Beyond the Internet Week 5: Off to school

This is Week 5 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 admission records. I’d particularly like to hear how people in other states and countries use these records so we can all learn from each other.

It’s return-to-school time in Australia so February seemed like a good time to talk about school records of various sorts. Let’s start with school admission records, or how your ancestor entered the school system. I do most of my research in Queensland, Australia so inevitably that’s where I’ll usually speak about. However I’ve also seen school admission records listed in Scottish and Irish archives.

Why use these records? What will they tell you? We are all familiar with the documents signed with an X signifying that one of our ancestors couldn’t write, and perhaps read. When did that change? Did they ensure their children could read? In my experience with my early Queensland pioneers, education was something that they valued but was subject to the availability of schools and the other demands of the family such as farming seasons.

I’ve used the school admission records to learn a little more about my ancestor’s lives and round them out as people. My great-grandfather George Kunkel is first found in the Queensland school records as a boy of 11 going into the second level of reading with his younger brother Joseph, aged 10. Both were in the basic level of maths. They were pupils 33 and 34 at the newly opened Highfields State School.[1] The enrolment also documents their religion (RC) and their father’s occupation (farmer) as well as where they lived, Broadies Quarry (no one knows precisely where this was). All this is grist to the mill of their lives and stories. Although I assume they had attended school in Ipswich for a while, I have been unable to find them there. It’s likely their education had suffered by the fact their father was working in the construction of the Ipswich-Toowoomba railway line in their early school years. Their mother signed with a X on her marriage but she, too, may have had some education at the little hedge school in her townland in County Clare, Ballykelly. Their father had received a good education in Germany but his ability to help them would have been affected by the language differences.

Similarly George’s son Denis, also suffered from moving around with the railway. Children regularly travelled a few miles to school by horse or shank’s pony (walking) in all weathers. In my family it was common to see an older child enrolled at the same time, and in the same class, as a much younger sibling. I do wonder how their self-esteem suffered as a consequence. Denis was 9 and his sister Julia nearly 7 when they were enrolled in Grade 2 reading and basic maths at Logan Village School[2] in 1890 while their younger brother George went into Grade 1. On letters, Denis’s handwriting was very well formed and neat though his grammar left a little to be desired. Perhaps the eldest children suffered by being needed to help with the family chores while the younger ones had a chance to go to school earlier. What’s interesting about this entry is that it shows they were in the Logan area about six years before their father’s railway employment records document his move there. In other cases you may find a change of occupation or a slightly different variation in the father’s job.

Just recently I learned from school admission records at the Queensland State Archives that prior to going onto high school my father had attended a school I’d never even heard about. Of course it’s now too late to ask him about that and why it was so.

Apart from learning more about my ancestor’s education levels and length of schooling, the admission records provided some insights into what may have happened to my grandfather’s younger siblings after the death of both their parents in 1901. Thanks to the indexes prepared by the Queensland Family History Society, I was able to pinpoint some of the schools they attended and sometimes make guesses about which family member had taken them in for a while. What I found interesting was that when I went to the original documents it usually still stated their father’s name even though he was deceased. While not all schools have been indexed, this is certainly a useful starting point.

Another benefit of the school admission books is that they can be used to reconstruct the community where your family lived. They could be used to complement post office directories or electoral rolls, or (overseas) census records. Of course, Murphy’s Law says that the school I’m most interested in, Murphys Creek State School, has no extant admission registers for its earliest years. Such is life!

As with any archival records we are limited by the survival of records. I use the Queensland State Archives catalogue to assess what’s available for the town or area the family lived in. There are other education records which are helpful in regard to schooling such as the school’s correspondence registers or school histories of which more in coming weeks.


[1] Queensland State Archives Series ID1985 Item ID 630585 Highfields State School admissions

[2] Queensland State Archives ID 1330 Admission Item 611423 Registers Logan Village State School