Why EDUCATION RECORDS matter

measles school children

This page from a daily attendance register shows the toll measles could take on a class of children prior to the availability of vaccination programs. Student names are blurred to maintain privacy. (Peel Archives, Peel Public Education Records, McHugh School, Daily Register, February 1953.) Click on the image for a closer view.

What are they?

Peel’s archives at PAMA holds historical public school records dating from 1833 to 1986 for Peel County and Peel Region. Many of these schools began as one room schoolhouses built by the early settlers of this area of Southern Ontario.

Students standing in front of a small building

Albion School Section #10, Mount Wolfe, 1913

Most of these school records are daily and yearly attendance registers that list student, teacher, and parent names as well as the days students made it to school – and if not, why!

Like churches and social clubs, schools were places where geographically scattered people from different social classes came together. Each school had a life of its own; we can get firsthand glimpses of this daily life through the school log books, minutes, programs for ceremonies, library book and equipment lists, and teacher contracts.

What do they tell us?

Of course these records reveal details about people and schools. These include

  • Students’ names, ages, and education levels at certain dates
  • Where students went or came from when moving schools
  • Who their parents and teachers were
  • What illnesses they had and when
  • What class sizes and grade divisions were like
  • Where schools were located and their relationships to their communities

But with archival material there’s always more than meets the eye. We can also learn far-reaching information about this area of Ontario by looking at changing patterns documented in these records.

We can investigate

  • Causes of illness and even death among young people, and the effects of vaccination and treatment programs (by looking at the reasons for student absences)
  • Patterns of population shifts (by examining class sizes, name origins, and school openings and closings)
  • Political climates in the area from early times in Upper Canada to the mid-twentieth century (from trustee minutes)
  • Social mores and traditions in this area (by looking at the rules for school behaviour)

Real-life case study

A researcher contacted us trying to find out when his sister had first contracted polio as a child. Her symptoms seemed to be flaring much later in life and her doctor wanted to know the pattern of her disease. Her childhood medical records were long lost but by checking her school records we were able to see when she was absent from school – as her teacher had noted, because of polio. (Story used with permission of those concerned.)
Thanks to archival records the past meets the present and affects the future.

What should a researcher know about these records?

  • These records contain personal information protected under provincial and municipal privacy legislation, depending on the age of the record. It’s important to know that no one can access your school records but you or your designated representative. For more information, contact us.
  • If you’d like to examine early school records, it’s best if you know the School Section (SS) number of that school.
  • With a few exceptions, these records don’t contain report cards or academic results; if you’d like to access to your own academic history you’ll need to see your Ontario Student Record available through the last school you attended or your school board.
  • Our early school records are not complete because record keeping practices were not always as rigorous as they are now; some records ended up in people’s homes or were lost to disasters. These gaps in our records show us how important it is for archivists to be involved in managing records. 

posted by Samantha Thompson, Archivist

This is the first in a series of posts where we reveal just how much information is packed into the most significant groups of our archival records – and what would be lost if we didn’t have them.

6 responses to “Why EDUCATION RECORDS matter

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