Genealogy Research

Using School Records for Genealogy Research

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

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.

Report Card of Elma Talbott ~

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.

School Report Card of Elma Talbott ~

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.

Promotion Certificate, Halifax County, VA

School Certificates

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.

1951 Reflector - Cluster Springs, 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 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.

Have you used school records in your research? Leave a comment…I’d love to hear what you found!

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  • Bev

    My cousin recently gave me a box of photos and documents my grandmother had. In it I found lots of school records for my grandmother who passed in 1999. I think there is almost all of her grade cards, her teaching certificate dated 1925 along with her teaching contract stating she would be paid $60 a month. Then I went online and found her yearbook 1928 Central Methodist University. I learned she was in a sorority and she was the treasurer for her sorority. She married in 1929.

    Enjoyed your article. Thank you.

    • LisaL

      This is a very good question! Your local genealogy society or historical society may be a good place to start. Also, local libraries may be interested in digitizing the yearbooks. Are you a member of a facebook group for the county/region where the school was located? If so, post there what you have. Others will definitely be interested. I’ll check with others and see if what other ideas they might have.

  • Phyllis Boyse

    Does anyone have any idea how to go about getting your own records from schools you attended. I was in a town where I attended 2nd and 3rd grades back in the early 1950s, but the people in the office didn’t really know what to tell me.


    • LisaL

      Phyllis, This is an interesting question. If the school itself did not have them, check with the school district office. If they still exist, they are likely archived somewhere. I wonder how long schools keep records. I’m going to check with my facebook readers and see if anyone has any other ideas.

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