People think yearbooks from high school or college are just for fun. And they are fun! They provide you with a ton of story-like information about your ancestor’s life. What their interests were, what sports and clubs they participated in, and often some goofy snapshots of them before they became an adult.
But is there useful genealogical information that you can derive from old yearbooks?
Heck, yes. Check out this list of very useful info you can get from them:
Note that the first yearbooks published were by colleges and high schools. In the last several decades, middle schools and even elementary schools have been publishing yearbooks. Many yearbooks have name indexes in the back of the book. Make sure that you look at the index to find additional photos and other information, beyond the headshot.
The specific address and city are not presented, but typically the school is within 5 to 10 miles from their actual residence. Some smaller area schools may include their residential address. Some colleges may include their city of residence.
The clubs and other interests may provide a clue as to their future occupation, for example, 4-H Club. Were they in ROTC? Maybe this provides a clue as to which future military service they were a part of.
Although autographs and the few words that are written may seem silly, there may be mention of what your person may do in the future. And who knows, if their siblings or cousins went to the same school and are also in the yearbook, mention of their relationship may be included. Maybe, just maybe, girlfriends and boyfriends in high school end up being spouses in the future. Don’t underestimate the clues that may be in autographs.
You will know the year of the yearbook and based on their class, e.g., senior, sophomore, etc. you can roughly estimate within a year their birth year. Of course, if they skipped a grade or were held back a year, that may make your estimate off a year or so. But again, it is a great clue.
Faculty and other employees are generally included in yearbooks. Maybe your ancestor/relative worked at a school for 30 years. This might provide you with a photo of them for multiple years!
This is the holy grail of yearbooks. But not only will you get “headshots”, but also your ancestor/relative in sports, clubs, and other interesting scenes that help you fill out their life story.
Might include younger students in a combined school that includes elementary or middle school grades. In the late 1800s and early to middle 1900s, many students didn’t stay in school past the 6th or 8th grade.
Friends and acquaintances can be determined not just by the appearance of other students in the yearbook, but who autographed your ancestor/relative’s yearbook may provide other research targets that might indicate a longer relationship into the adult years. Again, don’t underestimate the clues that may be in autographs. They may be invaluable to your research.
May not necessarily provide direct information about your ancestor/relative, but may give you a sense of the community where they went to school.
Generally, via autographs or other notations about your ancestor/relative, nicknames can be critical information to use when searching old newspapers and other genealogy databases. Maybe Richard Johnson was a left-handed baseball player nicknamed “Lefty”. In newspapers, he might have been found as “Lefty Johnson”
Middle names are not generally found in yearbooks, but possibly. However, many students “went by” their middle name rather than their first name, so this might be helpful in future genealogy research about the individual.
You’ve found the woman; you know what her married name is; and you know where she lived in her high school years. Check out the yearbooks in the area. If you know what she looked like, you might find her in a yearbook. Tedious yes, but a possibility. Maybe she married her high school sweetheart. Check out their yearbook.
During World War 1 and World War 2, there might be separate lists in the yearbooks for students who were in the military.
Do you want to search or browse through almost 15,000 Schools with Free Online Yearbooks from the U.S. and Canada? Just go to the Yearbooks Page on The Ancestor Hunt website.