Ah the memories. School yearbooks, immortalize how we looked and what we did in high school or college. Whether we looked goofy or cool, that photo is there forever. And they document what clubs, sports, or other activities we were involved in.
Primarily a North American phenomenon historically, the first yearbook published was the Yale Banner in the early 1800s.
But hey – what about our ancestors? They went to school too (at least some of them in the last 200 years). And they belonged to clubs and associations outside of school.
I have found some really good stuff about some of my ancestors and relatives. I didn’t know that Brooklyn-born Leo Markheim went to law school at the University of West Virginia. Or that Ethel Tinnemann was a tennis star at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1920s, or that her father Otto Tinnemann graduated with a degree from the same university in 1905, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. And now I have their photos to boot! Nowhere else was I able to find this information or what they looked like at an early age.
So for me, discovering more about them and what they looked like has been a real boon to my research and filling out the stories of their lives. Thus your genealogy and family history research won’t be complete without looking into yearbooks.
I encourage you to research old yearbooks as well. Offshoots are the Alumni Directories which also include address information and occupations. And there are yearbooks available for many associations that have nothing to do with school.
Free Online Yearbooks
Yes, The Ancestor Hunt has recently started cataloging the links to FREE (and only free) yearbooks. Check out the Yearbooks tab for the link lists by state and province. There are over 14,500 High School and College Yearbooks listed. Even a few middle and elementary schools!
Old yearbooks available online can be found in many places. And below are some great places to search. Some require a subscription or payment, but not all. Some are free, some are easy to use, and some are not too great actually. Many of these are for the U.S. only, but some have Canadian yearbooks available in the collection.
- Ancestry.com has a nice school yearbook collection to search for. I would encourage you to check out the schools and years available in the “Browse This Collection” section on the right side of the page in order to look for a specific yearbook. And yes, Ancestry requires a subscription. They claim to have over 450,000 yearbooks – that’s total yearbooks, not schools.
- My Heritage has a huge collection of yearbooks that can be searched. They claim to have over 250,000 yearbooks, again yearbooks, not schools. They also have the Alumni Lists originally provided by Distant Cousin. Some are transcribed and some are scanned page images. And yes, My Heritage requires a subscription. WorldVitalRecords, (owned by My Heritage), has 115 schools. I don’t know if that is included in the My Heritage number.
- The last “big player” is Classmates.com which has a large collection of over 350,000 yearbooks where a reprint can be purchased. I will leave it up to you to figure out how to save an image or two. It can be accomplished. You can view the yearbooks by browsing. You do not need to have a subscription, but they are available. Frankly, since I’ve always had a Free Account, I don’t know how your Yearbook browsing and searching are affected if you have a subscription. Hopefully, the bombardment of ads diminishes.
- The Internet Archive has over 42,000 results if you search for the keyword “yearbook”. Definitely worth searching if you know the school or association.
- E-Yearbook.com has a sizable collection available by subscription. They don’t advertise the number of yearbooks, but it is sizable. They also have a nice collection of Military Yearbooks and Navy Cruise books.
- Skalooza is interesting. It has a good number of yearbooks available; it is easy to register, and the interface is easy to use. Quite honestly, I have had difficulty finding things on this site.
- Dead Fred has a collection of photos from old yearbooks that you might want to browse. Checking this today, yielded a Privacy Error when visiting the site.
- Don’s List has a very nice collection of old yearbooks and alumni association directories. There are over 100 schools – many are also in the Internet Archive. There is a nice list of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania schools that he provides.
- Ebay and Amazon have a lot of old yearbooks for sale.
- GenealogyToday has over 370 yearbooks and is a subscription-only service.
- There are a few link-only sites, such as Cyndi’s List, Access Genealogy, and Linkpendium. The number of links is in the low hundreds, although it is very difficult to know Linkpendium’s because of its search architecture.
- Google Books has a wide variety of yearbooks available. Many are from an association and are not related to schools. Worth a search. Unfortunately. most are not viewable.
- Hathitrust has a couple of hundred full-view school yearbooks. Usually, there are only a couple of years available and many are in the early 1900s.
And then there is The Ancestor Hunt. What I am attempting to do is to assemble a list of links to school yearbooks that are totally free, regardless of their source. Most are from digitization projects at libraries, whether high schools in the local library’s general location or at a college/university. There have been a few statewide projects, such as those in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia. But most projects are for one or just a few high schools.
I am gathering the links from a wide variety of sources, such as all the Internet Archive collections, DPLA, Calisphere, users of Digital Commons software, etc. But most are just elbow grease searching.
Currently, at the date of this article’s publication, there are over 14,500 schools on the list. I don’t know how many yearbooks that equates to, but my guess is that it is over 50,000, but that is just a guess. And I won’t stop there. Like most of my link list collections, whether newspapers or others, I will continually and regularly update these lists. You can expect more links to free yearbooks to be listed in the future.
So check out the Yearbooks Page on this site, and definitely make use of those sites listed above. You never know where that elusive yearbook may be found.