Education in 1895

Greghamstown SchoolWhen we say that our ancestor only went to 3rd Year of high school (or whatever), what do we mean? It’s important to understand what was being taught in schools in those days before we pass judgement on the education our ancestors were given.

I was driven to think about this topic by a post I saw in Psychology Today entitled Can You Pass This Final 8th-Grade Exam from 1895? Admittedly, a lot of the terminology has changed since those days. We don’t measure wheat in bushels or coal in pounds or distance in rods or area in acres. We also don’t study grammar and orthography as they did then.

Here’s the exam in full:

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , Kansas , USA. These questions were taken from the original examination on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , Kansas.

Take the test and see if you would have graduated with the eighth grade class in 1895.

GRAMMAR (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,’ ‘play,’ and ‘run’
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation..
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

ARITHMETIC (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet Long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs, what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent per annum.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft long at $20 per metre?
8… Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. HISTORY (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3.. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States …
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

ORTHOGRAPHY (Time, one hour) * Do you even know what this is?

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7 Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

GEOGRAPHY (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America .
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St.. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco .
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each..
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

We can see the emphasis on the rules of grammar and orthography. We can also see the emphasis on the knowledge that an adult in Kansas was likely to need.

I’d love to be able to find an equivalent exam for New South Wales. If I find one I’ll be sure to post it here.

What do you think? Would you pass this exam?

Photo of Greghamstown School, taken by the author in 2008.


NSW Research Guides

Many repositories that are essential in the search for detailed information about your ancestors have research guides to help you find what you are looking for. Research guides contain general information about what to look for and how to find it. Here are the guides of three Sydney repositories to get you started.

State Library of New South Wales

The website of the State Library of NSW has a Family History Research Guide. This gives a brief overview of the parts of their massive collection relevant to family history and some significant examples; links to their fact sheets on Cemetery Records, Church Records, Electoral Rolls, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists and other topics; descriptions of their catalogues, including the Pictures and Manuscripts and Scanned Cards catalogues; links to Family History databases and websites; links to the highlights of the collections related to family history; and links to relevant exhibition.

State Records NSW

State Records New South Wales are the repository for a great many documents that are invaluable for family history research. Their online research guide For Family Historians is an excellent introduction to the records they hold. The Research Tips section has links to comprehensive :

State Records NSW also has a large number of fact sheets called Archives in Brief on specific topics, which are well worth printing out and keeping. You can also collect them from the reading rooms in the City and Kingswood.

Society of Australian Genealogists

The Society has a wealth of knowledge and experience in Australian family history research in their staff and volunteers, and this is reflected in their research guides on their website.

Here is their list of topics to get you started:

Other repositories have similar guides. Have a look!

12th AFFHO Congress in Auckland – more education in one place than you’ll see anywhere else!

If you are considering going to Auckland in January for the Australian Federation of Family History Organisations 12th Congress then let me remind you that the early-bird registration closes on the 30th September. If you were not considering going then let me try to change your mind!

This is a marvellous opportunity to hear speakers from around the world and to learn more about how to find your ancestors and discover more about their lives. The opportunity to mingle with other researchers is also a huge, often overlooked, benefit. People who think the way we do! People who don’t think it’s odd to include cemeteries in the sights of a town, and who understand how exciting each new discovery is.

Dick Eastman, the technology guru; Paul Allen, co-founder of and now the CEO of FamilyLink; Elaine Collins, Commercial Director of FindMyPast; John Grenham, the Irish research guru; Michael Gandy, editor of the Society of Genealogists’ journal and a very entertaining speaker; Megan Smolenyak, an expert on DNA research; Cora Num, website guru; these are a few of the famous international speakers that will be lecturing and running workshops over the four days of the conference.

Topics cover research in Australia, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, technology, DNA, and specific how-to sessions such as preserving documents and heirlooms and writing your family history. Many sessions run concurrently so that you can always find something of interest for every session, and some lectures are repeated at other times so you can sort out clashes in the programme with other lectures you want to see. Hands-on workshops are available in many of these subject areas as well.

Accommodation is available at the College where the conference will be run, or alternatives can be found in nearby motels.

These Congresses are only run every three years. The last one was in Darwin in 2006 and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it; it could have gone on for another four days and I would have been happy! The next one will be in Adelaide in 2012, which seems a long way away at the moment.

Here is the message from the Convenor, Richard Hollier:


For those of you who have not yet registered for the AFFHO 2009 Congress this email is to remind you that the earlybird registration closes on 30 September 2008.

Still undecided?

Look at the benefits:

  • Around 15 speakers from outside Australasia
  • Four consecutive lecture streams
  • Plus parallel workshop stream with up to 4 additional options
  • Networking with fellow genealogists from throughout the world
  • On site accommodation in gorgeous surroundings
  • Range of social events and tours
  • Registration cost lower than previous AFFHO congresses and comparable to NZSG when compared on a daily cost
  • Convenient online registration

Go online and register now

Don’t miss this highlight on the 2009 genealogical calendar!!

Any questions or issues please email me or one of the congress committee. Contact details are on the website.



Richard Hollier
Conference Convenor
c/- 24 Gretel Place
Hillcrest, North Shore City 0627
New Zealand
Phone: +64 9 4190521

I personally will be taking advantage of the opportunity to do some research on my long-neglected New Zealand ancestors and I am going over a week early. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there!

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