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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections by Michelle LaBrosse-Purcell, B.Sc., MLIS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
School records contain a wealth of information. Not only do these records contain information about the students, but sometimes also contain information about their parents, and the teachers. School records can contain addresses, birth dates, parents’ occupations and sometimes give an address or phone number where the parent can be reached, as well as attendance records. In some cases, health records, such as vaccination schedules, can also be found in a student’s records as well.
So how can we find the school records of an ancestor? Like so many other records in Canada, education is a provincial jurisdiction. Student records are usually retained by individual schools or they are transferred to the local school board. In some cases, public school records have been transferred to the provincial archives, or at times they have been given to a local archive. If a school was administered by a religious organization, it’s possible that their records may be in the archives of that congregation.
The following school record is for my grandmother’s class from Manitoba in 1915. Although the record only gives the grade, age of the children, and the attendance record of each child, it provided us with important information. As we were unsure of the year my grandmother was born, this record gives us an approximate year of birth. This record, of my grandmother’s grade one class, says she is ten years old. From this information we can deduce she was either born in 1904 or 1905.
- Public Schools of Manitoba, Half Yearly Return
So, where do you start to find school information on your ancestors? There are two ways you can go about it. If your ancestor attended a public school, and you are aware of which school the ancestor attended, you can approach that school (if still in existence) and ask what has become of their records. In some cases, not much has been done, and they are stored in a warehouse or basement. In other cases, the records have either been destroyed, or moved to another facility, such as the provincial archives, or a local archive or museum. I did a quick search on CAIN and found that some records from the high school that I attended are now stored at our local art gallery and museum.
If you are not sure of the school your ancestor attended, or the school no longer exists, try contacting the school board, or the provincial archives of that province. Either one should be able to direct you in the right place to find out what has become of the records.
If your ancestor attended a school run by a religious organization, it is best to check with the archives that hold the records for that religion in that area to see what has happened to those records. For example, some residential schools run by the Catholic Church in Alberta have their records stored at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, under the care of the Oblate archivist. Students who attended an Anglican residential school in Western Ontario would check at the Diocese of Huron Archives in London, Ontario for their records.
Secondly, besides looking for actual records, also check for yearbooks. Although you won’t get the detailed information that students’ records will provide (such as addresses and birth dates), you may get a photograph of the person you are searching for, as well as finding out about their personality. Did they belong to any clubs? Were they on the debate team, or the football team? Small details like this help to understand more about your ancestor. For one ancestor of mine, who eventually went on to be the youngest person to graduate from McGill with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, I found in his yearbook that he belonged to a science club. Not surprising, but it showed his interest in science even at an early age. As well, you can find out about classmates of your ancestor, which might one day prove useful, if you run across a diary or letters written by a contemporary of your relative.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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