A stark contrast to our ancestors' school records, for sure. A smidgen are online for us to peruse once we know where to look, but many of them are not. So, as with all records, trying to find what entities created the records and thinking about where they might be stored — online and offline — is the first step in trying to find your ancestors in them.
And just why would you want to find your ancestors' school records? Well they can, at the very least, put your ancestors in a time and a place — very helpful when you can't seem to find them in more-used records like the federal population census. And even when you can find them in population census records, where were they in between the censuses since they were only enumerated every 10 years? Another good reason to try and find your ancestors' school records is that they may reveal their parents' names or siblings.
So while not an exhaustive list, the following 11 places may yield school records for your ancestors.
- Ancestry.com — Go to their Card Catalog. In the Keyword Search Box, enter in "school census" or another relevant term depending on the type of school record you may be looking for and click on "Search." This will bring up more than the ones categorized as a school record because some miscellaneous records are grouped together under a different category. As long as Ancestry listed in the description of the miscellaneous record "school census" or another type of school record, it will come up in this search. Also, try other search terms like "scholastic census." Don't forget to check out their yearbook collections; you just might find an image of your ancestor!
- FamilySearch.org — Go to their Search Historical Records page, select "Browse All Published Collections" in the middle of the page; select "United States of America" on the left hand side; search terms like "school census" or "educable". Or, after selecting "United States of America" you can then select just the state you'd like to search and then perform searches based on the above terms. A second place to look on FamilySearch.org would be their catalog of microfilm which can be rented for a nominal fee and used at a local Family History Center or a local affiliate (some non-LDS libraries have become affiliates which makes this very convenient for many people). Search their online catalog by place name using the county and/or state of interest. Then rent it. The third place to look is FamilySearch.org would be their scanned books. Again, use a variation of the search terms to find scanned books for school census records and also try out the Advanced Search options.
- State Libraries/Archives — State libraries and archives may have the manuscript collections themselves, may have digitized them, or may have them on microfilm. A good example is the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Check out this listing of State Archives to find one in the area you are researching.
- Genealogical and Historical Societies — Many genealogical and/or historical societies have indexed, abstracted, and/or transcribed records like these and published them in book format; some may have converted them to PDF (but not usually); and a few more may be publishing them as databases on their websites like the Indiana Genealogical Society. The best way to find a society near where you think your ancestor may have attended school is to use the Federation of Genealogical Societies' (FGS) Find a Society Listing. Once you find a nearby society or a state level society, check out their website or email the society to see what records they have available. They may have their own library as well.
- Google Books — Use search terms like "school census for" plus the state name or even the county name. Don't forget to try the word "scholastic" for "school" as well.
- University Library Special Collections — Check nearby university libraries' special collections for these records. They could be in manuscript, microfilm, or book format. They could also be in an online collection or offline. Check their finding aids if they're online. Don't be afraid to just contact them; their preference for how they'd like to be contacted should be listed on their website and many include their finding aids on their website. Basically, you need to explore their website.
- Worldcat.org — Search for a library that has books of indexed, transcribed or abstracted records; books listing county courthouse inventories; and microfilm. Also, don't forget to check the library's website for more information and to contact the library to ask about their Vertical Files in the genealogy department (if they have one) and any microfilm that may not be catalogued in Worldcat.org.
- Advanced Google Search — Again, use a variation of search terms.
- County Clerk's Office — School census records may be kept by the County Clerk's Office. Google "county clerk" and the name of the county to find their website.
- Also, consult the FamilySearch Wiki for a particular county your ancestor lived in to try to find where records may be kept.
- Newspapers — Did your ancestor play a sport, perform in a play, or win awards? If so, they may have made the papers in their hometown. There are all sorts of places to look for newspapers and a great resource for searching online newspapers is The Ancestor Hunt.
Like I mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list, but enough to get you started. Have you found school records for your ancestors? What and where did you find them? Share in comments below.