school. School records are also a source for finding your female ancestor! A school register can place her time and place and even a family group. Notice the first 5 children in our example all have the last name Hunt. We might hypothesize they are related, but we do not know how from this page.
Reading across to the second page, we find the parent or guardian’s name is AND their occupation!
The first two children James and Susan Hunt are the children of Joseph P Hunt (farmer). The other three children are siblings and the children of George W Hunt. Likely these two Hunt families are related, and now it’s the researcher’s task to determine what that relationship is.
Yearbooks will provide information and of course, photographs of the students, the faculty and the teachers. You may well find collateral cousins in the yearbook as well. Often the families lived close together and would have attended the same schools.
If you are fortunate enough to have your ancestor’s personal yearbook, do not forget to look at any notes or autographs in the yearbook. These can show who was important to your ancestor and potentially point to other family members.
Student newspapers tell more about the student life of the school or area schools. The school newspaper is another source to learn about what was important to the students and your ancestor at the time. Remember that social history I talk so much about? The school newspaper is another source!
The annual reports for the schools are created by the county superintendents and presented to the board of education. (The names of the reports and the governing school body will vary from state to state. ) Potentially included in a report is a list of Honor Roll Teachers, List of Students for Perfect Attendance, Graduation Lists, Perfect Spellers, and Library Certificates.
Information and statistics on the county such as the number of homes with running water and number of homes with a telephone are found, too. This information provides the researcher with important information about the community, too.
Though not as often thought about, report cards contain important genealogical information, too. From a report card, the child’s age and birth year can be approximated. Often the custom was (and still is) for the parent to sign a child’s report card. This provides the researcher with a parent/guardian name and a signature. This signature could be important in later research for comparisons.
This 1930-1931 report card for Elma Talbott of South Boston, VA provides her father’s name and original signature.
Where Do You Find School Records For Genealogy Research?
Now that you know what types of records are out there, where do you find them? School records can be found in a variety of locations. County and states will vary by what they have available, but start with these ideas. Be creative in your search process.
FAMILY PAPERS & RECORDS
Ask your family members including your more distant cousins, too! This is often an overlooked step in the research process. You may be surprised at what they kept and passed down. The report card above and this grade promotion certificate below were among our family’s keepsakes.
OLDER MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY
Ask former alumni or long time community residents if they have yearbooks or other school memorabilia. Your ancestors could be in them.
If the school your ancestors attended is still in operation, check with them for yearbooks and other public records. If the school is no longer in operation, check with the local school board where the records might be.
LOCAL HISTORICAL SOCIETIES AND MUSEUMS
Often local historical societies and museums will have information on local schools past and present including old yearbooks. Along the same lines, check for pertinent historical sites in your area. An example would be the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum emphasizing African-American education in North Carolina.
THE STATE ARCHIVES
State archives often have school records. Check their online collections as well. You could have a successful search sitting in your own home.
UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Check the university special collections in the area where your ancestors lived. Be sure and talk to the librarian! They can point you in the right direction and give you other ideas for your search.
Use ArchiveGrid in your search of special collections!
ONLINE GENEALOGY DATABASES
With a quick search of Ancestry’s card catalog for school records, 277 results came up for the US. Yearbooks, student lists, directories and school age certificates all appear in the first few results! These are definitely “out of the genealogy box” records!
Add school records to your genealogy research process! You will be richly rewarded ( and have a lot of fun in the process.)