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Genealogy Gems in School Records and Memorabilia

I was recently contacted by a young lady who had read my Genealogy Tips in Memory of My Mother blog post. She had recognized her grandmother in a picture of the Howard University 1946 May Queen and Court.  The lady wanted to know if I had any other Howard University memorabilia from that time period.

School records and memorabilia are a great resource for family history research. The young lady’s email caused me to think of several places she could look for information about her grandmother’s college days.  Below is a list of resources and repositories for finding information about your ancestors during their school days:

  1. Family Papers.  Ask other family members if they have any schools records or memorabilia.  My mother preserved a lot of her school records and memorabilia.  She had her report cards from elementary and high school, as well as her college transcript.  She had college graduation programs not only from the year she graduated but several years before and after she graduated.  She also had a photo album that contained many pictures of college buddies on campus.
  2. School Board.  The school board is a good resource for information on your ancestors during there time in grade school through high school.  School records such as enrollment forms, attendance rosters, grade reports, disciplinary actions are often part of the administrative files maintained by the school board. These records can provide insight into the name and addresses of parents or guardians, birth dates and even the name and location of previous schools attended. Notes written by the teacher in the attendance roster recording the reason for the student’s absence can provide information on a death or illness in the family or relocation to another area. School boards also maintain a collection of yearbooks which are also a great source of information.
  3. Local Newspaper.  Local newspapers often print list of students who made the honor roll, participated in student conferences or recently graduated.  They also write articles on student achievements such as winning an award at the local science fair or a sporting event.
  4. University Library.  Most Universities keep a copy dissertations and theses written by students.  If your ancestors received a Master’s or PhD, check the university library catalog to see if there is a copy of their dissertation or thesis.  Depending on how long ago the document was written it may be located in off-site storage. However, if you submit a request the library will retrieve the document for you.
  5. University Archive.  Many schools maintain files on all of their alumni.  The files may provide insight into their activities while a student at the university and after they graduated.
  6. Alumni Relations Office.   Most alumni relations offices publish magazines or newsletters that contain articles on the accomplishments or passing of alumni. Check with the alumni office of any schools where your ancestor attended to see if they maintain an archive of these publications
  7. Admissions Office.   Even if the person never graduated from the school, the school may have information.  One of my ancestors died before he completed college.  I wrote to the school and received a wealth of information about him including his application, letters from students who knewn him and a letter his mother wrote to the school after his death.
  8. School Newspaper or Magazine.  Your ancestor may have written an article for the paper or contributed in one way or another.
  9. Alumni Associations for Organization.  If your ancestor participated in a sorority, fraternity or some other national organization, check with the alumni chapter in the area where they attended school as well as lived to see if the organization has any information on them.
  10. Local Library.  Libraries often maintain an archive of memorabilia from schools in the community.  Check with the local library in the communities where your ancestors attended school to see if they have copies of news articles, yearbooks and other memorabilia and ephemera for the school your ancestors attended.

When contacting the University give the individual’s full name, school attended, and dates of attendance graduation (if known).  Some schools have specific procedures for requesting information and may charge a fee.  Other schools do not provide any information because of their privacy policy.  It never hurts to ask, you may be surprised at what information you may find.

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