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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

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