November 2013 Family Archivist

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

This Homecoming season, preserve a relative’s high school or college memories (or your own) with tips from Lindy M. Smith, research services archivist at The Ohio State University archives.

Q. What school memorabilia are worth keeping?
Scrapbooks, letters home to family, notes to other students, yearbooks, student handbooks, dance cards, ticket stubs, photographs. Things that offer insight into what someone was thinking or what student life was like in 1925 or 1952.

Q. What would a student handbook tell you?
These state the rules students had to abide by: where they were and weren’t allowed to walk, whether a college dorm was dry [alcohol-free], whether they could have a car, etc. We have some really neat women’s handbooks. They gave advice on what to wear in certain circumstances: whether a lady should wear gloves or a hat, even whether pants would be permissible.

Q. What can yearbooks tell me about my relative’s school experience?
It depends when they’re from. Earlier ones had more information because there were fewer students: you might see a name, hometown, and years of involvement in different activities (sport, fraternity, committee work, church). The earliest ones might include notes about everyone but not identifying them, so you’d have to figure out who was who.

Q. What about pictures?
Young adulthood often gets glossed over when it comes to pictures: We go from baby pictures to a high school senior picture to a wedding picture. Senior yearbooks are a good way to find photos, especially in the days when photography wasn’t as common. The earliest yearbooks from the 1880s don’t have individual photos, but have some group photos.

Q. What genealogy materials do school and college archives keep?
Each archive is different. One major resource for us is an index of graduation cards from about the beginning of the school up to the 1970s. It includes a student’s hometown, the degree and when it was received. Alumni directories and magazines can help you find out where people lived later, whether they married and what their career was. We can usually find more information about athletic participation. We have papers from a few Greek organizations, but you should contact national chapter offices for their membership registries.

Q. What privacy concerns do you address?

A. Here we don’t really keep student records, so it’s not too much of an issue. We can give out the kind of information that might be published in a college directory: name, hometown, high school, parents, major and usually a birthdate. Information about classes and grades is protected by FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974]. You’d need to prove the person is dead or you’re a legal heir with a compelling reason to have the information. Even then, it’s at the university’s discretion.

Resource Roundup

Use these archival resources for completing the projects described here.

Archival Action: College Research

•  family memorabilia
•  yearbooks
•  local newspapers
•  school directory websites
1. Determine when and where a relative went to college. Ask relatives. Browse home sources for memorabilia and business or professional documents. Consult family histories, obituaries, news clippings, old resumes, military enlistment papers, etc.

2. If the school exists, contact its archives (look for it online or call the campus library). Otherwise, the school may have closed, been renamed or absorbed by another school. Run a web search on the school’s name, town and state, or consult a local historical society. If the school was renamed or absorbed, contact the new school’s archive. If it closed, search online or ask local history experts where surviving records may be archived.

3. Look for digitized yearbooks at websites such as Classmates, and on the school’s website. Offline, check local libraries, alumni organizations, and historical and genealogical libraries. Search the book for your relative’s name and browse for details on his school experience.

4. If you identify a school archive, ask about records of your relative’s attendance. Share known details (full name, years attended, hometown, course of study) to help confirm a match. Staff often can respond to simple inquiries for free.

5. Ask to use (or request lookups in) other available resources such as photo collections, school newspapers, graduation programs, etc. Then ask what other materials, published or unpublished, may help you understand student life during that era. Research services may be limited or fee-based, and grades and transcripts are likely privacy-protected.

6. Contact the school alumni office for post-graduation information. It may have news clippings, biographies, alumni newsletters and more.

7. Search local newspapers for school-related news, especially if your ancestor participated in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Newspapers also commonly named new graduates and those who made the honor roll.


Heirloom ID: Dower Chest

Dower chests (sometimes called hope chests), most popular from the 1700s to early 1900s, stored linens, needlework and other items a young woman accumulated for her future marriage. A chest’s painted or chip-carved finish may incorporate initials or dates.

Age, condition, finish and provenance affect value. Good examples may bring a few hundred dollars; outstanding examples fetch thousands. Pennsylvania German chests are highly desirable for their elaborate painted designs, according to Antique Trader magazine.

From the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine