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Learning to do Family History

Article Date: 
5 November, 2010 - 06:00

Have you ever gotten stuck while doing family history and wished that you had a personal trainer to help you and teach you how to do research the way the professionals do? If so, you are in good company. Everyone comes upon a problem they don’t know how to solve at some point.
I was at a gathering of the Trustees of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) about two weeks ago and was talking to one of the trustees. She is an experienced genealogist who has done research for clients for years. She lectures regularly on how to do research and has helped me and given me advice on research problems.
As we were chatting she mentioned that she had Swedish ancestors and had recently begun doing some work on her Swedish lines. She said that for the first time in years she found herself going back to school to learn how to research. She talked about the challenges of doing this and how humbling it was.
All of us are in this place at one time or another and it is good that there are many resources to help. Some of these resources are in person, some are online, and some are a combination of both.
The in person resources are primarily through family history centers. The Ogden Family History Center offers one of the most complete curriculums available for family history training available locally. Whether you are trying to use software, or research ancestors they have classes to help you. They train thousands of people each year. Nearly all of these courses are completely free.
If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that the FamilySearch Family History Library offers many training courses each year. These courses are taught by professional genealogists and seasoned missionaries with years of experience.
All of these courses are a wonderful resource, and have excellent trainers, but sometimes they are not teaching what you need, when you need it, or at a time you can attend. If this is the case then there are some alternatives.
FamilySearch has published nearly one hundred courses, all free, at There is an ever growing curriculum presented by some of the best and brightest in the genealogical community. Even with nearly a hundred courses, however, there are still many areas of research not covered. FamilySearch’s approach at this point also does not include interaction with the instructor, so if you don’t understand a portion of the training you must seek your answers in another way.
For a broader set of content developed by professional genealogists, visit the National Institute of Genealogical Studies at The National Institute offers many courses of study with certificates of completion for many of the courses. They also give a road map for which courses should be completed to have a good foundation of knowledge in each area. There is some instructor interaction although it is limited. The courses are primarily written text with exercises and tests to help students understand whether they have grasped the knowledge from the course. These courses are fee based and range from about $100 to $160 per course.
One of the new comers to the genealogical training space, and one of the more innovative is Pharos (www. Pharos has an interesting approach that blends online learning with instructor and other student interactions. The courses run for a number of weeks with a class of students. They start and stop on specific dates. There are assignments each week and then there are online interaction sessions where students can ask questions and interact with other students.
It is a good blending of online learning and interaction with the instructor. The course listings are more limited than the National Institute and are only available when they are scheduled, but allow students to take the course from home and to take the lessons on their own schedule. The chat sessions with the class and teacher are done on a set schedule. The courses are fee based and cost from about $60.00 to about $100.
There are also other resources available online. NARA (the National Archives of the United States) has information for researchers on their website as does The National Archive of Great Britain.
Whether you choose a free option or a paid option, whether you choose in person or via the Internet the options for being trained in family history research have never been better. If you have an interest in improving your skills give one of these courses a try. You almost certainly will find something to make you a better researcher.