How To Attend A Genealogy Webinar

by Thomas MacEntee | Jun 30, 2011

Thomas MacEntee

Often what seems "all the rage" and "so easy for others" can be confusing and new-fangled for others. Here's an insider's guide to genealogy webinars including how they work, how to find them, tips and tricks and much more.

How Does A Webinar Work?

Think of a genealogy webinar as a live television broadcast about your favorite topic - genealogy! The presenter is "broadcasting" from one location to hundreds or even thousands of different locations, including yours.

How to you tune in? You go to the webinar listings on the Internet, select one and then "register" for the webinar. Enter your email address, your name and a few other details. Some webinars are free but some require a registration fee via credit card or other payment methods.

Next, you set a reminder for yourself and when the "broadcast" is about to begin, you "tune in" by going to your computer, logging into the webinar site, turning on your computer speakers and then learn! You will be able to view a presentation on your computer screen and listen to live audio as well.

Usually a host or moderator will welcome the attendees and then introduce the speaker. The speaker will present slides with images and text to convey the concepts. For some webinars you can even interact with the instructor and other attendees using a headset and microphone or by typing a question or message into a field.

That's all there is to it - your very own genealogy television broadcast delivered right to your home or office or even a genealogy society meeting!

Locating Genealogy Webinars

You may have heard your friends or members from your genealogy society mention a great webinar they attended online. You also might hear others mention webinars on Facebook or perhaps on blog posts. The concept sounds great, right? You get to learn about a genealogy topic at your computer at home or in the office on your schedule - and some are even free! So how do you find them?

One of the best places to find genealogy-related webinars is GeneaWebinars ( This site serves as a free community resource listing all types of webinars including those presented by genealogy vendors, genealogy societies as well as individuals. Click the Calendar tab to view the upcoming webinars, click on a listing and you'll find more information including how to register for the webinar.

Selecting A Genealogy Webinar

There are many factors to consider when selecting a genealogy webinar:

  • Subject. Use the same criteria you would use when attending a session at a genealogy conference. Look for a subject that interests you and that will help improve your research techniques or add to your body of knowledge.
  • Speaker. We all have our favorite speakers in the genealogy community. More of the names that you see at large conferences and institutes are delivering educational content over the Web using the webinar format. Select someone who has a teaching style that works for you.
  • Platform. Believe it or not, once you've attended a few webinars, you'll favor one delivery method or platform over another. Some are more user friendly, while others have more features like live video. Sticking with the same platform is like speaking a familiar language - select the one that best helps you learn more about genealogy.
  • Price. In the genealogy community there are a variety of pricing models for webinars, all are legitimate, offer different levels of content and different educational experiences. Free webinars will often allow you to register and attend at no cost, but you may have to purchase the syllabus materials or a recording of the webinar. Also, free webinars might include a "pitch" to purchase a software program or other item. Webinars that charge a registration fee might offer smaller classes, more individual attention, and better "takeaways" like a syllabus, a guide or even a book or CD.
  • Features. Determine what is important to you when learning: do you need to see the instructor via webcam? Can you ask questions verbally instead of typing them into a text field? Will the instructor poll the audience for input on a subject? Can you view a recording of the webinar for free or for a fee?

Do A Tech Check!

Keep in mind that just because you've found the right webinar for you, there still might be one big barrier to your successfully enjoying the webinar: technology.

Check the webinar description or the registration page for the minimum technical requirements needed to successfully run the webinar. Most platforms now require a DSL, cable or broadband Internet connection - dial up will not suffice. Also, if you are still running Windows 95 or don't have enough computer memory you won't be able to connect or you won't be able to see or hear the presentation. For Mac users, make sure that the platform used for the webinar is Mac-compatible.

Another recommendation: don't rely on your computer speakers for sound. Invest in a pair of computer speakers (about $10) or a good headset with microphone (about $15) for your computer. You will find that doing so greatly improves the webinar experience.

Getting The Most Out Of A Genealogy Webinar

Once you've selected which webinar you want to attend, and you've registered for the webinar, here are some tips and tricks on getting the most out of a genealogy webinar:

  • Place a Reminder on Your Calendar. Whether you have a physical calendar or a calendar you maintain online or on your computer, make sure you create a reminder for the date and time of the webinar. Most webinar platforms, like GoToWebinar have a reminder option already built in.
  • Check the Time Zone! Too many folks miss a webinar or join while it is in progress because they haven't noted the proper time zone for the webinar.
  • Reboot Your Computer. If you haven't rebooted your computer in some time, please do so before you login at a webinar. You'll free up memory which will allow for better audio and video during the webinar.
  • Shut Off Extraneous Programs. Once you've rebooted, look in the Taskbar or the System Tray (for Windows systems) and turn off or shut down programs you aren't using. Examples would be any webcam or telephone programs like Skype, camera software etc. Simply right-click over the icon with your mouse and select Quit.
  • Eliminate Disturbances and Interruptions. While everyone is different, most need a quiet environment free from any interruptions in order to learn properly. Make sure you have a quiet area where you can fully listen to the audio portion of the webinar. Just as with a live genealogy presentation, turn off your cell phone or mobile device or place it on vibrate mode. If your landline phone has a "do not disturb" feature, use it. Place a sign on your home office door letting the rest of the family know that "learning is taking place."
  • Sign In Early! Don't wait until the start time or a few minutes after to sign in. With most webinars, you can sign in at least 15 minutes before the start time. If you are attending a webinar for the first time, you may be required to download some program in order to join the webinar, depending upon the platform. Also, some webinars have a limited number of seats and just like with a live presentation, if you are late, you might be locked out of the event!
  • Don't Get Bogged Down with Taking Notes. Especially if a recording of the webinar will be available after the actual live event, don't take notes or at least just note highlights. Too often attendees will focus on trying to capture all the information on the screen to the point where they don't actually learn anything. If there is a handout or a syllabus, very often you won't need to take notes. If you are not sure, ask before or during the webinar if you need to take notes.
  • Ask Questions. Just as in a live genealogy presentation, for many attendees the best part is the ability to ask the presenter specific questions about the topic involved. Most webinar platforms allow you to either type a question into a question panel or if you have a microphone and a headset, verbally ask a question. Take advantage of this opportunity to interact with the presenter during the webinar.

Webinars For Genealogy Society Meetings

As someone who presents and produces webinars in the genealogy community, very often a participant will ask this question: "Can I play the recording or the CD of the webinar at my next genealogy society meeting? Can I reproduce the handouts?"

The answer really depends upon the person, company or organization producing the webinar. Realize that if the webinar is sold on a CD or DVD or it is behind a members-only pay wall, you must treat the webinar recording like any other piece of intellectual property. Ask for permission and let the webinar provider know under what circumstances you intend to present the content.

My personal view is this: I encourage genealogy societies to play my webinars at meetings, especially for smaller societies that perhaps cannot afford a guest speaker. I also allow my handouts to be distributed as long as my copyright statement remains intact on the document. I have found that by doing so, I get more attendees at my future webinars and I've even seen an increase in actual CD sales from those folks who've watched the webinar in a genealogy society meeting.


Webinars are becoming more popular as a means of delivering quality educational content in the genealogy community. This method has also allowed those with limited budgets and those with physical impairments who can't travel to participate in "virtual" sessions on family history. The subjects covered are numerous and you owe it to yourself to experience online genealogy education using the webinar format.

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