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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 United States: Institutional Records  by Amy Johnson Crow, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Annual Reports

Annual reports are essential when researching a student in a state school. Annual reports can give information when other sources are closed or otherwise inaccessible.

Annual reports may contain student rosters. Some give very basic information such as Figure 36 from the 1858 annual report of the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (Hartford, Connecticut). Other rosters are quite detailed, such as that from the 1864 Annual Report of the Iowa Institution for the Education of the Blind which lists:

  • name
  • age
  • residence
  • nativity
  • cause of blindness
  • how long blind
  • time present
Samuel Bowman, Jr. Age 9. Residence: Hardin County. Nativity: Indiana. Cause of blindness: scarlet fever. Blind 8 years. Present from Oct. 1, 1862 to June 30, 1863.[1]

Deaths occurred at state schools. Perhaps because there were fewer deaths than at state hospitals, annual reports for state schools tend to give detailed accounts of student deaths. The following is from the 1892 Annual Report of the California School for the Deaf and Blind:

“Fred. W. Curtis, a deaf mute child from Butte County, died of heart disease, February 19, 1892. He had never recovered from a severe accident caused by an explosion of powder, several years ago, and his parents sent him to school with fear and trembling. The invigorating air of our coast climate, however, seemed for a time to strengthen his feeble constitution, and gave rise to the hope that he would ultimately become strong and robust, but this hope proved not well founded, and he died very suddenly on the date mentioned above.”[2]

Figure: Report of the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

American Asylum15V.jpg


School newspapers conjure up images of harried editors and frazzled faculty advisors. For the genealogist, they should conjure images of sources of information. The articles were written by students shortly after the events on which they were reporting. They truly serve as eyewitness reports to history.

The difficulty in using school newspapers as a source is finding them. Like newspapers today, they were read, then disposed of. School libraries sometimes have a set of the different issues of the school paper.

One exception to the difficulty in finding school newspapers is those of schools for the deaf. Most, if not all, state schools for the deaf had a newspaper at least for a brief period. Printing was commonly taught in deaf schools; printing a newspaper was a logical project. Many of these papers can be found in the schools and state libraries, archives, and historical societies.

A unique aspect to deaf school newspapers is the amount of coverage. Deaf schools sent their newspapers to the other deaf schools; the papers became a way of keeping in touch with members of the deaf community. From the 30 March 1893 issue of Silent Hoosier, the newspaper of the Indiana School for the Deaf:

“The deaf man whose heroism probably saved the lives of numerous passengers of the steamer ‘Keystone State,’ which burned on the Ohio River a few weeks ago, was George Webster. He was one of the early pupils of the Ohio School, and has been on the river over thirty years.”[3]

From the 13 October 1892 issue of Silent Hoosier:

“Mr. Abiah H. Guard was married to Miss Sallie E. Briant at the residence of the bride’s parents in Versailles, Ripley county, last July. Both are ex-pupils of this Institution, and have our best wishes.”[4]

Local newspapers are also sources for school information. Graduations, sporting events, spelling bees, concerts—any event at school was “fair game” to be in the paper, especially in small towns.

“The graduating exercises of the Atchison high school will be held at the opera house to-morrow evening. The following ladies and gentlemen will graduate: Pearl Loretta Shaw, Clara Minta Andrews, Mary Hamilton Cochrane, Etta May Root, Susie Graham, Helen Harrington Markham, Lucy May Ellis, Ellen Estelle Riddell, Sallie Isabelle McQueen, Martha Rose Benning, Mollie Ray Noble, Laura Eulalie Mulligan, Wilma Reid Milner, Abbie Leontine Scofield, Frank Willet White, Will Pence James, John Wesley Blair, Hugo Orlopp.”[5]

Sunday Schools

Some denominations hold special classes to teach church doctrine to the youth in the congregation. These Sunday school records can sometimes be found in the church or in historical society manuscript collections. They resemble the class registers of public schools. The Figure below shows the January-June 1866 Sunday school “roll of classes” for St. John’s Reform Church, Germantown, Ohio:

Teacher's Records

Teachers sometimes kept their own records about their students. These records are usually not part of the school’s set of records. Teachers’ records can be found in manuscript collections of repositories such as historical societies.

Figure: Sunday School Roll of Classes, St. John’s Reform Church, Germantown, Ohio

Figure: Isaac Strohm’s Day Book, Milford Township, Butler County, Ohio

School censuses

As the public school movement gained momentum, towns and counties needed to assess the potential needs of the community. One way they did this was to conduct a “school census,” often when the tax assessor made his rounds. These censuses often include the name of the parent, name of the child, and age of the child.

There are numerous advantages to using these records. First, they often state relationships in a time when there were no civil birth registrations. Another advantage is that they were usually taken in a year different from the federal census, thus placing the family in a location at another point in time. For the censuses taken before 1850, we see names of the children in household rather than just the tickmarks on early federal census schedules.

It is important to remember that not all households are included on school censuses. Because the purpose was to determine the number and ages of the children in the community, school censuses include only those families with children a certain age or under.

The Figure below shows an 1833 “list of poor children” (children whose parents wanted them educated at public expense) from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. We cannot tell from this if any of the children actually attended school, but it is an excellent clue.
Figure: 1883 List of Poor Children, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania


  1. Sixth Biennial Report of the Iowa Institution for the Education of the Blind, Located at Vinton, to the Tenth General Assembly (Des Moines: F. W. Palmer, State Printer, 1864), 301.
  2. Twentieth Report of the California School for the Deaf and Blind for the Twenty Months ending June 30, 1892. (Sacramento: State Printing Office, 1892), 8.
  3. Silent Hoosier, Thursday, 30 March 1893, p. 3, c. 2. [Newspaper located at the Indiana State Archives, Indianapolis.]
  4. Silent Hoosier, Thursday, 26 October 1892, p. 3, c. 2. [Newspaper located at the Indiana State Archives, Indianapolis.]
  5. Atchison (Kansas) Daily Globe, 26 May 1886, p. 4, c. 4.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Institutional Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.