Showing posts with label directories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label directories. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

5 Things to Learn from Your Ancestor's Yearbook

My father-in-law, center, as a tough 17-year-old student.
My father-in-law, center, as a tough
17-year-old student.
I hope your ancestors weren't like me. In high school I didn't join any clubs, and I played no sports. My yearbooks won't tell you much about me. Except that I'm a nerd because I was in the National Honor Society.

When my husband (the former high school track star) told me about all the sports his father Ben played, I wanted to find Ben's yearbook. So I searched Ancestry.com and found the 1934 yearbook from Sanger High School in California. That was the year Ben's older brother Abe was a senior, Ben was a junior, and their brother Bill was a freshman.

If you can find your ancestor's high school yearbook, here are 5 key things to look for.

1. Which Sports They Played

I found photos of all 3 brothers on different teams:
  • Abe played basketball and ran track.
  • Ben played basketball, ran track, and played football.
  • Bill played basketball and ran track.
Their faces in each sports photo told me a lot, too. Ben looked determined and angry—nothing like the kind man I knew. Abe looked confident and pleasant. Bill looked sweet and shy.

2. Which Clubs They Joined

Bill grew up to be an accountant, so we weren't surprised to find him in the Scholarship Society and the Latin Club. But finding Abe there with his little brother in the Latin Club was a surprise. We think Ben was too busy with sports to pick a club.

My husband's uncles, Bill and Abe, standing together in the back row of the Latin Club.
My husband's uncles, Bill and Abe, standing together in the back row of the Latin Club.
Maybe your ancestor was in all the school plays. Does that match what you know about them?

3. Who Their Friends Were

In my own high school yearbook the seniors included a quote or a few words. My words seem like utter nonsense. But if you read what everyone wrote, it becomes clear who my closest friends were. We all used the same bizarre phrases.

Look at the candid photos, too. If you find your ancestor goofing around with some other students, try to find them in a class photo and identify them.

4. What Ambitions They Had

In some yearbooks, seniors will write what their plans are. They may say where they're going to college and what they'll study. Maybe they're joining the military. Or they may say which trade or profession they're about to start.

Will you be surprised by what your ancestor was planning to do?

5. What Their Community Was Like

My father-in-law's yearbook includes advertisements from several local businesses. The names of the businesses and their owners reflect a variety of ethnicities. Yet they don't match what I see in the student photographs.

The Sanger High School students in 1934 were about 45% Japanese, 20% Armenian, and a mix of English, Irish and Scandinavian. Of course I spotted the one Italian kid.

My husband's Uncle Abe and father Ben on a pretty short basketball team.
My husband's Uncle Abe and father Ben on a pretty short basketball team.
It may tell you something about your ancestor if you learn they were in a small minority. Or that they were part of a large group.

More than all these facts, it's the photos I'm thrilled by. I love having so many never-before-seen photos of my father-in-law and 2 of his brothers as teenagers.

If you can access Ancestry.com, search for their "U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990" collection. There's also Classmates.com and other sites that may have what you need.

Ancestry has 3 of my father's Bronx, New York, yearbooks, and now I know he was in the school band with my godfather—his future wife's 1st cousin. How cool a discovery is that?


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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Where to Find Free Historical City Directories and Newspapers

Have you ever subscribed to an online newspaper archive website? I've tried them twice, but I never found anything about my relatives.

Those sites may be worth the subscription fee if your ancestors were important businessmen or socialites. Or if they were involved in a crime or a train wreck. But I never found my folks.

This directory shows me when Antonio's
son James starting working.
I've had better luck with a free newspaper website (see Fulton History below). There I found some real estate transactions by my great grandfather and his brother-in-law. The information was sparse, but it helped me piece together some of his business dealings.

City directories, on the other hand, have been a great help in locating an ancestor in between census years. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.) This can help you when you discover your ancestor is not living at the same address in 1930 as he was in 1920. The city directories between 1920 and 1930 can show you where he moved.

This directory tells me exactly when Antonio died!
Here are a few free websites (also see Free Genealogy Resources) where you can search for your ancestors. If you find them, you can add more data points to their timeline, giving you a more complete view of their lives.

Some of these free sites may have an unfriendly interface or have no search function. You get what you pay for.

Tip: When opening a city directory, look at the table of contents so you have a rough idea of which pages to view.

Free Newspaper Websites

  • Fulton History. What began as "Old Fulton NY Post Cards" now contains over 39,328,000 historical newspaper pages from the United States and Canada. The site includes a good search feature and highlights your search terms on the resulting pages. This is where I found my great grandfather's business transactions.
  • Internet Archive. Type newspaper in the search box, then narrow down your results in the left column. There is so much available on this website that I may devote an entire article to it soon.
  • Library of Congress: Chronicling America. This website contains digitized newspapers from 1789 through 1924 in 13 languages. That's 2,234 newspapers. The search functionality is very helpful.

Free City Directory Websites


This real estate directory tells me my great grandfather
owned one building and lived in another.
Subscribers to Ancestry.com have access to their city directories collection. I've used these to locate certain ancestors in between census years. A directory helped me figure out where my grandfather went to live and work upon entering the United States. Directories can show you when a grown son left his parents' household and moved nearby, possibly helping to estimate his marriage date.

A city directory may provide a missing piece to the puzzle for you.