School Days in Old Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

September means schools are in session for another year of reading, writing and arithmetic. Today’s students learn a lot more than the basic three subjects. Topics taught and student life bear little resemblance to your ancestor’s school year.

It’s a good thing many families documented school days in pictures. We can compare the pictures of the past with those taken today. There are similarities, of course: A little kid going off to his very first day of grade school has always been a milestone moment.

You’ll find class portraits. Your great-grandfather might sit in the crowd with an x above his head to identify him, leaving you wondering about the names of other students. Those photographs tell the story of your ancestor’s education.

Turns out mystery school pictures aren’t that unusual. Here’s an assortment of past Photo Detective blog posts featuring students and teachers:

This group of mystery pics still lacks identification. The College Girls in an Old Mystery Photo sit on a step engraved with “Class of 1910.” Anyone recognize the location?

If you find a picture of a relative posed holding a rolled up document, it might be proof of graduation. Find a list of what to look for to identify graduates in family pictures in Finding Your Ancestors Graduation Photos.

The post A Yard-Long Old Photo Brick Wall depicts students at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. It was found in a reader’s grandfather’s collection. He didn’t attend Hendrix, so why did he own the picture?

Did your ancestor attend a technical school during World War II? I’d love to learn more about these schools from folks who participated in them. You can learn more in the post World War II Victory Corps.

Fall and Back to School features one of my favorite photos from my own collection. Without the caption, you’d think the young girl posed with her mother, not her teacher.

British Schoolboy Uniforms Or The Bluecoats are Coming shares a mystery still waiting to be solved. British school uniforms are very specific, but so far no one has come forward to name the location or the school in this picture. Can you help?


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now