The Nonexistent Genealogical Record
This past week I had several interesting situations occur that really drove home to me the connection between education and genealogy.
The first was an email from my division superintendent that requested everyone bring a photo of their high school graduation to post as a visual reminder of our district’s goal of increasing high school graduation rates. Problem is, I don’t have a grad photo. If you’re one of my loyal readers you know my parents were divorced when I was young. I attended 1st through 11th grade in the Lake County, Indiana school district where my mom and I lived with my grandparents. In June of my rising senior year I sat for senior picture; the custom at that time was girls had to wear a crew neck grey top- no mortar boards. I have a copy of the photo which never appeared in a school yearbook because in August, my mother, who was employed by Montgomery Wards Department Stores, which was then owned by Mobil Oil, was given a transfer to Florida. Mom gave me the option of going with her or moving in with my dad and step-mother to complete my senior year in Indiana. Either way, I would have had to attend a different high school so I opted to move to Florida.
My first day of my senior year at St. Petersburg High School was a disaster. I had to retake classes I had already passed because Pinellas County Schools did not have a work-study program that I was scheduled to take in Indiana. They wouldn’t let me attend school part time, either. I had wanted to work my senior year to save money for college so that goal was shot. In addition, no one spoke to me the entire day, even when I asked for directions. I came home that evening and announced that I was quitting school. My mother insisted I return so the next morning we met with the guidance counselor. I don’t remember his name but I remember his complete lack of concern. He suggested I enroll in a school for drop outs where I could complete assignments at my own pace and hold a job. My mom drove me to the new school. As we entered there was a fist fight in the hall and we had trouble getting into the office. No adults were around although this was adult education. I only needed 3 classes to graduate but the school only allowed enrolling in 2 classes at a time. I finished senior English and Business Math in two weeks. I then enrolled in Americanism vs. Communism. Back in the day, the state of Florida was fairly certain Fidel Castro was going to storm the shores so every Florida senior had to be prepared by taking this ridiculous course. Even though I finished the actual course work in another 2 weeks I was forced to sit for the entire school day in the class for an additional two weeks as there was a requirement that students must be enrolled for a certain number of hours. The teacher was kind and told me I could bring anything quiet to do so I read a book a day. No one spoke to me at this school either. At the time, doctors, judges and other leaders in the community were so afraid that their children would become drug addicts that they enrolled them in a now defunct program called “The Seed.” Anyone enrolled was not permitted to speak with anyone outside of the group. The organization decided to enroll all of their students at the adult ed program probably because there would be less opportunity to interact with other teens. I completed my entire senior year in 6 weeks. When I went to the school counselor to turn in my completion paperwork she informed me the district would mail my diploma to me by the end of the semester (which they did but spelled my name wrong which is another story).
I never had a graduation ceremony so I never wore a cap and gown which is why I don’t have any pictures to contribute. Hubby offered to photo shop my senior pic to add a mortar board but I nixed that idea. I don’t want to fake history. I submitted a photo of my college graduation instead.
Technically, I'm a high school graduate as I had the diploma conferred to me via US Mail but since this didn’t occur with pomp and circumstance I have no photo. Several of my co-workers did attend a graduation ceremony but it wasn’t a custom to take a picture of the diploma being conferred so they don’t have pictures, either.
I think the practice of taking a picture as the diploma is being awarded must have occurred in my area after the early 1980’s. My bachelor’s and first master’s degree photos were taken by my mom and husband. By the time I received my second masters in the 90’s, photographers were on stage snapping away during the ceremony. By the 2000’s you could get the whole event on DVD.
My point is you may be looking for a record or photo that doesn’t exist because it was never recorded. Next time you're searching for that wedding photo or birth certificate think about the possibility that it never was! This will save you time and frustration - just look for an alternative, like the marriage license of a baptism certificate. In my case, I have the transcripts and diploma - just no picture.