While academic records may not provide much in vital or relationship details, they can be useful in enriching knowledge of an individual's life background. College records can be especially rewarding since they can shed light on a person's educational or career goals. It is not difficult to obtain a copy of an academic transcript/record from a college or university, particularly if a significant amount of time has passed since the person was alive.
In my particular case, my paternal grandmother informed me that her father, John Tyler Fairall (b. 1892, d. 1972), had attended Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia at some point in the early 1900s. His obituary also stated the same [see photo on right, he was 20 years old here - not too long after attending Shepherd College].
By calling the registrar's office of what is now Shepherd University, I was able to request his academic transcript with the estimated time frame of his attendance. I was required to provide documentation to support that I was related to J.T. Fairall, which again was not very difficult. The registrar searched through their old records (she also expressed how interesting it was to go through their archives since people typically don't request older records), and about a month later, at very little financial cost, I was delighted to receive a copy of his academic record, which you can see here. I took the liberty of electronically stitching together the sections of his record since it was photocopied on two different pages.
Academic Transcript for John Tyler Fairall
(You can right click the image and open in a new tab/window for a full view)
Source Citation: Academic Transcript for John Tyler Fairall, 1907 - 1909; Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, West Virginia; supplied 26 March 2007 to author; author's files.
The transcript shows his "date of entry" of Sep. 1907 into the college, at the young age of 15. No record was found of his graduation. J.T. Fairall was enrolled in the Cadet Corps, presumably with the understanding that he would be commissioned into the U.S. Army as an officer (he would later become a reconnaissance pilot during World War I in France with the rank of Lieutenant).
The parent's name is provided on the transcript, Mrs. A.E. Fairall (his mother, Anna Eliza).
He received credit for a few classes based on his prior education with "Grade 2 school and free school certificates." Though more classes are offered today in colleges, J.T. did have options from which to choose. He was a decent speller, according to his grades in "Orthography," a term for the study of spelling. In the study of languages, he mostly learned Latin though he took a bit of German, too. Latin wasn't his strong suit, though. Overall, he seemed to do well in classes but many of the examinations stumped him (perhaps an anxious test taker?). He had previous credit for penmanship - you certainly don't see penmanship as a college-level course anymore! At the far-right end of the transcript, there is a section called "Deportment," which I believe relates to his manners/behavior. He must have presented himself well and paid attention in class!
As you can see, his transcript showed clues of the directions toward which he was heading. What it doesn't show is whether he lived on the college campus or commuted. It is possible he made a short trek to the college as he had family living in Shepherdstown at the time.
Shepherd University Special Collections provides online access to previously published course catalogs and yearbooks. During J.T.'s time, the institution was a State Normal School, and tuition was free to residents of West Virginia - a far cry from the costs of a college education today!