School records, including information about students and school employees, can offer a fuller picture of a relative or ancestor’s life. This section will offer an overview of how to access school records in Massachusetts, with an emphasis on public education in Boston.
Good Things to Know:
Massachusetts is home to some of the oldest schools in the country, and has the highest concentration of higher learning institutions in the world. The state also passed some of the earliest comprehensive education laws in the country. An act passed in 1642 required that all children be taught to read and write, and one passed in 1789 required that teachers be properly educated and licensed by their town selectmen.
In the colonial era, the education system in Massachusetts was not yet formalized and consisted of a patchwork of Latin schools, reading and writing schools, dame schools, and private schools. Records from this time period are practically non-existent aside from the schools that are still operating (i.e. Boston Latin and the Mather School.)
Newspapers have in the past occasionally listed the names of graduates of various schools, along with any honors they received. Information about school closures and other issues would also be contained in newspaper articles.
For other school systems, try searching our catalog for "schools" or “school reports” and the name of the city/town/neighborhood you are looking for. Some examples are below:
For many years, graduating classes at Harvard University have published reports in significant anniversary years. These reports contain brief biographies submitted by alumni and may also contain photographs, contact information, and dates of death among other potentially useful information.
The Research Services Department has a large collection of these anniversary reports, primarily in hard copy with a few in microfiche format. All are available upon request at the Research Services desk, located on the second floor of the McKim Building at the Central Library in Copley Square.
Note: from the mid-19th century to 1961, reports were often issued in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th anniversary years. After 1961 the first report for a graduating class would not be issued until the 5th anniversary year.