Monday, April 28, 2008

A Century of Chicago Public School Graduates

The Chicago Public School system has established a networking site for its alumni at, and it's also very serviceable for their friends and relations and genealogists. Free registration is required (non-alums can register as guests), and your password gives access to the two "halves" of the site.

The first half consists of web pages, one for each school, with a few historical notes and (already) some alum-contributed data on favorite memories, distinguished teachers or graduates, and the like.

The other half consists of PDF images of the school board minutes for each year from 1873 through 1973, listing names of graduates. You reach these images by clicking on the generic graduation photo labeled "Get historical attendee records" halfway down the right side of every school page.

Graduates are listed citywide by year. Each year is its own PDF file, so it'll help if you know roughly when you expect to find your research target. Within each year they're listed alphabetically by school , and then within each school alphabetically by name. I found my immigrant grandfather graduating from Calumet High School in 1898, and my father graduating from Tilden Tech in 1931. My grandfather's class consisted of nine girls and nine boys; five of the boys and two of the girls took the college preparatory course. You can measure the progress of universal education by timing your downloads: 1898 is a lot faster than 1931!

From 1873 to 1895 the only records are high-school admissions, that is, elementary-school graduates and those who passed proficiency tests. High-school graduates are listed starting in 1896. Early on there's little identifying information, but in later years the record does include elementary-school graduates' dates of last vaccination (1901) or birth dates (1972-3). (BTW, all this information was already public.) The Newberry Library blog reports they're already using the site to answer people's questions.

School records aren't always the first things we think of but they're well worth pursuing. And if you need a boost of ancestral self-esteem, remember: a century ago, a high-school diploma was a more elite achievement than a four-year college degree is today.

No comments: