22 November 2008

Yearbooks: Genealogical info, photographs

Genealogists know that yearbooks are useful to track relatives and view their photographs.

Think of your own yearbooks, high school and college. Some include only graduating seniors' photos and information; others may include info on students of other years. Some include an address index. Many contain ads from proud parents congratulating their offsprings' achievements.

At the very least, they are a good source of fun - remember those old haircuts and cutting-edge fashions of long ago?

My own high school yearbook photo is a source of endless humor. How exactly did I get my hair into that lacquered flip? I seem to remember walking around with huge rollers in my hair for long periods of time - and trying to sleep in them - and using a can of hairspray each day! I'd show it to readers but I don't have my yearbook here in Israel. Lucky you!

It's also interesting to see our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in their teens and young adulthood.

Alumni associations of high schools and colleges may have additional information as well - it's always worth a call. I attended New York City's High School of Music & Art (known as M&A), which has a particularly active alumni association, excellent reunions, a good newsletter and raises money for school-related activities. M&A has a number of alumni genealogists as well, including Rosanne Leeson, vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (SFBAJGS).

There are several Jewish genealogical and historical societies working to collect yearbook information, and the always-amazing Steve Morse also has a project solely for Brooklyn's Tilden High School. I would have attended Tilden if I hadn't gone to M&A. My mother, uncle and sister graduated from Tilden, and I just found my uncle, Robert Fink, using Steve's Tilden yearbook page here. Bob was class of '53, but my mother graduated in the 40s and is not (yet) listed, and my sister's year is not yet indexed.

Steve's approach is different from the projects underway (see below) by JGS of Long Island and Jewish Historical Society of Michigan. He focuses only on Tilden and only borrows yearbooks long enough to scan them. A volunteer transcribed the yearbooks (names and addresses). This is helpful as you can find everyone who lived on a certain street.

Currently, Tilden is represented by almost all the yearbooks from the 50s-60s, with one from the 30s - some 18,000 names. The project is less than a year old. Search here and click on a name to see the yearbook page.

Why did Steve undertake this new project? He hopes that others will do the same thing for their own schools. Additionally, he says, "I will make all the tools that I developed freely available to interested parties. This includes the search-application generator, the street-list generator, etc."
The JGS of Long Island launched its yearbook project in June 2006 to match researchers with yearbook owners. There's an online inventory of school yearbooks, showing school, year, city and state. Yearbook owners scan or photocopy content for interested researchers.

The JGSLI acts as an intermediary in soliciting yearbook owners to share information with researchers. The past year has seen dozens of connections. Originally, the focus was New York City/Long Island, but the project has expanded to include yearbooks from other JGSs, genealogical groups and interested individuals.

The project is described in detail on the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies page here. Click on the link for the November IAJGS Echo. The item includes the yearbook database link and how to volunteer your own yearbook for this project. The spearhead for this project at JGSLI is Nolan Altman.

In Michigan, former JGS of Michigan president Mark Manson writes about the yearbook project of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan (JHSM).

For 10 years, the JHSM has been soliciting the donation of yearbooks, first from Detroit high schools and now expanded to the entire Metro Detroit area and many cities throughout the state.

The group is creating on online index of all seniors in each book. Currently, there are more than 112,000 names from some 600 books; some 1,000 books in total will be indexed. The earliest book is 1904 Central High School (Detroit).

The project has received multiple copies of books for many years. The ultimate plan is to scan and place images online. Thus multiple books are needed to create one "clean" copy, because many books have pages missing, photos may have been cut out, autographs obscure photos.

The JHSM plans to sell CD copies of the scanned books for $36 each. The funds will be used to support, fund and continue the project. All seniors in all books are indexed. Books include public, private and parochial schools (no matter the affiliation). The project has received college, university, medical and law school books; junior high school books, school newspapers, large class photos, reunion books, graduation programs as well as dried corsage flowers in pages of books more than 60 years old.

Names already indexed can be viewed here. click on YEARBOOK PROJECT, type in a last name and first name. Click SEARCH and view results.

The JHSM is encouraging other genealogical and historical societies to also begin such a project in their own communities. Hundreds of projects are already online, including databases on Ancestry.com and other major websites.

These books are very valuable to researchers, and many get thrown away every day, thus reducing the chance that someone might find information of value. Please check with your own relatives and see what they might have in their own libraries. If a relative dies and you are involved in checking through their possessions, try to find a good home for any yearbooks found.

Do you know where your yearbooks are now?

Think about offering them to one or both of these or other projects to preserve the valuable information they contain.

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