• Family History Fanatics

Back to School - Using Yearbooks to Research Your Ancestors



Was your mom in the homecoming court? Was your father the captain of the basketball team?


Online yearbook collections help you to learn more about your living and deceased ancestors using these portals to school records.


Since 1823, many universities and then high schools began producing annual books to chronicle the history of their students with text and eventually photographs.


Yearbooks serve as an excellent tool for us to investigate.


4 Easy-to-Use Places to Find a Yearbooks Online


While many genealogists share numerous places where you COULD find digital yearbooks, I have had the most success using the following four websites first.

  • Google Books - While this resource is free, you have better results if you know the school's name before searching.

  • Classmates.com - You can look through all their online digitized yearbooks with a free account.

  • MyHeritage - A free collection from the subscription site. The company says they have the most extensive collection of US yearbooks online.

  • Ancestry School Lists & Yearbooks - includes yearbooks from Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States.

Each website will have different search strategies for finding your ancestors. However, Classmates.com had the most intuitive and easy-to-use search tools for yearbooks.


To see how to access the above websites, check out the following video.



Once you find your ancestor in a book, review the publication for more details about where your ancestor learned or worked.


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5 Online Yearbook Research Tips


There are several search tips to implement while using yearbooks.

  1. Search for Females! Females attended high school and college in the early 1900s. Some attended schools in the mid-late 1880s. Do not miss out on finding your female ancestors by neglecting to search for them in these school records.

  2. Search for Relatives - Sometimes, siblings, cousins, and other relatives attended school simultaneously. Be sure to review individuals with the same surname, or your known ancestral surnames, throughout the book.

  3. If you know the name of the school your ancestor attended, start with free websites to seek out a yearbook. Then work your way to subscription-based sites.

  4. If you do not know your relative's school's name, use the subscription-based yearbook searches on Ancestry, MyHeritage, or Classmates.com.

  5. If your ancestor does not appear in these collections, DO NOT assume they didn't attend school. Instead, consider the fact that their yearbook is not currently available online.

If you can not find a yearbook online, ask relatives whether they have their school books or those for the older generations. Or reach out to the school to find out how to access old yearbooks. Finally, some libraries that serve areas where the school resides may have copies of old yearbooks.




Can I Use The Yearbook Photo?


It's possible. Many yearbooks do not fall under US Copyright law. Ancestry states on their yearbook donation page, “Yearbooks printed prior to 1963 and yearbooks printed prior to a copyright notice © are not bound by copyright restrictions.”


As such, you may use the content in these yearbooks in your family history projects.


For yearbooks printed after 1977, the content is copyright restricted, and you will need to seek permission to use images in your projects.



How to cite a yearbook


Most genealogists treat yearbooks like any other book, whether online or off. However, there is one missing ingredient in such citations. Can you spot it?


Morgan Park High School, Empehi (n.p, 1970), p. 170; "U.S. School Yearbooks, 1900-1999," Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 July 2022).


The problem with this citation is not knowing what you're referencing on this page. Is it a group photo, a single photo, a text block, or something else entirely?


I recommend you modify the above citation to state what you are referencing on page 170 of the Empehi.


Morgan Park High School, Empehi (n.p, 1970), p. 170, entry for Mae Jemison, Freshman portrait; "U.S. School Yearbooks, 1900-1999," Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 July 2022).


Now you know that on page 170, a portrait of Mae Jemison in her freshman year appears on the page.

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