Old yearbooks are very useful when it comes to researching your own family. But for writers they are a huge resource of historical information about a specific town, era and a pool of ideas for character development.

I have used old yearbooks for all of the above.

Old school annuals are a great resource for research about an era or town.
Old school annuals are a great resource for research about an era or town.

School annuals, or yearbooks, have been around since 1806, according to, with Yale’s first annual and the first high school version beginning in New York in 1845.

For writer’s research, purchasing an actual old yearbook is the best option, so you have access to all pictures, autographs and other information – including the advertisements in the back (more on that later in my next post).  Google the city, state, year and “school yearbook” and find vintage books readily available for sale online.

Sometimes, even if the school is no longer in existence, there will be an alumni web site with old annuals for sale with proceeds benefiting the alumni organization.

Genealogy researchers may have it easier, as there are resources to find your relative without actually purchasing the book.

If you do not know which school in a specific town your grandfather attended, you’ll have to hunt and peck a bit, which makes the free online resources all the more valuable.

These include volunteer listings posted by people who own certain resources for a specific town or county, such as yearbooks, census and property ownership transcriptions, cemetery listings, etc., and are willing to perform look-ups, which means they will email you a transcription or maybe even a scan of the photograph of your relative.20150418_135543

Rootsweb’s Books We Own is a good place to start with. The site is categorized by country, state (in the case of the US), county and maybe even by city.

Follow the directions and please don’t forget to thank the volunteer for their time. I’ve had a lot of luck over the years with Books We Own, and these people are, by and large, great. Keep in mind they are volunteers and sometimes they’ve posted their willingness to look up things years ago.

Two more great online resources for online genealogy (and yearbook) search are Cyndislist and USGENWEB.

Cyndislist’s Yearbook Page is an alphabetized list, but it includes other sites that have yearbooks listed, so it’s easy to tangent off here, but a great resource. I could (and will) do a whole post just on Cyndilist.

USGENWEB covers only the United States, but it is a free archive, categorized by state and then by county, of all sorts of genealogy information, including yearbooks. Each county’s page is different and has different information.

Also, remember that county borders often changed over the years. If you’re looking for a relative from 1910, what’s now Lincoln County may have been Washington County at the time. This information is usually included on the county’s USGENWEB page.

If you have a subscription to, they also have yearbook transcriptions, going back to 1880 according to their web site.

I’ll soon post more on the history of yearbooks and using yearbooks as a research tool for fictional character and setting development.




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