The Archive Lady: School Records for the Unschooled

Unknown School, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. ArchivesUnknown School, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

Pam in Mississippi asks: “Should I still search archived school records even though many of my ancestors didn’t attend school? I don’t want to miss anything, but I don’t want to waste valuable research time either.”

Pam asks a great question about one of my favorite records sources. School records can be a valuable resource for genealogists and even for those ancestors that didn’t attend school.

School Memorabilia, Houston County, TN. Archives

School Memorabilia, Houston County, TN. Archives

The records of local public schools, private schools, colleges and universities in the United States have gradually developed into a valuable resource for genealogical information. School records provide a more personal glimpse into our ancestors’ lives which we may not find in other genealogical sources. School records are available from the 1700’s to the current day and include everything from elementary education, college, graduate school, professional schools, military academy, and special education training. Any of these educational facilities may have records that provide information about your ancestor. Among the types of school records available are report cards, class photos, class lists, administrator’s records, and rosters of teachers and much more. As with most other records in the United States, school records became more comprehensive after the turn of the 20th century.

Unknown School, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

Unknown School, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

For those of us that have ancestors that didn’t attend school, don’t think that school records are of little or no use. There are records generated by the local school systems that could very well include your ancestor that didn’t actually attend school.

One such set of records are the local school board meeting minutes. These records are usually kept at the local level and might be found at the local school board, local county archive or historical society. Some have even been microfilmed. It is always best to contact local archives where historical records are located to find out what is available and what survives.

In school board meeting minutes it is quite possible you could find your ancestor listed as an employee of the school system and their job had to be approved by the board. Maybe they were hired to drive the local school bus, deliver coal to the one-room school house or chop wood for the winter. Maybe your ancestor donated land for that one-room school house to be built. Many in the local community contributed their labors and talents to help their local school be the best it could be. This includes those that didn’t get the opportunity to attend school when they were children.

Camp Ground School Enrollment List, ca. 1919-1920, Houston County, TN. Archives

Camp Ground School Enrollment List, ca. 1919-1920, Houston County, TN. Archives

In many school districts it was required that parents pay for the school books their children used and these records of payments and the books purchased could be found in school accounting ledgers. These types of accounting records can tell us a great deal about our ancestors and their children as they interacted with the school system.

Before the consolidation of schools, especially in rural areas, there were dozens of schools dotted across the landscape of the area. Each little community would have their own little one-room school house that also sometimes doubled as the community church. These buildings and what they stood for were important to the local community and the citizens who lived there. Their involvement with these schools,through the actual construction of the school, upkeep of the school or through their own children attending the school, could also have generated records.

When you are doing research on your ancestor that you believe did not attend school, remember to access school records anyway and search for your ancestor’s name. You might be surprised by what you might find!

Legacy Family Tree Webinars

The ABC’s and 123’s of Researching Your Ancestor’s School Records by Melissa Barker

The ABC’s and 123’s of Researching Your Ancestor’s School Records

The records of local public schools and universities can valuable resources for finding information about your ancestors. Even if your ancestors didn’t attend school, you would be surprised by what you can find in school records about them. This webinar will show you what types of school records there are and how to find them in repositories.

Click HERE to watch – via Legacy Family Tree Webinars

The In-Depth Genealogist – Researching in School Records

The In-Depth Genealogist - Researching in School Records

Also check out my laminated quick guide on using school records for research! Click HERE for more information – via The In-Depth Genealogist

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

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About the Author

Melissa Barker
Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.