I’m one of the millions of Americans following the allegations surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – with both sides of the aisle in a frenzy. One artifact of Kavanaugh’s high school experience gaining attention is a yearbook from the school he attended, Georgetown Preparatory School. Some tout it as further support for his accuser’s sexual assault claim while others describe it as an adolescent relic that reflects the yearbook staff’s immaturity more than Kavanaugh’s actions. Regardless, its role in the increasingly contentious nomination process speaks to how yearbooks can make an impact on people long after they’ve graduated high school.

These news reports reminded me of when we have used yearbooks to aid investigations. As part of my job, I regularly research records like criminal and civil court filings, bankruptcy petitions, property records, liens and judgments, social media accounts and press reports. However, yearbooks also have served as useful sources of information in certain investigations. Not all yearbooks are readily accessible to the public, but they often are available at schools, libraries or through websites like classmates.com.

Pen-and-paper GPS

Yearbooks can be a useful resource when trying to locate people. In one case, a person wanted to find his elementary school teacher from decades before and could only remember the school, year and last name of the teacher. We obtained a yearbook for that year and were able to identify the teacher’s full name. We then searched for teacher licenses under that name and eventually found social media accounts and contact information for this teacher.

Verifying long-lost details

We have used yearbooks to confirm details in investigations, such as verifying that subjects attended a certain school when they said they did. In one case that involved an allegation of wrongdoing from decades before, we reviewed yearbooks to find photos of a school during a certain period to see if they matched descriptions that a subject had made about the school.

It was Judd Nelson, with the pencil, in the library

We have also used yearbooks as a way to identify potential witnesses to interview for an investigation. In one case that involved allegations against a school employee from decades before, we used yearbooks to identify students, teachers and other staff to interview from that time.

In another case, someone made an allegation involving a family member who had died. The wrongdoing allegedly occurred while this family member was a student at a particular school. Because we could not interview that family member, we reviewed yearbooks from the school the family member attended to identify potential friends and teachers to interview.

Uncovering an (impressive) unknown past

Yearbooks can provide interesting color about a subject’s distant past. In one case, we obtained a subject’s high school yearbook, which showed this person was a standout athlete who graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and earned a scholarship from a prestigious university. We also obtained copies of yearbooks at the university this subject attended, which included information about his personal and professional accomplishments since he had graduated from the school.

Doctor who?

In another case, we researched yearbooks to try to confirm whether a subject had changed their birth name. We initially searched various courthouses in an attempt to identify a name change case for this subject. When that did not work, we searched yearbooks for the high school he attended to determine whether he was listed under his current name or what we believed was his birth name.

While your yearbook is likely tucked away in a box for “sentimental objects that gather dust but you just can’t throw out,” for investigators it can be a dynamic tool. These adolescent treasures will continue to play a significant role in uncovering information that would otherwise be gone forever.