The years spent at school made up a significant period of our lives. In this blog, we explore the different resources you can use to research your ancestor’s education in Victoria.

A photograph of Hedley S. School pupils in 1917
Hedley S. School pupils 1917 H82.96/48

Finding the school

To find your ancestor’s school records, you need to begin by identifying the name of the school your ancestor attended. Unfortunately, there is no centralised index that covers all Victorian schools so discovering where your ancestor went to school can be tricky.

Children often attended schools close to where they lived. If you don’t know the name of the school your ancestor attended, you can try to narrow it down by researching the suburb or town in which they lived.

Browsing online street directories can help you identify local schools near where your ancestor lived. The following resources are available to view online:

  • Melbourne street directories 1912-1952 online via State Library Victoria
  • Melway street directories 1966-1999 online via the University of Melbourne

The Archives Access Victoria website has compiled a Victorian Schools Map from Public Records Office (PROV) Building files. This allows you to see the location of approximately 2,500 schools in Victoria.

For rural schools established before 1972, the book Vision and realisation is a great resource. It contains short histories of all Victorian state schools. You can access a copy at State Library Victoria and many other Victorian public libraries. Volume 2 of this publication has been indexed and many families, inspectors and teachers are mentioned from the Glenelg, Wimmera, Mallee, Loddon, Central Highlands, Corangamite and Barwon regions.

You could also try consulting the Australian schools directory, which allows you to search by map or suburb for the details of current Australian schools.

Regional boundaries for government in Victoria. 1975? MAPS 820 GA 1975?

Finding school records

Once you know the name of the school your ancestor attended or you’ve narrowed down some options, you can start to look for school records.

If the school still exists, contact the school to see if they archive their own school records or they may be able to advise where the records are stored and if they have been kept. The Directory of Australian Archives is a useful resource for finding school archives.

If the school no longer exists, you can try the following locations:

Government schools

School pupil registers for various government schools are available at the Public Records Office Victoria (PROV). Unfortunately, many records of schools that were established and were closed in the 19th century and early 20th century have not survived.

The Victorian Pupil Register Database on Archival Access Victoria’s website has indexed pupil registers from over 245 Victorian state primary schools and lists over 113,000 past pupils. This website is a great starting point, especially if you’re unsure which school your ancestor attended.

The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) hold a collection of Apprenticeship records, from 1926 to 1990. An online list from 1929 to 1967 can be browsed. If you find a name, the record can be ordered and viewed at the PROV Reading Room in North Melbourne. Some records are unavailable due to the Public Records Act.

Non Government schools

If you’re researching a church or independent school that has closed down, try contacting the agency or body that was responsible for the school. For instance, if you’re researching a Melbourne Catholic school, try contacting the Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools, regarding access to records.

It’s also possible that a local historical society or public library has copies of historical pupil lists for their area.

You can also try searching the name of the school in the State Library’s catalogue to see if we hold published pupil registers or other material relating to the school (e.g. school magazines, photographs, memorabilia… etc).
You can use the Trove website to search collections held at public libraries across Australia.

Seagull. Sea Lake High School magazine. SF 373 A

School histories

Try searching the Library’s online catalogue for the name of the school, together with the keyword history; for example ‘Ballarat high school history‘. This search should result in any published history of the school.

The Collection of histories of state schools and school districts is another fantastic resource. These histories were prepared for a school exhibition in September-October 1922 to celebrate the diamond jubilee of State School Education. If the school you’re researching was running in the 1920s, it’s well worth investigating this collection.

Collection of histories of state schools and school districts, 1922, Map of Wandiligong. M 3241-M 3938 MS PC 32/3/1

Newspapers

Schools were often mentioned in local newspapers. Try searching Trove’s digitised newspaper database for the name of the student and the suburb in which they lived.

For example, a search for “Stanley Stranks” Brunswick retrieved the article below. It shows that Stanley attended the West Brunswick State School in 1898.

You won’t always find your person listed, but if they won a school prize or were involved in school sporting competitions, you may get lucky!

School photographs

To find school photographs in our collection, try searching for the name of the school in the State Library catalogue and then limit to ‘Pictures & photographs’.

The Public Record Office Victoria also hold many photographs of Victorian Government schools.

In their digitised photographs of schools & other education buildings collection, you can search for a particular school and may find images of school students from that school captured in exterior and interiors views, classrooms, playgrounds and sporting activities.

They also hold non-digitised photographs of schools, which includes images of schools, students and school sports.

Another interesting collection is the Publication Branch Photographs, Dept Education. You can search this collection by place name, subject or keyword. School students from 1950 to 1967 are captured in classrooms and camp activities.

If you would like to research the history of schools or education in Victoria further, please see our online research guide.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Not sure if this is of interest but I have copies of Mansfield High School magazine “The Lantern” which I have scanned into pdf s. The school was established in 1962 and I have copies of 1963 to 1969. This year is the sixtieth since it’s establishment.

    • Dear Geoff,
      Thank you for your offer of copies of the Mansfield High School magazine. I will check with the relevant library department and reply to you again.
      Kind regards
      Lois

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