Did your ancestor go to school?

Castlereagh School

Castlereagh School, one of 5,300 NSW schools no longer in operation

Did your ancestor go to school? Was there a school in the area? Does the school still exist today?

I’ve previously published a number of resources to help you research your ancestor’s education:

  • timeline of the milestones in NSW public education
  • an explanation of the types of government schools
  • instructions on how to find information about your ancestor’s local school, particularly the Department of Education school file

Just because there was a school in the area, though, didn’t mean that your ancestor attended. To find out when your ancestor went to school you need to know whether school attendance was compulsory during his or her childhood years, and under what conditions.

Here is a brief timeline of compulsory school attendance:

Before 1848 – no government schools.

1848-1880 – attendance not compulsory.

1880-1916 – attendance required between the ages of 6 and 14 years for not less than 70 days every half year. Exemptions could be obtained if the school was more than two miles away or the child was incapacitated or otherwise being instructed.

1917-1939 – attendance required for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon for all children from 7 to 14 years for every day that the school was open. Similar exemptions except the children older than 11 years had to be more than 3 miles from school.

1939 – attendance required for children from 6 to 14 years.

1940-1943 – a higher school-leaving age was phased in over 3 years, to 15 years by 1943.

1944 – special schools introduced for blind and infirm children between 6 and 15 years who could not be educated at ordinary schools.

Another important aspect of school attendance was school fees. School fees were used to supplement the teachers’ income until 1880, when the government paid the whole of teachers’ salaries. The cost of fees and the number of children in a family had a big influence on whether a child was able to attend school.

1848 – local school boards could set the rate at between  penny to 1 shilling per child per week.

1853 – a minimum of 3 pence per child per week was set, with the local school board to determine any amount above this rate.

1867 – fees set by the local school board had to take local economic conditions into account. Fees ranged between 6 pence and 1 shilling per child, with reductions for additional children in the same family.

1880 – fees reduced to 3 pence per child per week to a maximum of 1 shilling per family for Primary School children.

1883 – High School fees set at 2 guineas per child per quarter.

1893 - High School fees raised to 3 guineas per child per quarter.

1906 – Primary School fees abolished.

1911 – High School fees abolished.

1923 - High School fees of 2 guineas per child per quarter re-introduced, subject to a means test.

1925 – High School fees abolished.

No matter how important parents considered the education of their children to be they could not always afford the school fees. Attitudes to the education of girls may also have been an issue, despite the legal requirement for both boys and girls to be at school. Lists of defaulters often appear in school files at State Records NSW, and these may the only mention of your ancestor in the files, as enrolment lists rarely survive.

From these timelines I can see that my grandfather Richard Norman Eason, who was born in Greghamstown, near Blayney, in December 1900, probably started school in early 1907, the fourth of the five children in the family to attend school. As the fees for Primary School were abolished the year before his parents could afford to have four children in school.

Richard stayed at school until late 1914, an ominous year. His older brother, Eric, enlisted but at 14 Richard was too young to go to war and he worked on his father’s farm. He was a farmer and grazier for the rest of his long life, and I always thought that his big round writing probably hadn’t changed much from his school days all those years ago.

Source - J. Fletcher and J. Burnswoods, Government Schools of New South Wales 1848-1983, Department of Education, 1983.

There is a wealth of incredibly useful information published in old books that are no longer in wide circulation. This book is an old foolscap-sized publication which I bought at the recent State Records NSW Open Day for about $1.00. The book is falling apart and it doesn’t fit on my bookshelf with the other books. The information in the book, including the list of schools, is now available online and updated where necessary at http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/facts/attendance.shtm.

 

Researching schools – an Historical Timeline

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. First we need to know something of the educational system in New South Wales.

Here is a brief timeline of some milestones in the history of education in New South Wales.

1788 - no provision for education of the children of convicts or soldiers.

early 1800s - only schools were private “academies” and “public” schools subsidies or fully-funded by government but run by the Anglican Church.

1801 - Female Orphan School founded to prepare destitute girls for domestic service.

1819 - Male Orphan School founded for destitute boys.

1826-1833 - Clergy and Schools Corporation, run by Anglican Church and funded by grant of one seventh of all land in the Colony. Unpopular with other denominations and private landholders. Repealed in 1833.

1844 - Select Committee found only half of all children going to school.

1848 - Board of National Education introduced government education system. Local communities had to contribute one third of building costs, pay school fees and provide committee to run the school. New National Schools were built mostly in country areas where no schools currently existed provided a minimum of 30 pupils were enrolled, and fees paid.

1866 - Public Schools Act - restrictions on denominational schools, inspection of schools. National Schools became Public Schools, with minimum of 25 pupils. Provisional Schools, where the number was reduced even further, and Half-Time Schools, where a single teacher had to cover two schools, also introduced. The number of schools increased dramatically in the country, where they were most needed.

1870s - school available to almost all children but many attended irregularly or for brief periods. Most denominational schools except Catholic had closed or become government schools.

1880 - Public Instruction Act made attendance at school compulsory for 6-14 year olds. Secondary education introduced to prepare for university, with high fees. Funding was withdrawn from denominational schools resulting in the closure or absorption of many of them. New types of schools were introduced. Superior Public Schools combined primary and secondary education. High Schools were purely secondary schools, with high fees and low enrolments, intended to prepare students for university. Evening Public Schools were intended to cater for young people who had missed out on an education before it became compulsory, and ran at night. replaced the Council of Education with the Department of Public Instruction.

1890s - economic depression reduced spending on school buildings and many teachers retrenched, resulting in large class sizes in poor classrooms.

1904 - New Syllabus introduced – learning by doing.

1911 - High School fees abolished. Intermediate Certificate after two years of High School, and Leaving Certificate after a further two years.

1920s - more pre-vocational and academic courses introduced in High Schools

1914-1945 - World Wars and Great Depression reduce funding for schools and teachers

1961 - Wyndham Scheme introduced – Four years of High School for School Certificate, further two years for Higher School Certificate.

Sources:

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.

Research a Local School

Greghamstown School

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:

Government Schools since 1848 Search for Blayney

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.

Clicking on the type of school takes you to the Glossary of Schools. The Glossary of Schools explains the different types of schools, and makes interesting reading in its own right.

School history

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:

SRNSW School search 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!

SRNSW schools search Greghamstown

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!

More information about the school records held by State Records NSW can be found here, and about records of pupils here.

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.

Sources:

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.

Government Schools

Over the years since 1848 there have over 30 different kinds of government schools in New South Wales. Here are some of the most commonly-seen schools:

Public Schools

In 1848 a Board of National Education was established by Governor Fitzroy to establish schools based on the Irish system. National Schools were built to provide elementary education for a scattered population not catered for by the four religious denominations already providing education. The schools were called National Schools and in 1867 became Public Schools, when church schools came under the jurisdiction of the new Council of Education. The attendance of 30 children was required for a National School; reduced to 25 for Public  Schools in 1867 and 20 children in 1880.

Until the 1880s there were no publicly-funded secondary schools, and very few until 1910. Some Public Schools became Superior Public Schools, offering some secondary such as higher mathematics and languages.

Existing Public Schools remain today as elementary, or primary, schools.

Provisional Schools

Many country areas did not have enough children to justify the building of a National or Public School and so in 1867 the Provisional School was introduced, requiring a minimum of 15 children. Parents were required to pay for the building and furniture, and the Council of Education (later the Department of Education) provided books and equipment, and paid the teacher. The minimum number of children was reduced to 12 in the 1880s and by 1945 the minimum was 9 children.

Even though the Department made provision to supply all or part of the cost of buildings in 1882, most of the cost was still borne by parents into the 20th Century. Teachers had minimal or no training.

The remaining Provisional Schools became Public Schools in 1957.

Half-Time Schools

Schools with at least 10 children but less than 25 could be visited by itinerant teachers who travelled between a number of schools. These schools, introduced in 1867, were called half-time schools when the number of schools a teacher had to service was reduced to two schools in 1869. The minimum number of 20 children (across the two schools) was reduced to 16 in 1898 and the minimum was removed in 1908.

Intermediate Schools

In 1912 the Intermediate High School was developed to cater to children unable to attend the more academically-focused High Schools, and took the children to Intermediate Certificate level. Many were renamed Central Schools in 1944. Many of these schools became Junior High Schools and eventually full-fledged High Schools.

High Schools

Although provision had been made for secondary schools in 1880 very few were built until after 1910, when the education system was completely reorganised. Secondary schools specialised

  • High Schools catered for children expecting to go on to university
  • Commercial Schools catered to boys expecting to go into business
  • Junior Technical Schools were designed for boys entering the trades and industry
  • Domestic Science Schools were designed for girls becoming homemakers

From the 1920s the role of high schools became increasingly blurred and all secondary schools were called High Schools, although some may still carry their former names and functions such as Technical High Schools. Domestic Science Schools, I’m happy to report, became Girls High Schools and Junior High Schools.

Subsidised Schools

Where a community did not meet even the minimum requirement for any type of government school they could establish a Subsidised School, where the government paid a subsidy for each child and the parents had to provide everything else.

For a more complete listing of the types of schools see the Department’s Glossary.

Sources:

New South Wales Department of Education and Training, Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848. Website.  http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm

New South Wales Department of Education, Sydney and the Bush, A Pictorical History of Education in New South Wales. Published by the New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.

Five essential websites for NSW genealogy

Today I want to discuss websites that I find to be essential for researching family history in New South Wales. Genealogy has come a very long way in the last few years, with so many government repositories and others putting indexes, and even images of the actual records, online. Here are the websites that I use most often.

1. NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Historical Index Search is a necessary first step for anyone starting on their family history. Starting with the people you know – your parents and their parents, you can then start putting the meat on the bones – the hard evidence of birth, death, and marriage registrations. The index allows searching for births from 1788 to 1906 by name and/or parents’ names; deaths from 1788 to 1976 by name or parents’ names; and marriages from 1788 to 1956 by either or both parties’ names. The upper search limit increases each year by one year. Once an entry is found the certificate can be ordered and paid for online. Current cost for a certificate is $25.00.

2. NSW State Records was previously names the Archives Office of NSW. Their indexes online has many useful indexes including some censuses; Colonial Secretary Correspondence; Convicts; Court, Police and Prison records such as civil and criminal cases, divorces, gaol photographs, police service records, and some early probate records; Deceased Estate files of the Stamp Duties Office; Education and Child Welfare; Immigration and Shipping; Indigenous Australians; Insolvencies; Land records and Naturalization. Additional records and series are added to as indexing progresses. The Convict and Immigration indexes are essential resources for finding out how your ancestor arrived in Australia. Some indexes are held on the websites of other organisations.

3. Society of Australian Genealogists is based in Sydney and is a marvelous resource for Australian research and NSW research in particular. Their research guides are enormously helpful – factual and very informative. Online databases include Convicts’ Tickets of Leave, Electoral districts for Sydney Streets, Soldiers and Marines from 1787 to 1830, and NSW Ships Musters 1816-1825. The catalogue shows what resources are available when you visit the library and is being added to all the time.

4. State Library of NSW has many resources that are also available in other repositories such as State Records NSW. I always check their catalogue to see if it is worthwhile to visit for records on microfilm or microfiche, both Australian and from the UK. They also have some records for other states. Mitchell Library and the William Dixson Library in particular specialise in Australian and New Zealand books and manuscripts. The State Library also has a vast collection of maps and plans, pictures, photographs and newspapers.

5. NSW Department of Lands is not an immediately obvious source for family history, and it does allow some limited property searches here. What I use it for most often is its Historical Parish Maps, which can be viewed in small sections from here. It may be useful before doing a map search to find the correct parish using the search at the Geographical Names Board. All the existing parish maps that have been superceded by more recent versions have been digitised and put online. Towns are included to the street level, and portions of land have the names of the original purchaser. Hours can be spent looking at these maps. CDs of the maps are also available from the Department.

6. I know I said there would be five websites, but I think the State Records NSW website must be mentioned again apart from its online indexes. This is the place to find out whether the records you want actually exist and have been archived. As the progressive indexing of their holding continues more and more records can be found by searching in Archives Investigator, their catalogue search facility. For example, probate files can be found by searching for the name and the word “death” as keywords (and using “All Words” not “Exact Phrase”). Their Archives in Brief series are very useful guides to the records they hold and are available online or in hardcopy in State Records Reading Rooms.

These are the NSW sites that I use most often in my research for myself and others. I would be very interested to hear from others if they disagree with anything on my list, or have others they would like to share.