Senior citizens can find long lost yearbooks online

By: Mary Genson | Metro | Published February 1, 2024

  A page from a Birmingham High School yearbook.

A page from a Birmingham High School yearbook.


METRO DETROIT — Cherished memories come from receiving a yearbook on the last day of school and having friends and teachers sign it with personalized messages. Not only are they personal keepsakes of time spent in school, but they can also act as historical records for decades to come.

Many local libraries and museums have taken the initiative to create online databases of their communities’ digital yearbooks.


Birmingham’s historical yearbook collection is now available online through the Birmingham Museum. Birmingham residents and history buffs can access the 1919-1929 issues for free.

“People have been waiting to get a peek at our oldest yearbooks. They shed a light on what it was like to live in Birmingham in the early 20th century, and the world of teenagers back then,”  Birmingham Museum Director Leslie Pielack said in an email. “Flipping through our historic yearbook collection is a delightful glimpse of the young people, their educators, and their hopes and dreams. Especially at this time of year, many of us are reminded of the importance of family and our personal roots.”

The museum’s school yearbook collection has been acquired over the last 50 years, including the first yearbook printed by Birmingham High School, in 1919.

Through yearbooks, valuable information can be gathered by experts, including genealogists and local historians, as well as families conducting research of their own.

“It gives a really good window into how life was back then,” Museum Assistant Justin Koch said. “One thing that I really find fascinating when I was flipping through these was 100 years ago, society was very different than it is today, but at the end of the day, teenagers are kind of the same as they were back then.”

To make it easier on people looking for specific family members, the yearbook collection is searchable. Someone could type in their families name and be brought to the page where that name is listed.

The museum’s collection is only missing a few issues from the early 20th century to the 1980s. Koch said he hopes that at some point they will be able to acquire the editions they are missing from the collection.


Rochester Hills
The Rochester Hills Public Library has a digital collection of resources for the community to browse through.

“It gives us a snapshot of the history of our community,” said Hilary Maurin, the adult services librarian at Rochester Hills Public Library. “Our community, specifically, has always been very focused on education. So, especially those older yearbooks going back to the 1920s, it is so great to see the legacy of 100 years now that’s been going on with Rochester High School.”

Maurin added that the digital versions make it easier to keep copies safe. They have had some celebrities come through the school system, so digital copies keep these photos preserved. For example, Madonna is featured in one of the yearbooks from her time in Rochester Hills, but it is no longer available because someone cut her photo out of the physical edition.


Royal Oak
The Royal Oak Public Library has a digital library of historical Kimball High School Lancer yearbooks from 1958-2006. With each vibrant cover on display, the books are easy to navigate and are full-text searchable. Yearbooks can also be downloaded for offline access.

Susan Sheiner, the adult services librarian at the Royal Oak Public Library, said she has often found people looking for old classmates in these yearbooks, as well as relatives, to see what life was like when they graduated from high school.

“I think it’s a way for people to connect with parts of their family history and do research on various historical moments,” Sheiner said.


Northville District Library has a large collection of yearbooks available online in a searchable format. They have historic yearbooks available for both high school and middle school.

Laura Mancini, the director of the Northville District Library, said these yearbooks are a great way to see what the city and the people living in the city were like during specific moments in time.

“Northville is a town that, you know, has a lot of local history to it. It’s a historic town, and people are very proud of their history and very interested in it. So we do have folks that regularly research Northville history, and we want to be a resource for them,” Mancini said.

In addition to the libraries listed, there are several communities that have also offer these resources. Check your local library or historical society to find out.