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Genealogical Education: Online and Home Study Courses

by Kathleen W. Hinckley, CGRS
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While genealogy is a hobby anyone can start without special education, many family historians find that taking classes in specific topics helps them along the road. Kathleen Hinckley offers an overview of genealogical education from free online classes to full-length certificate programs.

Climbing your family tree is not easy. The marriage record you want was burned in a courthouse fire, and you're not sure how to prove the marriage date. You feel certain your ancestor was in the Civil War, but you cannot find any record of service or pension. The deed book that you want to examine is water-stained and illegible. The list goes on and you agree that genealogy is not easy.

We can, however, make genealogy easier by reading genealogical reference books, examining published case studies, attending seminars and conferences, and taking classes either locally or on the Internet. This is the beginning of a series of three columns addressing the variety of genealogical education. The focus of this column is online education and home study courses.

Tuition Courses

National Genealogical Society

The National Genealogical Society, Arlington, VA, offers two courses, both approved by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council:

  1. Introduction to Genealogy: An Online Course began in 1999 as an online course for beginners. Lesson One: Genealogical Basics is free to everyone. It teaches how to number ancestors, how to record names, dates, and places in a standard format, and definitions for terms of relationship. After completing Lesson One, you can take a 20 question quiz and decide if you want to continue the course.
  2. American Genealogy: A Basic Course has been available to genealogists since 1981. This sixteen lesson home study course introduces each major record group used in American research. The assignments are graded and require students to visit local record repositories for "hands on" experience.

NGS recommends that beginners take the online course before enrolling in the home study course.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, offers a Certificate Program in Family History as an independent study course. College credit is granted for each course successfully completed within the certificate program; however, the certificate is not a college degree.

University of Washington — Certificate Program in Genealogy and Family History

This evening certificate program at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is approved by the UW Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the UW Department of History. It was designed by an advisory board of archivists, genealogical practitioners and leading UW scholars. The instructors are leaders in professional genealogy and experienced teachers. Students develop and complete a family history project during the nine-month course. Upon successful completion, students receive a certificate at the annual UW Extension awards ceremony, and nine Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

University of Toronto Continuing Education

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies has designed a series of courses with emphasis on Canadian material. Instruction is received via the Internet; therefore you go at your own pace. You can take the courses separately, or work towards a Certificate in Genealogical Studies over a three year time period.

Free Classes

International Internet Genealogical Society University

This site can be viewed in English, Deutsch, or Svenska and offers classes for research in Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Germany, South Africa, and the United States. The classes in U.S. research range from a beginners course to specific lessons for South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Special topics such as tracing Morman pioneers, and Native American research are also included. The IIGSTM staff includes several instructors, each knowledgeable in their particular field of study.'s Online University

The Online University offers five courses designed by Karen Clifford, AG, Genealogy Research Associates and two courses by Marthe Arends, Online Pioneers.

Genealogy Research Associates Courses:

  • Your Great Ancestral Hunt (Beginning Genealogy)
  • Tracing Immigrant Origins — Basics
  • Tracing Immigrant Origins — Post Civil War Immigrant Sources
  • Tracing Immigrant Origins — Between 1820 and 1865
  • Tracing Immigrant Origins — Pre-1820 Immigration
Online Pioneers Courses:
  • Beginning Internet Genealogy
  • Online Genealogy — Level II

Student Beware!

The Genealogical Web Site Watchdog warns of a free online course offered by the Iowa Digital Education Association. The Watchdog says, "There are 15 lessons in the course covering what one would expect to find in a beginning genealogy course. Problem is, much of the information is too generic to be useful and there is a lack of qualifications on how different laws and time periods affected the records available. Additionally, the beginning genealogist is frequently referred to secondary sources, with no mention of the primary sources and their availability. Granted, the course is free, but the cost can be high to someone sent off in the wrong direction with bad information."

The Genealogical Web Site Watchdog also alerts genealogists about the Genealogy 2000 School of Genealogy which allows you to become an Ethel Torice Certified Family Genealogist (Certified Certificate Program), or an Ethel Torice Certified Professional Genealogist (Certified Diploma Program), or an Ethel Torice Certified Home-Based Business Genealogical Executive (Certified Diploma and Business Licensing Program). Watchdog states: The Ethel Torice Genealogical Society claims to be an umbrella group for a number of other organizations, some sharing the Torice name, but others with names that are deceptively similar to well-known national genealogical organizations with no connection to the organization. The society lists credentials of an unidentified "Educational Staff" that includes respected credentials awarded by recognized national accrediting bodies, but includes others unknown generally, like "Accredited Master Genealogist."

This demonstrates how vulnerable we are to seemingly credible education. To prevent the cost of poor education, check out the credentials of instructors. Compare a sample lesson with lessons from another Web site.

More Education

The educational opportunities discussed in this column are just the tip of the iceberg. Local genealogical societies give workshops and seminars. There are adult education genealogy classes taught at local community colleges or universities throughout the United States. Your local library may be able to direct you to sources of local genealogical education.

Remember, too, that the best form of education is through experience. Never hesitate to take the extra time to thoroughly examine records-even if they are difficult to read and unindexed. And when you reach your goal of extending or adding new information to your family history, share your findings and the path that took you there. We not only learn from ourselves, but from others.

Next time...

Part II of this series will highlight the national conferences and institutes of genealogical education; and Part III will cover genealogical education by examining published case studies and reading genealogy magazines and reference books.

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How-To Article: Genealogical Eduction Part II — National Conferences and Institutes
How-To Article: The Research Cycle
Online Lessons: Sharpen Your Research Skills

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