Where did your ancestors go to school? Did they go to school at all? How long did they go to school, and what was being taught at the time?
To understand your ancestor it’s important to know what sort of education was available at that time and in that area, if any. We need to find out what schools were available for our ancestors to attend in the area in which they lived.
My grandfather grew up near Greghamstown, near Blayney, and I want to know where he might have gone to school.
The NSW Department of Education and Training has an online index to Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. A search of the database will give a list of schools containing the search-term, ie a place name, and the type of school, years of operation, alternative names, and the county in which it is situated.
Here is an example:
We can see that the dates for the different schools in Blayney are consecutive, so they all likely refer to the same school, with name changes reflecting the different stages of the public education system in NSW.
Keep in mind how far the children may have had to travel to get to school, and that they may have walked, or rode, many miles to attend school each day, especially in country areas.
Once you have found likely schools for the area you can trace their history. If you are lucky there will be a published account of the school, often published to coincide with the centenary or other anniversary of the school’s foundation.
State Records New South Wales holds the files that relate to the establishment, maintenance, and staffing of most schools. The files may contain plans of the site and drawings of buildings, so that you can see what the school may have looked like even if it no longer exists. They are available for inspection at the Western Sydney Reading Room at Kingswood.
To find out what records are available for your school search the Schools index. Here are the search results for Blayney:
You can see that the files are all administrative files, and that there are none before 1876.
To take another example, the school in the photograph is in Greghamstown, near Blayney. The Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848 search shows me that there was a Provisional School from August 1871. It closed in December 1872. A Public School opened in May 1875 and closed in Dec 1947. There are no further entries, accounting for the emptiness of the building in the photo.
A search of State Records NSW Schools Index has hit the jackpot!
There is usually very little in these files relating to individual pupils, although there may occasionally be lists of parents requesting establishment of a school, or who haven’t paid their fees. For this school, however, there is an admissions register for 1914 to 1926. If your ancestor lived in this area and was of school age within this period you could be lucky!
School has a lasting influence on all of us as we develop into adults and make our way in the world. Discovering the school your ancestors attended and the type of school that it was can tell you a lot about your ancestor.
Burnswood, J. and Fletcher, J. Sydney and the Bush, A pictorial history of education in New South Wales. [Sydney]: New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.
NSW Department of Education and Training. Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm.
State Records NSW. State Records Archives Investigator: Activity Detail, School Education http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Activity\25.
State Records NSW, Index to Schools and Related Records, 1876-1979. Website at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-to-education-and-child-welfare-records/index-to-schools-and-related-records.