Where Can I Find My Old Yearbooks

by Marc McDermott on

Yearbooks are something we all clung to as young students, and, as such, they are often a way we can reminisce about the good old days. Other times it can be an embarrassing reminder of our awkward stages. Whether in elementary school or college, we knew that we would be memorialized inside our schools annually by compiled books of staff, classmates, and extracurricular groupings. We don’t realize how much of a treasure trove yearbooks are until we start our genealogy research.

Can you find old yearbooks online?

Yearbooks have been digitized and uploaded on a variety of online websites. A paid subscription is usually required by most of these websites. However, there are also free alternatives.

Ancestry and MyHeritage have massive year collections but require paid subscriptions. These companies specialize in record keeping and digitizing genealogical records. As a result, their databases are among the largest, so it is the best place to begin your search. However, if paywalls aren’t something you are interested in climbing over, there are ways to access their yearbook collections through free trials.

To begin a 14-day free trial to Ancestry, you must sign up for one of their membership options:

Their options are as follows:

  • $24.99/month for U.S. records or $16.50/month for a six-month membership.
  • $39.99/month for the World Explorer or $24.83/month for a six-month membership.
  • $49.99/month for All Access (World Explorer plus Newspapers.com and Fold3.com) $33.16/month with six-month membership.

The monthly membership includes records for U.S.-based collections, and you can find the yearbook collection there. There is no need to upgrade to the more expensive memberships if you only wish to view the U.S. yearbook collection. Note that if your membership is not canceled by the 14th day, your card will be charged in full.

You can search Ancestry’s collection by name, date, or place to pinpoint the right person. Their collection does not contain any elementary school yearbooks but includes junior high, middle school, high school, and college. 

MyHeritage also offers extensive online yearbook collections, which can be accessed through a 14 day free trial period. To begin the trial period, you must sign up and pick a subscription. Currently, they are offering new members 50% off of their $299 annual membership. You cannot begin a free trial without entering your payment information, so don’t forget to cancel your membership if it’s not for you. You will be charged the total amount otherwise. 

Free online alternatives

Classmates.com is a subscription-based website, but you can sign up for free and browse through their yearbook collections. The information behind the paywall is features like their Classmate’s Guestbook, which allows you to see who has viewed your profile. Classmates.com also offers yearbook reprints, and they have features that will enable you to be up to date with your class reunions. Their collection of online yearbooks is not as comprehensive as Ancestry or MyHeritage, but it can be a good place to reference if you do not want to spend the money.

Accessgenealogy.com is another website that prides itself on its free genealogical records, which also includes yearbooks. Of course, these smaller websites will not have an extensive collection in comparison to the larger competitors. However, it is a good resource if the more comprehensive collections don’t have what you’re looking for.

eBay is another place you can search if you’re looking for a hard copy. There are thousands of hardback copies of school yearbooks that people have for sale on eBay. 

Facebook Marketplace and local Buy, Sell, Trade Facebook Groups are also excellent places to check for hard copies of specific yearbooks. Indeed, some people would be willing to either let you borrow them or purchase them all together. 

Finding yearbooks offline

School libraries are another great place to check for past printed yearbooks. Most schools will retain an extensive collection of them. However, this depends on the individual school. Local county libraries and historical societies may also be great alternatives to check. If you’re looking for non-specific years, maybe even check out your local antique store.

Why are yearbooks important for genealogy?

Yearbooks are an incredible source for genealogy because they offer a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. They are a source that provides a large amount of information and brings color to our ancestor’s early lives. I would argue that they are even more helpful than many of the census records because they’re more individualized for young students rather than adults. 

Yearbooks have been around for hundreds of years, first becoming a tradition among students who would compile their memories shared with their classmates, such as their favorite poems, songs, and stories. They became more commonplace in the 19th century when schools started to implement them. 

Yearbooks are an incredible source of data that help us reminisce about our past and offer an insight into what life was like generations before our classes graduated. From headshots to favorite quotes, yearbooks are an excellent source for research that can digitally or tangibly give us a glimpse into our ancestor’s lives that other genealogical sources cannot. Yearbooks display information of what clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities our ancestors participated in.

Pictures were not very common until personal cameras became commonplace. For the lower class throughout the first half of the 20th century, high school yearbooks might have been the only time those individuals ever had their photos taken. Furthermore, those who did have family portraits taken during that time likely hung them on the walls within their own family homes, and such photos were not widely printed and available.

When adoptees begin their search for their biological families, yearbooks become an essential part of their search. Finding a photo of a birth parent, seeing what their academic interests were, their favorite quotes, or seeing that they played football or chess are minute details that they might not ever know otherwise. 

Are yearbooks public records? 

The answer is yes! Because yearbooks are sold items to the public, they are considered public records. Therefore, they can be put into online databases no different than city directories and other publicly published works. 

Final thoughts

Yearbooks are such a rich compilation of data, and, genealogically, they are something that we should be seeking in our research. Locating our youthful, high school-aged ancestors in yearbooks is so underutilized. So go forth and find your great-grandparent’s yearbooks! Find out what they did in their youth and when you judge their generation’s sense of style, remember, your great-grandkids will be doing the same to you! 

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