December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year. I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country. This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource. Do I have your attention yet? Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?
One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks. That’s right….yearbooks. Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School. Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson. Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School. These are just a few examples. I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School). Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.
PLEASE NOTE: when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading. We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.
Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources? Go, grab your senior yearbook. Go ahead. Open it up. Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look. Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information. While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences. Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs. So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.
While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society. Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York. But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995. I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995. In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine. Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses. We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college. We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something). And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!
So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks. Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!
From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!