University education records might not seem an obvious place to look for your ancestor. The earliest universities are Oxford which was established in the 12th century, followed by Cambridge. Form the 15th century onwards, four universities St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh were established. Trinity College Dublin dates from the late 16th century. Both London and Durham universities were established in the 19th century. Universities have Alumni records and a number of these have been digitised. It is possible to obtain information, such as the name of the student’s father, home location etc. They also have many other records, for example Oxford University Chancellors Court where, amongst other things, students could be investigated and punished for their misdemeanours. More recent information will of course be subject to the requirements of the Data Protection legislation.
Other providers of education include the Mechanics Institutes and the WEA. Mechanics Institutes were intended to provide educational opportunities for working men although there are examples of them becoming more like clubs for factory owners and the professional classes. In my home town, 3 daughters of a local clergyman would walk to town in order to borrow books from the Mechanics Institute Library. You might have heard of them: Charlotte Emily and Anne Bronte. As a backlash, the local Temperance Movement set up a meeting place “free from the influence of alcohol” where members of the labouring classes (men!) could meet, read newspapers and listen to lectures. A number of non-conformist churches and chapels had their own educational establishments too where it is possible to locate ancestors.
The WEA continues to thrive and is providing educational courses in the twenty first century. One of the requirements placed upon Workhouse Guardians by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was to provide education for pauper children at a time when education provision for the children of the poor. Guardian minute books may contain information about the employment of teaching staff and lesson content. It is also worth checking trade directories to identify schools which operated in the local community.
Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my research which uncovered a student who went from a workhouse to Oxford University.