Posts Tagged ‘family history’

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

History Makers in Our Midst

Summer is almost here.  Families will be gathering for barbeques, cookouts and reunions.  There will be many stories of days gone by and lots of photo albums and memorabilia to share.  As you are visiting with family this summer, why not use it as an opportunity to preserve  history.  Not only will you learn family history, you may also learn that you have history makers in your midst.

Caroline High School Literary Program
Beryl Jackson is in the first row on the left

Beryl Jackson is such a history maker. She shared her memories of being in the first group of students to desegregate the Caroline County School system when I interviewed her for a book I was writing on Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.  In 1965, Beryl and a few other students transferred from Union High (the high school for Blacks) to Caroline High ( the high school for Whites).  Although her experience did not make national news and is not recorded in history books like the story of the Little Rock Nine, it did change the Caroline County School system forever.

Your family member’s memories have historical significance, not just for your family but for the community as well. Here are a few topics that are likely to come up during family discussions:

  1. Way of Life –What was the lifestyle of the people living in the community?
  2. Employment – How did people in the community earn a living? (ex. farming, working in steel mill)
  3. Migration – Did family members come to America from another country? Move from one area of the country to another?  What was their experience?
  4. Clubs/Social Organizations – How did family members socialize with other members of the community?
  5. Institutions – Where did family member go to school or church? What impact did these institutions have on their lives?
  6. Community/Neighborhood –Communities change overtime. What was the community like when your family member lived there?

The next time you go to a family gathering be sure to take your digital recorder and/or video camera and preserve history.

The Importance of Performing Thorough Research

Sylverser Roy Woodfork Sr

Sylvester Roy Woodfork Sr

My grandfather, Sylvester Roy Woodfork Sr., was a World War I veteran.  His funeral program indicates he was a member of a special class of soldiers trained in radio technology at Howard University and that he experienced combat with the Battery F, 351 Field Artillery.  I did some research and learned the 351st Field Artillery was one of several units where Negro soldiers were trained as artillery officers.

After obtaining his military records from the National Archives, I learned my grandfather was not in this unit but the 52nd Company 13th Battalion 153rd Depot Brigade in Camp Dix, New Jersey. The records also show he was a private, not an officer.  The situation illustrates the importance of performing thorough research.

Many families have family history that has been passed down from generation to generation.  In many cases this information has not been verified yet everyone accepts it as a statement of fact.  Most family historians would like to uncover exciting information about their family.  We would love to have ancestors who were movers and shakers in their community or made history in someway or another.  The truth of the matter is not every one will be that fortunate.  Some of us are the descendants of ordinary folks whose major focus in life was working hard to maintain the basic necessities of life.

As family historians we should not embellish the truth or make up stories to make our family more interesting.  We must remember it is our responsibility to have respect for the truth and the whole truth.  In cases were the truth is not pretty; there is no need to air the family’s dirty laundry or change the facts to make it better.  Just remember the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

I try to keep the following rules in mind when I am performing research: 1) Just because it is published does not make it true and 2) Just because someone says it does not make it true. We must remember that researching is the systematic process of collecting, analyzing and verifying information in order to establish facts.

A systematic process is repeatable.  You can demonstrate how you came to the conclusion again and again. If another person follows the same steps, they will come to the same conclusion.

Collecting, analyzing and verifying information are three very important components of performing research.  Collecting is gathering information. Memorabilia, ephemera and artifacts are excellent sources of information.  However, after the information is collected it must be analyzed.   We must ask ourselves:   Does it make sense?  Does it seem accurate? Is it from a credible source?  Verifying information requires us to locate a primary source and to cross check information against a variety of sources to determine the validity. A lot of people collect information, but they don’t analyze or verify it.  All three steps are important.

The end result of research is to establish facts.  We must be careful to make a distinction between facts and opinion.   A fact is objective information that is verifiable.  Opinion is a judgment, view or assessment. It is subjective and is not verifiable

Although it is disappointing when we find information that contradicts well-known family history, we must resist the urge to ignore the truth. It may possible that my grandfather was a member of that special unit in World War I or he may not have been.   I have to do more research to determine the facts.

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