of Genealogical Education
Well, enough with the analogies to food, we're all beginning
to get a bit hungry. I hope, however, to have piqued your
mental hunger. All too often we forget, in our rush to find
more ancestors, or to learn more about our ancestors, that
family history research does not simply consist of looking
at sources to see if grandpa Pierce is listed, or to see
if his wife's maiden name was given. Rather, the very first
thing we need to do (after gathering our information from
family members), is to learn what kinds of records exist,
and what kind of information we can expect to find in them.
Hence, there are classes and books about sources: how to
use them, where to find them, what information is in them,
too often we forget, that family history research
does not simply consist of looking at sources
to see if grandpa Pierce is listed..
But, that's not all. Don't stop with learning about sources.
You need to learn about geography, history, varying social conditions,
demography, religions, immigration, migration, occupations, and
so much more. Every family we research is different and requires
a different set of knowledge in order for us to be successful.
For example, I am currently researching a free black family in
Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Therefore, one of the things
I needed to learn is when and how that state abolished slavery.
Fortunately, many other family historians have also recognized
the need for ongoing education. Over the past two decades, a significant
number of tremendous educational opportunities have developed.
The following is just an introduction, but you will find all of
them to be useful, regardless of your current level of genealogical
knowledge. In fact, one of the aspects that separates the advanced
genealogist from the beginner is the recognition that he or she
needs to be constantly learning new information and search tactics.
That's how the really tough problems are solved!
The first place to begin is with genealogical societies. These
are not-for-profit organizations of persons sharing an interest
in family history. Societies exist on the national, state, regional,
and most importantly, on the local level. There is a wide range
of experience and knowledge within each society, and members constantly
tap each other for new ideas and suggestions. Virtually every
county in North America has a genealogical society, as does every
state and Canadian province.
The services offered vary with each society, but they are
all, in part, educational organizations. Usually they meet
monthly, often in a library, and discuss various aspects
of research. They may have a guest speaker to share knowledge
and experience. Often, the various members of the society
take turns teaching concepts they have learned through experience
or at conferences. Most societies also publish a journal
or magazine. While the typical contents are heavily about
local families, they also include instructional material,
research tips, and information about records.
the various members of the society take turns
teaching concepts they have learned through
experience or at conferences.
Membership is not expensive, usually in the range of $20 to $40
per year. That's cheap tuition for all you learn, not to mention
the great new friends you will meet. You can learn what societies
exist through the Federation of
Genealogical Societies link, an umbrella organization to which
most genealogical societies in the United States belong. In addition,
most local societies are mentioned on the applicable pages of
the U.S. GenWeb link project
under the appropriate locality.
If you don't already belong to a genealogical society, make that
the first of your New Year's (Millennium's) resolutions. Begin
with the society in your own city or county, then consider societies
where your ancestors lived, as well as major regional and national
societies. Some of the major ones include the National
Genealogical Society , New
England Historic and Genealogical Society and UGA
(Utah Genealogical Association).
As noted above, most societies publish a periodical, usually
about the records and families of their area of interest. However,
there are other publications you should subscribe to as well,
whose primary purpose is to educate and inform. An increasing
number of electronic newsletters are distributed on the Internet
through e-mail, and the best news is, they are usually free! Most
are produced by commercial companies and exist, in part, to promote
their products. However, the information is still valid, so don't
be afraid of subscribing.
For purely educational purposes, you can't go wrong attending
one of the many genealogical conferences staged each year.
Generally each state genealogical society will have a one-
or two- day conference, often with a well-known speaker
providing much of the instruction. There are fees to attend
the conference, but they are quite reasonable, plus you
get a chance to see and shop the many vendors who attend,
where you will find more educational material. Most genealogy
conferences are held in the spring or fall of the year,
and they are listed on various web sites, as well as in
purely educational purposes, you can't go wrong
attending one of the many genealogical conferences
staged each year.
Two major national conferences draw up to 2,000 attendees and
provide about 150 classes to choose from over four days. Prominent
genealogists and speakers from throughout the country are invited
to present the newest concepts at these conferences. The National
Genealogical Society's annual conference is usually in May, with
the next one in Portland on May 16 through 19,. The Federation
of Genealogical Societies sponsors a conference every fall, usually
in September. Their next conference is in the Quad Cities (Illinois-Iowa)
on September 12 through 15. For more information, including a
list of classes, check out these societies' web sites, noted above.
If you want to focus on computerized genealogy, the perfect conference
for you is Gentech, a winter conference, usually held at the end
of January each year. The next conference is in Mesquite, Texas
(near Dallas), February 2 and 3, 2001 and will have 58 sessions
dealing with using your computer in your research: software, hardware,
Internet, search techniques, etc. Their program is posted at their
Two major conferences are held in Utah each year, and usually
draw 500 or more attendees. With the Family History Library in
Utah, and all of its knowledgeable patrons and employees, what
better place to go to learn more? UGA hosts a three-day spring
conference, usually in mid-April. With over 100 sessions on a
variety of topics, it provides the depth of a national conference,
but fewer crowds. The next one is slated for April 12 to 14, across
the street from the Family History Library. See the UGA
website. Also, the first week of August is always on
the schedule for a four-day family history conference put on by
University's Division of Continuing Education. Inexpensive,
on-campus housing and a modern, compact conference center make
this a popular place which always fills to capacity.
Genealogical conferences are like smorgasbords, you can
find a little bit of everything. However, if you want more
in-depth treatment of a subject with a true classroom setting,
try one of the four genealogical institutes scattered throughout
the country. These are week-long sessions where you focus
on learning and application for five full days. Students
remain in the same course with a limited number of fellow
students, and are taught by some of the best genealogical
conferences are like smorgasbords, you can find
a little bit of everything.
The oldest is the National
Institute on Genealogical Research held in Washington, D.C.
each July. They focus on the records of the National Archives,
with plenty of hands-on opportunities.
The previous month, every June, you can find one of the best
such opportunities in Birmingham, Alabama on the campus of Samford
University. They typically have seven courses to choose from,
including one on a British topic, followed by on-site research
and training in Great Britain.
The Genealogical Institute of Mid America is held in Springfield,
Illinois every July. Co-sponsored by the Illinois Genealogical
Society, it is held on the local university campus. Generally
there are four courses to choose from, including one for relative
new-comers. For more information, e-mail
The largest institute is the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy,
held in mid-January. Its popularity has lead to expansion. They'll
be offering nine different courses at the next session. In addition
to various North American topics, this institute always includes
a British and a European research course, as well as one or more
computer-oriented courses, and a course for professional genealogists.
Sponsored by UGA, you can find more information at their web site,
Education Via Community Colleges
Of course, you might not be able to travel a great distance to
attend a conference or an institute. Remember, though, in most
cities, there are adult education classes and genealogy is often
among them. Contact your community college, or perhaps a high
school, and ask about adult education. For more mature family
historians, the Elderhostel
program provides several different genealogy opportunities
Of course, you don't have to go to a class in order to learn.
There are numerous books published each year that help teach us
how to be more successful in our research. Many genealogical magazines
and newsletters include a book review section to help alert readers
to useful books. Naturally, you can begin by checking out what
is already available at your local library. Since that doesn't
cost anything, let's make that resolution number two for the new
year: Check out a genealogy "how-to" book from the library,
and be sure to read it.
It's difficult to keep up on all of the newly published books.
The following list identifies some of the major publishers and
book sellers of instructional genealogy books. Visit their web
pages and see what's new. Then, don't be shy. Treat yourself and
buy a book or two; it's cheaper than traveling to a conference!
Ha! You thought we'd forget this one. How could we? After all,
this is an online article itself. And, as such, an example of
the vast amount of free genealogical education you can find on-line.
Plus, you don't have to go far. The best place to begin is right
here at Genealogy.com's Learning Center.
This site is full of articles published over the past four years,
and you can search for them by author or subject.
There are other web sites to check out. In fact, most of the
commercial companies mentioned in this article also have a significant
collection of "how-to" articles for your convenience.
It's one way they try to keep you coming back to their site, and
spending your time there. Of course, they hope you will buy their
products or subscribe to their fee-based data, but that's not
a requirement. So, enjoy, and learn.
You can also use any of the popular genealogy site directories
available on-line. Cyndi's
List link is only one example. Upwards of half the links in
these kinds of directories actually provide you with information
about the topic. They are therefore, educational sites.
Well, there you have it, a brief introduction to the growing
world of genealogical education. Some of it is free, some of it
costs. Some is as close as your armchair or mailbox. Others require
vacation time, an airplane ticket, and hotel reservations. In
any event, they are all worth the time and expense. Let's face
it, with every one of our families being different, our research
requires ongoing education as we learn about new places, people,
sources, and topics. We can't succeed without information.