Posted by: jesshistory2 | September 26, 2009

Classes Begin

Today, classes begin at my university, and that has led me to think about our ancestors and what school was like for them. That is, if they went to school at all. In our world, today, children are required by law to go to school up to a certain age, but laws requiring attendance did not always exist. Or if our ancestors went to school, they may have only gone to school for a few years, especially if they lived on a farm. I don’t know how many years my great-grandfather went to school, but according to my grandfather, his education amounted to the equivalent of a fourth grade reading level. As for my great-great-grandfather, I don’t even know how long he went to school or if he did go to school.

Of course, if our ancestors went to school there should be some evidence that they did. These are a few record types where one might find evidence for an ancestor’s education:

  • Yearbooks (I realize this one is an obvious one, but these books might not necessarily be high school yearbooks. My middle school also had yearbooks.)
  • Biographies (Biographies of prominent members of an area may indicate whether an ancestor went to school or not.)
  • Family Stories or Traditions (I know you still must verify your information, but you might be able to obtain accurate information on how much of an education that your grandparents or your great-grandparents obtained, from those who remember past generations.)
  • Legal documents (These might not be necessarily be documents that state how much of an education a person obtained, but documents such as wills, deeds or pension files can indicate whether or not a person went to school through that person’s signature or lack of one.)
  • School pictures (Again, I realize this is an obvious source, but finding an ancestor in an old school picture will indicate that that ancestor did attend school at one point. My grandma still has a photo of her class in elementary school.)
  • Census Records (Some censuses will indicate if an ancestor is in school and possibly hint at when an ancestor was in school and not.)
  • Old licenses (Primarily of professions, such as medicine or law, might indicate whether a person had a formal education or not.)

There are probably many more sources that one can find that would indicate whether or not a person obtained an education, but most of the sources I have listed above are sources that are part of the public record. Some school districts probably had their own censuses or cards with a student’s information; however, a person may not be able to obtain those records for legal reasons. (I do have one old school district card, that I found in some family papers, that lists information on a student’s family and which school that student attended.) Even though I just listed some records, there are other genealogists who have written articles on where one could find records. Other articles on school records include:

These are just two articles that I quickly found. I don’t doubt that there are others. If anyone else knows about other school records, please feel free to leave a comment. I can always add an update listing other people’s suggestions. Thanks.

Originally posted on August 27, 2007.

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