Appreciating Our Ancestor’s Education & Controlling an eBay Habit

Photo Caption: Jodi’s recent class photo purchases (stop her before she buys again!)

I have a problem. That’s the first step to recovery right? I am addicted to purchasing old class photos. To help myself I have given up eBay for Lent (I can hear the share price dropping as I type this.) This picture of my recent purchases should convince you of my sickness.

Admittedly I loved school as a child and hated missing even one day (that completely baffles my kids). My husband jokes that I collect degrees. After I got my second Masters degree, an MBA, I seriously considered going to law school. Luckily, my brother the lawyer talked me out of it.

So somehow, this all translates into a love of vintage photos of graduating classes, old school houses, and yearbooks. There’s something about a group of kids, brought together by one thing – location. As I research each member of a class I’m amazed at either how they managed to take such similar paths or diverge so completely.

While I struggle to really understand what it is that draws me to this subject; I think it has to do with an appreciation for something we shouldn’t take for granted: an education. Going to college, or even high school, was a luxury for many as few as 100 years ago. That’s what makes the fact that anyone tried so special. The current high school applications we stress over, “resumes” our 13 year olds are expected to have, would have been unfathomable to my great-grandparents. But education was important to them. My grandfather took his own and ours very seriously. He was hugely supportive both financially and emotionally through my brother’s and my high education endeavors.

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“Education level” is now a must-have-stat for everyone in my tree. It’s such an important part of any individuals’ story. Anyone can be born or die, but getting an education takes extra, sometimes heroic, effort. The 1940 census is a great tool to start with. Column 13 and 14 ask specific education level questions (see below). In earlier censuses you will find questions about ability to read or write; that too is significant data as you consider who your ancestors were and how they lived. Here are just a few questions I’ve applied to my own research: Was my ancestor educated? How? By whom? For how long? At what cost? If you are interviewing relatives add these into the mix. Ask anything you can think of; just ask the question.

Education Data Section from the 1940 Census
Education Data Section from the 1940 Census

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