There are few more memorable experiences in life than walking down the aisle, high school diploma in hand – finally.
For a genealogist, finding out that an ancestor actually did walk down the aisle carrying a diploma is a pretty big thrill too. So how do you find out when your ancestor graduated, or just attended, several generations down the line?
Unless you’ve got the diploma, the best way is to get your hands on the right yearbook for the high school. Next question: Where do you find the yearbooks?
Luzerne County once had scores of small high schools, nearly all of which published these annuals. About 50 years ago, they began coalescing into consolidated districts. The area’s once-numerous Catholic high schools followed the same pattern.
But even if the predecessors’ yearbooks were kept, those that are locked up in school libraries are of little or no value to genealogists.
Fortunately, many yearbooks have been donated to public libraries, with which Luzerne County is well blessed. These libraries are the genealogist’s best bet. Go to a school district’s website to find out what towns it serves, and then go to the Luzerne County Library System website to find out what library serves that area.
If you’re local, visit the library or go to its individual website for information on holdings and – if you are out of the area – its distance research policy.
There are also historical societies (with websites) throughout Luzerne County, ranging from the Luzerne County Historical Society in Wilkes-Barre to others that also archive, such as those of Nanticoke, Plymouth and Pittston.
A yearbook will also give a photo and tell you what activities your ancestor practiced. By 1920, yearbooks tended to run lots of photos of individuals, teams and clubs. Even if the ancestor did not graduate, there might still be a group or team photo for you.
Sometimes you can buy an old yearbook. You’ll find some at flea markets and others listed for sale in the classified sections of local newspapers. If you’re local, ask around among older graduates of the school. You can also publicize your search on sites like Facebook.
As for college yearbooks, you’re probably in better shape. Colleges often allow non-students to visit and use the libraries.
For a private, non-sectarian high school, go to its website for information about its library and research policy. For a defunct private school, contact the regional historical society or library.
How far back do yearbooks go? Pennsylvania mandated public high schools in the mid-1880s, but the very earliest yearbooks I’ve seen came about in the early 1900s for the most part. Many began in the early 1920s.
FamilySearch News: FamilySearch recently announced the placement of its two billionth genealogy record image online. The project, a service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, makes its huge trove of genealogy material available for free, a wonderful gift to the public. While most of its materials pertain to North America and Europe, it numbers huge quantities of material for other areas of the world as well and keeps adding.
“The free genealogy records include censuses, birth, marriage, death, court, immigration and other document types that are invaluable for individuals to make personal family history discoveries and connections,” FamilySearch announced recently. For a free membership, go to www.familysearch.org. You must have an up-to-date browser.
Genealogical Society News: The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the second Saturday of the month.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader genealogy columnist. Reach him at [email protected]