Beyond the Internet: Week 7 and the days of the old school yard.


This is Week 7 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is school histories, albums and newsletters. I’d particularly like to hear how people in other states and countries use these records so we can all learn from each other. If you do decide to take up this topic would you please leave a note in the comments or on Google+ as the Google alert is just not cooperating.

School histories

School histories can be a valuable source of background information including admissions and old class photos.

In Australia it’s fairly common for schools of all shapes and sizes to publish histories on a school anniversary eg centenaries. I don’t honestly know how prevalent this practice is overseas. These histories run the gamut from informal unstructured publications to books with high quality research. Some in the pre-computer era are rather basic productions while others are glossy bound books. Either way it’s likely you’ll find something that’s useful if your relative attended that school…there’s almost always some little anecdote that will let you flesh out your relative’s school story “back in the day”.  Many that I have seen include a list of early student admissions and some have very early photos of teachers, students and the school. For example in the first Murphys Creek school history there’s a picture of Maggie Kunkel among the students, even though the admission rolls no longer exist.

School albums or annuals

School albums can be a rich source of photos.

Have you been wondering what your great-aunt or uncle looked like? Or perhaps what a relative or ancestor’s hobbies or skills were? School albums might just provide these clues…after all it works for Sue Grafton’s detective extraordinaire Kinsey Milhone, who’s sleuthing in the 1980s. Remember all those class photos that you had taken? Well they’ve been a tradition for a very long time and if your relative’s school still exists, perhaps the school library retains copies of the annuals which you can trawl for clues and photos. You might find out they were superb singers, on the debating team, an excellent swimmer or football player – all those tiny details that add richness to the lives we’re trying to recover from the past.

School newsletters

School newsletters are more likely to give you the gossipy stories.

I think most large schools probably had school newsletters which again may be in the school library or perhaps a local heritage centre. This is where you’ll get the more informal take on your ancestor if they make an appearance. A word of warning though, journalistic integrity may not be high and there may be outright fibs told for the sake of a good story. What you will get is the flavour of school life in the time period of the newsletter – all grist for the writing mill.

Admittedly I went to a large school in Brisbane and it has been around for a long time in Australian terms, so in years to come my descendants will find traces of my school life throughout these sources….but sadly they won’t find a trace of singing or sporting excellence. I have a confession to make, though, as I have yet to visit the libraries to get my own parents’ school photos and background. It’s about time I took my own advice!

What about your family’s school stories? Have you found anything interesting, exciting or just fun in their school’s publications? What games and events were capturing people’s imaginations? Their generation’s version of Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest?

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2 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet: Week 7 and the days of the old school yard.

  1. Several years ago, my sister-in-law found the year books for 1932-33 & 1933-34 for the Klamath county Schools. At that time none of the 7 county schools were large enough to produce their own yearbook so for two years the schools combined their efforts on a year book. As I perused the names in the yearbooks, it became clear why the folks of my mother’s generation had friends and acquaintences throughout the county. During those years, there were only about 500 students of high school age in the entire county school system so of course those were the people in your sphere.

    • Wow, that’s intriguing Joan. It would have been fun to put faces to all the names too unless you already knew them rather than just heard about them. The other thing is I guess not everyone went to school in those days, and not for long either.

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