Continuing Education for Genealogists

By Carolyn L. Barkley

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The education of the general mind never stops…” For me, a logical extension of this statement is that the education of the genealogical mind never ceases. The evolving art of genealogical research engenders in each of us an abiding thirst for knowledge about methodology, resources, and technologies.

Many opportunities enable us to pursue life-long genealogical learning. The most accessible opportunities are the conferences, seminars and workshops sponsored by local, state and national genealogical societies, libraries and archival institutions. These single- or multiple-day events feature speakers who are experts in their fields as well as genealogical vendors offering all types of related resources and materials. Such activities also provide time for you to network informally with colleagues. These programs are some of the best educational values for your money.

More formal genealogical learning opportunities invite you to become immersed in a specific geographic location, historic time-period, or methodology. These sessions include institutes, academic degree programs, and home study courses. Here are some of the most popular programs:

1. Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR). This week-long program is held each June on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where it was founded in 1962. Co-sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, the institute offers courses for beginners and experts alike. Topics vary annually, but often include courses in intermediate genealogy and historical studies, research in the South, advanced methodology and evidence analysis, writing and publishing for genealogists, understanding land records, German genealogical research, and British family history. Information on course offerings through 2013 is now available. I have attended IGHR twice, once for a course on military research and once for a wonderful week on land platting: how to draw a plat, locate it on a modern topographical map, and resolve genealogical problems using land records. Most IGHR attendees live on campus in either private or shared dorm rooms, although hotel packages are available nearby. On-campus tuition includes a meal ticket for the college cafeteria. You will not go hungry during your stay! Registration and housing allotments fill almost immediately, so you will want to enroll as soon as registration opens in early January of each year. Watch the website for details.

2. National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR). Founded in 1950, this institute is held for one week each July in Washington, DC. You will become immersed in the records of genealogical value located at the National Archives (both Archives I in Washington and Archives II in College Park, Maryland). Please note that this institute does not provide an introduction to genealogy. It is geared toward experienced researchers who are proficient in the basics of genealogical research and who want to progress beyond the census and military records held by National Archives. I attended many years ago and realize that it will be beneficial to attend again soon to recollect what I learned the first time and add to my understanding of these collections. Again, enrollment is limited and is filled very quickly. Registration brochures are available each February.

3. Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). The Utah Genealogical Society (UGS) sponsors this institute, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, for one week each January. The proposed course schedule for 2010 is now available. Attendees may choose to take a course in a specific topic such as Scottish research, advanced methodology, writing a quality family history narrative, or computers and technology, depending on the curriculum. These topical courses meet daily and feature a variety of subject specialists who present lectures on resources or research strategies pertaining to the course’s subject area. Alternatively, attendees may elect to take a problem solving course. These sessions are grouped geographically (Southern research, New England research, British Isles research, etc.) and, as much as possible, by skill level. Each student develops a research problem and submits it in advance to course coordinators. During the institute, problem solving groups, with approximately six attendees and two consultants, meet together for two hours each day. Each student has approximately twenty minutes at each daily session to present his or her problem, discuss it with the consultant and the other members of the group, report on progress, and gain suggestions for further research. The balance of each day is spent researching the problem independently in the Family History Library and preparing for the following day’s discussion. I have attended the Institute several times. The first year, I took a class-room course on Scottish research. I found, however, that I wanted more hands-on experience in the library, so in succeeding years, I have always chosen a problem solving course. My success in solving my annual research problem varied. One year I was able to confirm that my problem might offer no hope of resolution – ever; another year I solved my problem on day three, more by serendipity than anything else; in yet another year a wonderful tip from a coordinator pointed me in a direction that resolved a long-standing research problem and opened a new avenue of research for this particular family line. For me, one of the most powerful experiences in my participation in a problem solving class came in my ability to concentrate on a single problem in a systematic manner over several days. My ability to focus, combined with group discussion and the evening-long discussions with my roommate, provided important learning opportunities. I have been to Salt Lake on my own to do research and the relative isolation of those visits was just not as productive as when I was involved in the more structured setting offered by the institute.

4. Three universities offer certificate programs:

Boston University’s Genealogical Research Certificate Program began in 2009. This program is not intended for beginners, but rather is for serious genealogical students, professional researchers, librarians, archival managers, and teachers. Costs are significantly more expensive than for the institutes described above and participation requires fourteen weeks on-site in Boston. The certificate involves five “modules” presented in seven-hour Saturday sessions. These modules include foundations of genealogical research (14 hours), problem-solving techniques and technology (21 hours), evidence evaluation and citation (21 hours), forensic genealogical research (21 hours), and genealogical research in ethnic and geographical specialties (21 hours). A course brochure may be downloaded from the program’s website. Members of the New England Historic Genealogical Society receive a 10% discount on tuition.

The University of Washington offers a Genealogy and Family History Certificate program that encompasses courses spread over three semesters: genealogy and family history, research sources and strategies, and a research seminar in genealogy and family history. Classes meet weekly on campus. The program features an individual project “in which you focus in depth on a selected individual or group of your ancestors and on their times, work, challenges, and opportunities…” A program overview may be downloaded from the University of Washington Extension website. The next program starts with the fall 2009 semester and information will be available later this spring. 
The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (Canada) and the University of Toronto have partnered to provide web-based programs at the basic, intermediate and advanced level. These courses lead to certificates in several specialties including German, English, American, Canadian, Scottish and Irish records as well as general methodology. A Librarianship Certificate in Genealogical Studies is also available. Detailed information on courses, registration, and certificates is available online.

5. Brigham Young University, located in Provo, Utah, offers the “only accredited university-based degree program in family history.” Students who declare a major in this subject area complete 58-60 hours of course work to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Family History-Genealogy. Students opting for a minor in family history-genealogy complete 24 hours of course work. You can also earn a Certificate in Family History – Genealogy after completion of an 18-hour curriculum.

6.   The National Genealogical Society provides the NGS American Genealogy Home Study Course. Enrollment in the course is intended both for beginners who want to learn basic skills and for experienced genealogical researchers who need to learn a fresh approach to a more difficult problem in their work. Topics include strategies for research on the Internet and in libraries, analysis of documents, source citation, tips for writing narratives, and the development of bibliographies and reference lists. A course syllabus is available on the society’s website. The course is available on three CDs each containing five to six lessons. CDs may be purchased individually or as a bundle. CDs 1 and 2 may be self-graded or may be graded by an expert who will provide feedback and encouragement. CD 3 is available only with the grading option. Members of NGS receive a discount price. (NGS, by the way, no longer offers the on-line course, Introduction to Genealogy.)

Educational opportunities are numerous, regardless of your level of expertise. Each time you attend a seminar, conference, institute, or university program, you will be able to build on what you already know. As we move into new geographical areas in our research, we need to learn about that new county or country. As we mature as researchers, we will need to learn new methodologies and resources. As technology unfolds, we will need to learn how to use each application effectively. Truly, the education of the genealogical mind never ceases.



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