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Tuesday’s Tip – Searching the Ancestry.com Yearbook Collection
September 6th, 2011 by Jessica

Agnes Barkley in the Valparaiso High School 1928 Glee Club

Agnes Barkley in the Valparaiso High School 1928 Glee Club

Ancestry.com recently added a significant amount of content to their online collection of U. S. School Yearbooks.  I have been able to locate several of my family members throughout the country, but it hasn’t exactly been easy.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you really want to find someone you need to dig deep from every angle.  Here are some tips to help you learn from my trials and errors.

Index for Barkley Agnes (Agnes Barkley), 1928 Valparaiso High School Yearbook
Index for Barkley Agnes (Agnes Barkley), 1928 Valparaiso High School Yearbook
  1. Eliminate the first name. I have found that the OCR scanning they used to index the yearbooks is less than optimal.  Many times, my family members are pictured but not listed in the index.  Many of them have been listed with last names only (i.e. “COLE”) or first initial and last name (i.e. “R. FITZGERALD”).
  2. Reverse your search. Look for the last name in the first name, and first name in the last name field.  For example, I was looking for my great-grandmother “Agnes Berniece Barkley” but in order to find her, I had to search for “Barkley Agnes” in the index.  In the same yearbook twenty pages later, I found her indexed correctly as “Agnes Barkley” singing as part of the Glee Club!  Make sure you are searching all over the book in case your target person is listed multiple times.
  3. Ignore the dates listed for approximate age. Since there are no birth dates or years provided, Ancestry.com has chosen to give the same exact birth year for every student in the entire yearbook. I suggest an index search range of 9-22 years after your ancestor was born for High School yearbooks, and 13-26 years for College yearbooks. In the example provided here, Agnes Barkley’s approximate age is 20 with an approximate birth year of 1908.  She was actually 16 or 17 and was born in 1911.  Take the index birth year with a giant chunk of salt.
  4. Locate another photo to help with the group portrait hunts. To find your great-grandmother in a giant group portrait can be difficult.  A lot of the students look alike.  Try searching the rest of the yearbook first to see if there is an individual photograph of her to get an idea of exactly what she looked like.  You might also reference family pictures from the same era for a good place to start.  Eliminate as many people as you can and narrow down your scope for large group photos.  Send a copy of it to relatives in email (or *gasp* send a printout in an actual envelope) and ask for their assistance in locating her in the group shot.  Don’t forget to somehow document where she is once you locate her.  You could store a second copy of the image noting the location in a bright or obvious fashion (like the red circle above) or by cropping her out in a smaller JPG version stored with the original file to make it obvious to the next person generation which student she is.
  5. Search all yearbooks in adjacent years. If you’ve found your grandfather in 1934, check out the yearbooks for 1933 and 1935 even if he’s not showing up in the index.  He might be indexed incorrectly or might have used an initial instead of a full name. If you know he was a Sophomore in 1934, look under the Freshman class in 1933 and the Junior class in 1935.  If you’re lucky, he’ll be listed as a Senior in 1936.
  6. Don’t cut corners. I suggest you be patient and thumb through the images just like you would look through a real yearbook in your hands.  You might miss an amazing photo treasure that wasn’t indexed.  You might also find other relatives such as cousins, siblings or spouses that you didn’t even know you were looking for.
  7. Don’t give up! If your ancestor is not showing up in the search, use the Browse This Collection area (on the right side) to see if there are yearbooks online for the targeted location and general time frame.

If you have any additional tips, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.  Good luck finding your family in this wonderful collection!

- Jessica M. Green

PS: I still can’t believe my great-grandmother was in the Glee Club!  That’s awesome.

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© 2013 Jessica M. Green