Expert Commentary

Five ways to find public figures’ yearbooks

Often, yearbooks are available to journalists – you only need to know where to look. We've compiled resources to aid your search.

library shelf

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page features an image of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robes; Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page is littered with references to drinking, parties and insulting references to a peer at a nearby girls’ school.

The racist and sexist content contained within these pages have received scrutiny from constituents, public figures and the media. Yearbooks are news.

“I think it’s safe to say that it’s open season on yearbooks now, no matter what you’re running for,” said Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast, this week on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Often, school yearbooks are available to journalists — you only need to know where to look. Journalist’s Resource has pulled together a few suggestions for locating and accessing old yearbooks.

  1. The Internet (Archive) is your friend.

Many yearbooks have made their way online thanks to the push to digitization. For example, the Boston Public Library has led an initiative to digitize yearbooks from over 140 Massachusetts towns, which are now available on the Internet Archive, a non-profit library with millions of free books, as well as archived websites, music and movies. DigitalNC has published college and high school yearbooks from North Carolina schools on the Internet Archive as well as on their own site. For your own searches, try adding the school name and desired year to these basic queries: subject:”Yearbooks,” subject:”School yearbooks,” subject:”College yearbooks.”

  1. Check the library.

Many colleges keep yearbooks for each graduating class in their library or archives. Some are even digitized and accessible online.

WorldCat — a searchable online collection of 72,000 library catalogs — is a good place to start your search. Basic queries for school yearbooks and college yearbooks yield thousands of results that you can refine further according to your needs. Conveniently, WorldCat lists all of the libraries that have a particular item in their collections. And if you’re drawing a blank there, you can try going directly to the library catalog of the particular institution you’re interested in (which is usually available online) — or calling — for more details.

The same goes for high school and professional schools’ yearbooks (and yes, many medical and law schools publish yearbooks).

For high school yearbooks, the local town’s public library is another option if the school library does not allow access.

  1. Get in touch with classmates.

Reach out to people who graduated in the same class as the subject in question. This method could involve a lot of calls, emails and outreach through social media, but it’s worth trying (someone must have hung onto their old yearbook, right?). A virtual option is, which has a collection of 300,000 digitized yearbooks.

  1. Search eBay.

It seems unlikely that if the above methods have failed, you’ll be able to locate a copy of the hard-to-find yearbook for sale online. That being said, there are thousands of yearbooks for sale on eBay, so why not check?

  1. Explore individual archival projects, like the OCI Yearbook Project.

Over 1,200 prisoners in Oklahoma work for Oklahoma Correctional Industries (OCI), producing textiles, furniture, signs and — most relevant to our purposes — scanning yearbooks free of charge for high schools. Searching online for the OCI Yearbook Project yields a number of archived collections.