Summer 2013 Graduate Assistant Update - RaeAnn Swanson

Working with the Rural School Records this summer was a great experience for me. As a recent graduate and soon to be a graduate student of the History Department at UNI, working with historical documents and helping organize information for researchers is central to my field of study. Because I was unfamiliar with the way school records were kept, the first days of working with the Rural School Records brought quite a few difficulties. It took pouring over hundreds of Daily Attendance Registers to finally learn how to distinguish them from Room Registers and various other reports. I was surprised that there was generally no standard format for keeping the same type of record, even within the same township. The Records have taught me that throughout the years, teachers and other school personnel utilized books that contained the same information just in a slightly different format.

Nevertheless, the positive achievements of the summer easily outweighed the difficulties. These positive moments include finishing multiple counties’ microfilm record and recovering many forgotten school names that were only accessible in the depths of the records or the memories of the students. While many of these events stick out in my memory, I think the most powerful experience of my summer occurred as I was sifting through a bound book of Teachers Reports to the Superintendent searching for school names from Clayton County. My grandparents currently live in Postville, Iowa, and their parents and grandparents had lived near there too. While flipping through the pages, I came across a few “Schupbachs” and “Pecks,” and I knew these were distant relatives that I had only heard about in stories from my grandparents’ youth. Another memorable experience from this summer was working on the microfilm records of Floyd County where my hometown Nora Springs is located.

It was interesting to see records from teachers who were still active in the community. In one item in the microfilm, I recognized the name of a close friends’ relative. I was able to see what years they taught, what subject they taught, and their salary. When I told my friend of the discovery they were pleased and surprised that those records even existed today. The vast amount of information contained in the documents of the Rural School Records make them an excellent resource for anyone working on an academic research project, a family genealogy, or for local historical societies. I appreciate being allowed to contribute to the organization of the Rural School Records because I see they hold immense value as historical artifacts of Iowa’s educational past.