Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Tracing College & Professional Athletes

The News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington
                    24 Jan 1941, Pg. 22

Resources to Uncover the Noted Athlete
Recently the a3Genealogy Research Team was charged to recreate an ancestor’s lost athletic scrapbook.  Here are some of the few tips uncovered.

Do you have an ancestor who was an athlete? You may know about your relative’s prowess from family lore or may have discovered their talent in the course of your research. The key to successfully ferret information on a competitive athlete lies in their athletic level: amateur, professional, or Olympic level.  The researcher must also understand local, regional, state, and league rankings of the specific sport being researched.

It is helpful to know how competitions are organized. For example, what leagues or clubs are there locally in the region? Most understand collegiate sport school divisions, or what was called the interscholastic competitions, but if not, here is a good review of the workings of NCAA founded in 1906. Know that most sports have their own national organization, as well as local groups. Often the accounts of your athletic ancestors' accomplishments may be located in under used university archives and records centers. 

Most competitive professional athletes began in high school or competed at the college level. competitions. A great place to start is with high school or college yearbooks. Ancestry has a digitized collection of high school and college yearbooks. Recently when researching a competitive skier, I was able to follow his success through the University of Washington yearbooks. The yearbook collection spans from 1900 to 1994 are at University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection.

Art Strom was both a football player in the fall, and a skier in the winter. His university yearbook blurb, 1942, also provided the high school he attended.

Researchers may also uncover ancestors who attended defunct universities through yearbooks. Harold Strader, a multi-sports athlete at the College of Emporia was found in the 1954 annals of this now defunct private Presbyterian college in Emporia, Kansas. 

Harold Strader ran on the winning track team for The Fighting Presbies. 

As with any research on a defunct institution, the family historian will want to identify the successor. Looking for the papers, and yearbooks of the Fighting Presbies that closed their door in 1974, researchers would need to contact the successor, the University of Emporia, in Emporia Kansas.

If your ancestor made it to the professional level of their sport, you can expand your research. For example, baseball has a website that lists of over 22,700 major league players and information on minor league affiliates. Like all sports, baseball has tiered affiliates: AAA, AA, Adv A A Rookie; and don’t forget the Foreign Rooke. Visit https://www.baseball-reference.com/.

Most sports have an associated museum or hall of fame. The International Swimming Hall of Fame, which also has a museum, is at https://www.ishof.org/. We were able to search by athlete and year.

For other Olympic games, researchers may find participants, medal winners, and more on this comprehensive (cited) U. S. at the Olympics Wikipedia page: For Track and Field we were also able to obtain the Alphabetical Index of All Olympic Trial Competitors. 

Other Resources

  • Sports Museums. Some states have their own  Sports Museums. You can find information about the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at https://mosportshalloffame.com, for example.
  • Local Libraries. Many local libraries are the collectors of regional yearbooks, local libraries, obituaries, etc.
  • State Historical Societies. A State Historical Society may be the repository of ephemera, such as programs or posters. This is a great place to check for magazines or newspapers dedicated to the sport.
  • Newspaper Research. For your Olympic ancestors know that newspaper articles reporting the results of tryouts and events were reported from the beginning of the 1896 modern Olympics. Know that the Olympic games were cancelled in 1916, 1940, and 1944 but, that leaves many potential years in which your ancestor might have competed.

Lead Writer: 
Julie Crain Miguel, Walnut Hill Genealogy
a3Genealogy Freelance Researcher

Be Historically Correct
Accurate Accessible Answers


  1. Very interesting. Fun to see Art Strom listed. Good job‼️