This week many students in our North Carolina headed back to school. Soon report cards, certificates of all kinds and by the end of the year, yearbooks will appear. Hmm…..what genealogical information can be found in these school records. While not a record source I use regularly, school records can provide important information on our ancestors and those around them.
Report cards are often the first thing we think of when we think about school records. They can tell us what type of student our ancestor was. We can learn their strengths and weaknesses. The following is the fifth grade report card for Elma Talbott, daughter of Boss Henry Talbott and Esther Richardson Talbott. In this example, physiology and history were definitely not Elma’s best subjects.
Now look at the bottom of this report card. Her father B H Talbott [Boss Henry Talbott] signed the report card. (Elma’s mother Esther Richardson Talbott died in 1923.) Parental (think ancestor’s) signatures are found on a child’s report card. Having your ancestor’s original signature is helpful in other areas of your genealogy research.
The location of an ancestor can be determined by their report card. This report card shows that Elma Talbott was in South Boston [VA] in 1930-1931 at Lawson School. Research on the school can help pinpoint an area close to where Elma lived.
Like report cards, certificates earned at school place your ancestor in a time and a place. The above example is the promotion certificate for Crafton Talbott. (Crafton Talbott is the brother of Elma Talbott mentioned above.) Notice the location of the school is listed: Black Walnut District, Halifax County, VA. This is consistent with the known information that the Talbott family lived in Cluster Springs, Halifax, VA.
School yearbooks are a treasure trove of information. I first wrote the Cluster Springs High School yearbook here. Finding a photograph of your ancestor is always exciting. You are also likely to find photographs of your collateral lines as well. In smaller farming communities such as Cluster Springs, VA, families often lived close by each other. Knowing surnames common to an area can prove useful in research as well. When attempting to break through the genealogical brick wall, researching those around your ancestor will often provide the clues you need.
When using a yearbook in your research, do not forget the ads in the back. While these ads helped support the printing of the school’s yearbook, they also give the researcher insight into a local community.
Where Do You Find School Records
Start with your family. Parents often kept report cards, certificates, art projects, etc. from their children’s school years. (After all, don’t we do the same thing?) Find out who is the keeper of the family papers and ask!
Local libraries will often have old yearbooks from the local schools. Local historical societies often have yearbooks in their reading rooms. More and more yearbooks are appearing online. Two examples are Ancestry.com and Digital NC.
Grab those school records and look beyond the grades. Dig a little deeper and see what new insights you find to tell your ancestors’ stories and further your research.