Friday, 24 April 2015

What part must we play in our genealogy education?

Are we shifting responsibility?
Genealogists cannot rely on a librarian, archivist or courthouse clerk to bring them up to speed on things like:
  • the historical basis for the development of a record group
  • advice about other record groups that may also prove beneficial
Quite frankly, a librarian, archivist or courthouse clerk is responsible to provide access to specific record groups. They are not paid to think though our genealogical quandaries. There are other people waiting in line for help with file retrieval. 

We become "newbies" all over again, when it comes to changes in an ancestor's residence, occupation or religious affiliation.

Encountering unknown terms in a legal document or an unfamiliar cause of death leave questions to be answered.
IMAGE: Myrtle Eliza Weiser at the time
of her engagement circa 1917. SLC, Utah.
From the author's private collection.

Clearly, genealogists have a need for additional education specific to research at hand.

It may take personal sacrifice.

Ancestral metaphor: My paternal grandmother, the real Myrtle in our family, decided she wanted to be a nurse, and as such she matriculated at St. Marks Hospital Nursing School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her family wasn't wealthy, since her father was often led away for years at a time by interests in such things as a travelling circus. Myrtle's mother had many mouths to feed. Despite the problems, the sacrifice was made and tuition paid. Grandmother studied hard, passed her tests and practicums and served as a nurse through much of her adult life.

Two Options
Family historians have two options when it comes to accurately compiling their pedigree charts:
  • hiring a professional genealogist as a mentor or as a researcher
  • educating oneself about relevant record groups and research methodologies
Educating oneself
Assuming we are committed to active learning, note-taking and follow-through, let's consider two types of learning experiences:

Participant-led curriculum, meaning you choose which classes to take and in what order.

Instructor-led curriculum, meaning the course coordinator designs the series of multiple class sessions with homework, group projects and practicums, leading to a certificate of completion.
For further reading
  • Sue Adams provides a thoughtful post titled Time for Formal Genealogy Education? and includes a listing of in-person  courses, online courses, institutes, and undergraduate programs.
  • Genealogical Proof Standard from the Board for Certification of Genealogists includes brief descriptions of elements of the GPS with notations about how adhering to each element contributes to the credibility of our compiled genealogies.
  • National Genealogical Society Standards and Guidelines includes standards for sound research, the use of technology, sharing with others as well as guidelines for using repositories and libraries, publishing web pages and suggestions for self-improvements and growth.
Call to Action
Let genealogists commit to overcoming inexperience by selecting appropriate educational opportunities to improve comprehension of relevant extant record groups and hone research methodology skills.


  1. This is so true - sadly many people these days try to research their family history without bothering to learn how to research their family history. There are so many high quality opportunities out there so there is no excuse for not understanding methodology or the background history to classes of record.

  2. Excellent post Pat. It is so important to learn how to do family history research and with all of the online and offline resources available today, there really is no excuse for not learning methodology and best practices. And I think we have to be willing to invest in our education - there are a variety of price points out there - the key is to not equate quality with cost (that is not always the case) and oftentimes we can learn so much from books and journal articles as well as courses, especially when the authors have taken the time to do quality research, writing and editing. Also what a lovely photograph!


Hello, thanks for leaving a comment on the World Wide Genealogy Blog. All comments are moderated because of pesky spammers!

Best wishes
World Wide Genealogy Team