While here in Denver it may not yet feel like fall, students of all ages are heading back to school! This got me thinking about my mom’s stories of her elementary school days.
She spoke sparingly of it–she didn’t like school and wasn’t a great student–but what she did tell seemed more out of the 19th century than the 20th. She said it was a one or two roomed school house–the story would change sometimes. It wasn’t uphill both ways but she did walk to school every day unless the weather was bad and then her dad would drive her. She was spared the worst of the Indiana winters, at least!
But I wanted to find out more. Could I actually figure out which school she went to?
The Hunt Begins
Unfortunately everyone in my family with first hand knowledge of the school has passed away. So I would have to do it the hard way!
First, I set out the research problem: What elementary school did mom attend?
Then I considered what I knew already:
- She was living on her family’s farm in Wabash County, Indiana, near North Manchester.
- She attended elementary school approximately 1948/9-1954/5, based on her year of birth.
- She said she walked there and that it had 1-2 rooms.
I admit I had never pinpointed mom’s childhood home on a map (genealogists are people too!). We had driven by the property as children so I knew it was remote, but I hadn’t used the power of Google to pin it down. So the first step was to locate where the farm was on a map.
Sounds easy, right? 😐
As mentioned above, I knew that they lived on a farm near North Manchester and Servia in Wabash County, Indiana. But I only had a rural route for an address–not even a box number.
So where to begin? Well, we start with what we have of course. In this case: census data. However, the census info was a little frustrating:
- In 1930, mom’s already married parents were living with her paternal grandfather on what I assume was the family farm.
- By 1940, her parents and their growing family (no mom yet, she came along in 1943) were living on a rented farm in the vicinity of the paternal grandfather.
- My mother’s stories never mentioned a move but did occasionally mention that her grandfather lived with them.
This created questions. Did they move in with her grandfather? Or did the grandfather move in with them? It makes more sense for them to move in with the grandfather, since they were renting and he owned his farm. It could also be Secret Option 3: mom’s family bought a different property and everyone moved in together.
I know in the end that her parents owned their home–the kids had to decide what to do with it after they passed away. So now my hope lay with plat books. Hopefully they would give me both some ownership info and location info, at least narrower than a very large rural route!
Plat & Map Books
The internet really does make everything better! I was able to find several plat and map books:
1928: This gave me the location of the grandfather’s farm. And low and behold, just south of it, within easy walking distance, is a school! But, this is about 20 years before mom would have been attending, so I need something that verifies this is the same land that mom later called home.
1967: Now we’re a bit too far in the future, but this one does confirm that her father now owns the same land that had belonged to her grandfather. He died in 1960, so there is a chance that they didn’t move until after his death, but mom probably would have mentioned a move in her late teens. I needed to find something between 1945-1950, if possible, though perhaps outside of these books…
Beyond the Plat Books
Sadly, I did bomb out on finding the appropriate era plat books online. So I had to look into other documentation:
- Her grandfather’s obituary states that he was living with his son at the time of his death in 1960. His son (mom’s father) was also the informant on his death certificate, which supports this statement. So we know somewhere between 1940 and 1960, mom’s family moved in with her grandfather. And most likely this was between 1940 and 1945ish, either before mom’s birth or shortly there after.
- The grandfather’s second wife died in 1955, from a cardiac occlusion but she was also sadly suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia. So, perhaps his son, daughter-in-law, and four growing children would have been a welcome addition to maintaining a 174 acre farm with fields and livestock?
- A county land records search brought up one mention of mom’s parents. They apparently engaged with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in April 1960, shortly after the grandfather’s death. However buying a copy of the record is surprising expensive. And may or may not help–the index doesn’t say if they were buying or selling land, or something else entirely.
- Alas, I was also unable to locate any city directories for the correct time period, though there is a good chance they too would only have provided a rural route.
Frankly, at this point, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and say that they most likely moved back onto the family farm before or slightly after mom’s birth in 1943. A more definitive(ish) answer will be available when the 1950 Census becomes available next year. But I don’t want to wait that long to finish this article. 😄
So what about the school itself? Mom said that it was a one to two room school house but didn’t comment much more than that. She hated school so much she didn’t like talking about it. And I didn’t think to ask for details. Note to all my readers: always ask for details!
The plat books show that outside of the towns, there seems to be a schoolhouse roughly every two miles. “Mom’s school” appears on maps back as far as 1849. I sincerely hope the building had been updated in the following years!
Luckily, the North Manchester Historical Society compiled a list of some of these rural schools (thank you NMHS!). The school in question has been dubbed “Daniels School” as it was across from land owned by the Daniels family (later owned partially by my family).
Daniels School, on the Payton Daniels farm, 2 miles south of the Shepherd School. It’s a mile north of Elks. There’s a cemetery across the road from it.LIST OF SCHOOLS IN CHESTER TOWNSHIP AS THEY WERE IN ABOUT 1880
Now comes the tricky part: Did the school make it to the 1940s? It is still on the 1928 plat book, so possibly?
I know that the high school in North Manchester that mom went to opened up in 1960 (she was in the first graduating class). And that the old high school became an elementary school–that I later attended as a child. So, I suspect that the outlying schools would have closed in the 1950s as the high school converted over. They also disappear off of the 1967 maps.
I did find one mention that supports this theory, thankfully. A history of Servia (the nearest village) states that the school in Servia was “discontinued with the consolidation of the Chester-Manchester schools and later torn down” in 1957. Subsequent searching did not bring up anything about the little rural schools, but lots of info on how controversial this consolidation was. Perhaps the fate of those little schools was of no consequence in the battle of wills over the consolidation?
Interestingly, I also found a possible explanation for the uncertain number of rooms. A still extant (at least as of 2018) schoolhouse from the same area shows that an addition was added in the 20th century (judging by materials). So perhaps the school was a one room school that morphed into a two room school later on?
For right now, I believe it is reasonable to assume that the Daniels School was mom’s school. This is based on:
- Her stories: The location matches her description and the size of the rural schools aligns with her stories.
- The known chronology of the family farm: Her family (parents and grandparents) lived on and owned property near the school.
- The documented details on school locations and logical closure dates.
This is definitely not definitive. I need more proof of mom’s family’s residence locations and ideally more information on the closure of the small rural schools. But considering the record limitations I’m up against, not too bad!
So where did this hunt for mom’s school lead us? As with most things in genealogy (and life), to no definitive conclusion. But what a journey! I found out more about my mom’s family’s history, spent way too much reading about schools in a small corner of rural Indiana, discovered an extremely esoteric fight over school administration consolidation, and reconnected with my own childhood. Whew!
And I realized yet again how our lives are made up of small changes that will baffle and consternate genealogists and historians a mere 70 years later! 😄
I look forward to seeing what the 1950 Census confirms for their location. And I will add the school and property questions to my list of things to look up when I’m back in Indiana and/or when Newspapers.com does a free preview weekend for their premium papers.*
What about you? Have you ever looked into your parents or grandparents schools? What did you find? Let me know below!
*I swear if you look for a specific paper, they put it behind the premium paywall. Or is this just my experience?
Cover Image – Classroom. Interior of “little red schoolhouse.” Crossville, Tennessee, 1935. Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969 (Photographer). From the Farm Security Administration Photographs, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. Public Domain.
One-room schoolhouse, Hope, Indiana, 1908. Cropped Image from postcard, Hope, Bartholomew County, Indiana, United States. From Dortha C. May Collection on Indiana Memory, Indiana State Library. Public Domain.
School in Winter. Old Schoolhouse and Students, Syracuse, Indiana. Date Unknown. Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum/Syracuse Public Library Digital Collection on Indiana Memory, Indiana State Library. Copyright Unknown (assumed Public Domain based on fashions in photo).
Google Image of School Corner. From Google Maps Street View. Image taken 2009, capture taken 2021. ©Google 2021
Google Image of Acme School, Pleasant Township. From Google Maps Street View. Image taken 2018, capture taken 2021. ©Google 2021