Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives – Part III

This is Part 3 of a 5 part series on using the collection at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives to perform genealogy research. This post discusses documents in the Sumner collection that can be beneficial to genealogy research. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

Documents in the Sumner Collection

The Sumner Museum contains material related to the history of public education in Washington, DC from 1804 (when the public education system started) to the present.  It contains information of the school board, schools and teachers colleges.

It should be noted that the museum does not have every artifact for every school for every time period. It should also be noted that the museum does not have personnel records, students records or students transcripts.

Research Room

Research Room

The museum has maps for various time periods that show the schools associated with each community. If you do not know which school the person you are researching attended, the museum staff can use the maps to assist you in determining the school the person may have attended.

The following documents in the Sumner collection are beneficial to genealogy research:

  • School Board Records and Reports describe the activities of the school board, the schools and the people associated with them.
  • Student Registrations provide information on students who entered or left the school system.
  • Directory of Public Schools list all the schools in the school system and the employees.
  • Yearbooks provide insight into the events for a specific school year.
  • Scrapbooks –   Contain ephemera and memorabilia for a school
  •  Graduation Lists document the names of individuals who graduated from each high school. The lists are only available for the 1970s through the 1990s.

I will discuss a few of the documents in greater detail.

School Board Records and Reports

Annual Reports

From 1874 to 1967, the District of Columbia was governed by a three-member Board of Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States. Each year the Board issued an annual report to Congress. The report was a multi-volume document comprised of reports from various DC government offices and departments. The school board was one of the departments that submitted a report.

You may find  your family member mentioned in an annual report. Even if the person is not listed by name, you may find information such as the a job description or a description of the working conditions at a school that provide insight into their life.

School Board Minutes

School Board Minutes catalog actions of the school system and its employees. The minutes contain information on anyone who worked for the school system (not just teachers and principals).

The minutes also contain information on non-employees. For example, if a member of the community wrote a letter to the school board or gave a speech at a school board meeting, that person would be mentioned in the minutes.

School Board Minutes.JPG

School Board Minutes

The school board minutes are in bounded volumes. The artifacts that are mentioned in the minutes are on microfilm.  For example, if the minutes mention a letter was received,  the actual letter will be on microfilm.

Some of the information you may find in school board minutes that may be helpful to your research are:

  • Hire/Transfer
  • Promotion/Demotion
  • Leave of Absence
  • Termination/Retirement
  • Name Change
  • Illness
  • Death
  • Correspondence

The school board minute finding aids are index cards which are stored in a file cabinet in the research room.  There is a card for each individual, organization or school discussed during the school board meeting. Each index card has a dated line item for each topic. The date can be used to locate the volume containing the school board minutes where the name was mentioned.

In this example, a name change for Mrs. Vivian F Colter, a teacher at Miner Teachers College, was approved on March, 3, 1948.

Vivian Colter Finding Aid.jpg

Finding aid for Mrs Vivian F Colter

The minutes for this meeting can be found by locating the volume that contains the minutes for  March, 3, 1948.  The index for the volume indicates the page containing information for this event.

Vivian Colter Name Change Approval

From the school board minutes we now know Mrs. Vivian F Colter’s name was changed to Mrs. Vivian F McBrier.

Student Registrations

The Annual Register of Pupils contains information on students who enrolled in or left school . The documents are located on microfilm and are organized by school, grade and school year.

The register contains the following information:

  • Date of Admission
  • T (Transfer)
  • Name of Pupil
  • Name of Parent or Guardian
  • Residence
  • Occupation of Parent
  • Date of Leaving
  • Manner of leaving
  • Re-entry

The register has very detailed instructions on how the document should be completed. I recommend you carefully read the instructions because it will help interpret the information on the document. Notes entered by the teacher may provide valuable genealogy clues.

This is an example of a page from the register for Hayes School for the 1901 – 1902 school year.

Alsop Brothers - Copy

It may be hard to read, so I have listed the pertinent information:

  • Name and Age: Frank Alsop (age 8)
  • Name and Age:  Ernest Alsop (age 10)
  • Parent: Lawrence H. Alsop (Laborer)
  • Residence: 1143 5th Street SE

The names are organized in alphabetical order by surname. When looking down the list, it is helpful to look for students with the same surname.  In this example,  Frank Alsop (age 8) and Ernest Alsop (age 10) have a parent name or guardian with the same name, and live at the same address.   It is a good possibility that Frank and Ernest are siblings. Additional research will be needed to confirm this theory.

Directory of Public Schools

SDC15599 - CopySDC15600 - Copy

This directory lists the names and titles for all employees for each school. For the segregation time period, the book has separate sections for white schools and colored schools.  The section for white schools is in the front followed by the section for colored schools.  The schools are listed in alphabetical order within each section.


Yearbooks are a great source for pictures. They also contain information that gives us a better understanding of the students and the time period in which they lived. They provide insight into the student’s thoughts and aspirations;  the school environment and the school experience.

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Many schools sell advertisements to help defer the cost of publishing the Yearbook. Most advertisements are from businesses. A few are from friends and family members.

For example, an advertisement reads:

Congratulations to our daughter
Tiffany R Jackson
Class of 1981
Mr and Ms Leroy Jackson

Another advertisement in the same yearbook reads:

Congratulations to my  niece
Tiffany Renee Jackson
Class of 1981
Samantha Wilson

From this advertisement you now know:

  • Student’s full name
  • Appropriate age (based on graduating class)
  • Father’s name
  • Aunt’s name

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post


Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives – Part II

This is Part 2 of a 5 part series on using the collection at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives in Washington, DC to perform genealogy research. This post discusses the history of the school and how it came to be a museum and archives. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

History of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives

The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives is housed in the historic Sumner School.  When the school was built in 1872 it was the first newly constructed school for Negro children in the city. It was designed by the architect Adolf Cluss.  Cluss was born in Germany and immigrated to America as a young adult.   He was highly respected in Washington DC and well-known for his schools and other public buildings.

Adolf Cluss [Public Domain] (left)  and Charles Sumner (right)

The school was named for Charles Sumner, a US Senator from Massachusetts, who was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery and equal rights.  During segregation, the building also housed offices for the Superintendent for the Colored Public Schools and the Board of Trustees for the Colored Public Schools.

From 1872 through 1877 the building also housed The Preparatory High School for colored students. The school was established in November of 1870 in the basement of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. In 1877, the commencement program for the first graduating class was held in the assembly hall at Sumner School.  Frederick Douglas was the guest speaker.

By the 1970’s, Sumner’s enrollment had diminished as the result of downtown commercial development. The school closed at the end of the 1972 school year. That summer the DC Board of Education agreed to let The Hawthorne School , a private secondary school , use the building rent free in exchange for maintaining the structure and admitting 41 public school students without charging tuition. The agreement was very controversial and was cancelled in 1978.

After 1978, the building remained vacate and fell into disrepair.  Mayor Marion Barry placed the building on a list of properties to be sold. When the roof collapsed in 1979, the Department of General Services notified the school board that the building was unsafe and should be razed within 24 hours. The School Board went to court and received a restraining order to prevent demolition of the building until a structural engineer could be hired to evaluate the situation.

Many school board members felt the building should be preserved.  Richard L. Hurlbut, a School Board employee and historian, along with others led an effort to preserve and renovate the school. One story that is often told is of how Hurlbut threaten to stand on the roof to prevent the school from being demolished.  The school was placed on a historic register.  A $5 million renovation was undertaken from 1982 to 1986.  In 1986 the building was charted as the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives. Richard L Hulburt was the director and curator.

Nancye Suggs  joined the Sumner Museum as the building administrator in 1987. She  replaced Hulburt when he retired.    She is credited with expanding the reading room and the  collection, as well as,  advocating for the archive’s importance.

Nancy Suggs Courtesy Darrow Montgomery

Nancye Suggs ~ Copyright Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper

Suggs retired in 2008 and was replaced by Kimberly Springle.  Springle has implemented many events and exhibits to allow the community to engage with the Sumner collection.

kspringleheadshot3 - Copy

Kimberly Springle, Executive Director

The Hurlbut-Walker Memorial Research Forum highlights the work developed by public researchers who have accessed the Sumner collection.

Hurlbut-Walker Memorial Research Forum

The objectives of the forum are to:

  • Honor the Life, Memory, and Contributions of Richard L. Hurlbut and James D. Walker
  • Introduce and Engage the public with the Sumner Museum Archival Collection
  • Promote the work and valued research of individuals who have used the Sumner Archives as one of their major resources for a finished work; i.e. book, dissertation, film, community project
  • Facilitate lively discussion about the culture, history, and legacy of DC Public Education.

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DCPS Pride Open House celebrates the history and pride of the DC Public School System.  This event occurs one Saturday a month and highlights some aspect of the DCPS. All Museum exhibits are open for self-guided tours as well.

DCPS Pride

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Group tours and interactive workshops are available for those interested in learning more about the museum and the DC Public School System. Lunchtime speakers allow researchers to share their projects.

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The Friends of Sumner School Museum and Archives, a 501(c) (3) Organization, was launched in 2017 to support the mission and initiatives of the Sumner Museum.

In this video Dr. Sandra Jowers-Barber, Director for the Humanities at the University of the District of Columbia Community College interviews Kimberly Springle, Executive Director of the Sumner Museum.  It provides an excellent summary of the history of the Sumner Museum and its collection.

Dr. Sandra Jowers-Barber (left) and  Kimberly Springle (right)

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives

This is Part 1 of a 5 part series on using the collection at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives in Washington, DC to perform genealogy research.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

I recently spoke at the 44th Annual Conference on DC History. I was a member of a panel that discussed Hidden Histories of the District Government.  Kimberly Springle, the Executive Director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, was speaking at another conference and asked me to represent the Sumner Museum on the Hidden Histories panel.

Charles Sumner Museum Pic

The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives is the official museum and archives of the District of Columbia Public School System.  It is often referred to as the “Sumner Museum“ or the “Sumner Archives” . The purpose of my presentation was to demonstrate how to use the museum’s collection for genealogy research.

I decided to share the information from my presentation in a blog series.  If you have ancestors who lived in Washington DC there is a good chance they were affiliated with the DC public school system in some capacity. They may have been a student, an employee or a member of the community that had a connection to the school.

Some children who lived in the nearby suburbs also attended DC public schools.  I met a lady who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland as a child.  During that time period, the school system was segregated and there was no school for black students near her home.  Even though she lived in Maryland, she attended the Military Road School in Washington, DC.

Be sure to subscribe to my blog so that you will be notified of the next post in this series.   There is a good chance you may find some genealogy gems at The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives.

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post

Family History Research and DNA Testing – Another Perspective

September 14, 2016 2 comments

During a meeting with my genealogy group, several members where excitedly sharing their stories of locating new family members through DNA testing.  One lady shared that a person who was a DNA match seemed reluctant to acknowledge the family relationship.  As I listened to her discuss the situation, I was reminded that while finding new relatives through DNA testing can be exciting for some people, it may be a painful experience for others.  This blog post provides another perspective on family history research and DNA testing.

It is important to remember when researching your family history that everyone’s birth was not the result of a loving relationship between a married couple.  It could have been the result of a rape by a known person or by a stranger. It could have been the result of incest.  It could have been the result of a clandestine affair. It could have been the result of a one night stand. It could have been the result of a relationship that did not work out.  Some people were adopted but never told.

In the above scenarios, people handled the situation the best way they knew how at the time. In many cases the truth was hidden and never acknowledged.  Or if it was acknowledged,  it was in hushed tones and covered in shame and embarrassment. In many cases family members took the truth to their grave.

The popularity of DNA testing is bringing many of these situations to light. The testing may expose a family secret that was not known, or if it was known, never acknowledged.  It is important to keep this in mind when approaching someone who is a DNA match.   If the person is reluctant to acknowledge the relationship, it is best to be understanding and compassionate.  It may be a good idea to just share your contact information and give the person some time to process what they have learned.  Perhaps they will be more cooperative once they have had time to think about the information you shared.

Also, people do DNA testing for different reasons.  Some people take the test because they want to know more about their ethnic composition.  Others take the test because they want to locate new relatives.  Some people take the test for both reasons.  Therefore, if you contact someone who only took the test to discover their ethnic composition, they may be reluctant to discuss their family history with you. After all, even though you have a DNA connection you are still strangers.

It would be nice if everyone had a clear cut understanding of their pedigree, but unfortunately in the real world that is not always the case. It is important to remember that while DNA testing can open the door to a wealth of information about your family history, it can also open Pandora ’s Box and everyone may not prepared to deal with the discoveries that were made.

Armstrong High School Class of 1918

I recently came across some memorabilia for Armstrong High School in Washington, DC Class of 1918 and thought I would share.

Armstrong High School Class of 1918

Armstrong Technical High School ~ Washington DC ~ Class of 1918


Arsmtrong 1918

Armstrong 1918 Graduation

Graduation Invitation (click image to view)

Armtrong 1918 Banquet 1945.jpg

1945 Annual Banquet Program (click image to view)












Mt Carmel Baptist Church Youth Organizations

Churches established clubs and organizations to provide constructive guidance for youth in the community.  In the 1950’s Mt Carmel Baptist Church, located and 3rd and I Street NW, had a Boy Scout Troop (Troop 511) and a Drill Squad.  I came across some pictures of these organizations while looking at a family photo album and thought I would share this bit of Washington, DC local history.

Boy Scout Troop 511

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Boy Scout Troop 511

Seated Den Mother’s: (l-r) Mrs. Grady, Mrs.Bobo, Mrs Woodfork and Mrs Flowe. Standing 1st person on the left Reverend Carey Pointer. 1st person on the right Charles Brooks Scout Master.

Troop 511 on annual Spring Camporee 1951 at Old Soldiers Home

Troop 511 on annual Spring Camporee 1951 at Old Soldiers Home


Boys Scout Troop 511 Annual Spring Camporee 1951  - Caption

Boys Scout Troop 511 Annual Spring Camporee 1951 – Caption

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Boys Scout Troop 511 - Copy

Drill Squad

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Squad Roster January 23, 1953

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Squad Roster January 23, 1953

Boys of the Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Team circa 1952

Boys of the Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Team circa 1952

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Team - Circa 1952

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Team circa 1952

Mt Carmel Baptist Church Drill Team Marching - Copy

The Municipal Male Chorus

The other day I was looking through some papers and came across a picture of The Municipal Male Chorus.  My grandfather was a member of the chorus.  I decided to do a little research on the chorus and write a blog post to share this bit of Washington, DC history.

Municipal Male Chorus WINX Broadcast Dec 1940

The Municipal Male Chorus at the WINX Broadcast Dec 1940. My grandfather is the first person on the right of the back row.

The Municipal Male Chorus was formed in the 1940’s and consisted of male employees of the District of Columbia government.   The majority of the men were chauffeurs, messengers or elevator operators in the District Building.  The director was Robert Hamilton. Mr Hamilton was also the music director at Berean Baptist Church that was located at 11th and V Street NW.

The chorus sang in a variety of concerts around the city.  They frequently performed at churches and appeared on WINX Radio station.  In April of 1941, they participated in the opening ceremonies for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Later that same month, the chorus joined several other choruses from the area to accompany the legendary Paul Robeson at a benefit concert for a crowd of over 5,000 people.

I did not find any information about the chorus after 1941 so it appears that the chorus did not last that long.

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