Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Early 20th Century School Directories Fill in Names of Schools & Personnel

West Valley School, Decatur Township
Unearthing the history of Michigan's rural schools can be a little challenging.  Typically each district was governed by the local township, and funding was primarily local with some support later coming from the county and the State of Michigan if certain criteria were met. 

Because of local administration, rural school records were also kept locally, and often when the school closed or consolidated, those records ended up in the private hands of one of the sitting officers.  No mandate seems to have been made to turn those records over  to the state education department or any other larger governing body. 

A few of these records are slowly resurfacing and we have managed to collect some of them to add to the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection.  They come to us in original form, photocopies, or books are loaned to us long enough for duplication.  By weekly monitoring the online auction giant, Ebay, there have also been countless original school records for sale.  Would it be that we had funds to purchase them all...

Some school districts were formed, a building constructed, and subsequently closed or consolidated in a matter of a few short years.  It can be difficult to establish something as simple as the name and location of these former structures, something that we strive heavily toward in our attempt to identify all of Michigan's approximately 7,500 rural schools.

From at least the 1920's until the early 1960's, many counties published an annual or semi-annual directory of the county's school districts, rural & village or city.  Typically, these directories were published by the county Board of Education, and included some general county information such as members of the board, listings of state officials, notes on education sub-groups.  This is usually followed by a township-by-township listing by district number of all of the school districts inside its borders.  This list can include the following key pieces of information for each district:
  • Name of School
  • District Number
  • Current Enrollment Numbers
  • Name & Address of Teacher(s)
  • Administrator's Names & Residences - Director, Moderator & Treasurer 
  • Valuation [current worth]
Also included may be rosters of private or religious schools, schedules of textbook titles, and other general information regarding education in that particular county.

Students' names are not customarily in these little directories that are usually less than 35 pages, but they do provide a written "snapshot" of schools in a specific date & time.  Those who are seeking knowledge of a family member's history as a teacher may be able to build a timeline using these directories.  Also, rural school administrator posts were filled by local private citizens, and it might be fun to find out that your great-grandfather was the Moderator of a school, that records can be found and that they are in his handwriting.  I made a similar discovery in my family - great-grandpa was Moderator, kept the books very well, with only an eighth grade education...

So, how do we find these directories?  There's no one place to go to in the State of Michigan to find a full collection of them.  The Library of Michigan does have some select counties & years, but a long way from all that were ever printed.  We have purchased some from Ebay, found some in antique shops and used book venues, and are still seeking more. 

A few can be located online in places like Google Books, but they are few and far between, a mere representation of what actually existed.  A quick search there produced a listing for one in Washtenaw County, 1929-1930, but even that was not viewable online.

Conduct your search methodically, checking all the regular places such as local, county & state libraries/archives, museums, historical & genealogical societies, and don't forget that old trick of penning a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper asking for knowledge of the existence of these directories or any other records pertaining to a school of interest.  Visit the websites of area historical groups who may have these gems in their collections or may have posted portions of them online.

If you have in your possession, or find in your travels, any Michigan county school directory, we would gladly hear of it.  If possible, we will either acquire it by donation or purchase, or make arrangements to duplicate it as part of the Van Buren District Library's goal to identify all of Michigan's historic rural schools.  Contact us with any information or questions. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
Unknown man
Photographer - Densmore, Niles

Can you identify the man in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.