Getting A Genealogical Education

by Gena P. Ortega | Apr 28, 2011

Gena P. Ortega

When you first begin researching your family history everything is exciting; with all the instant matches on genealogy subscription sites and finding new cousins with the same interest in your ancestors.

But there will come a time when you will need to learn more about how to research, what record types exist and how to take your American research "over the pond" to search for those immigrant ancestors. Soon the time will come when it becomes obvious that genealogy is a fun pursuit that requires finding ongoing educational opportunities.

The following are just some ideas for getting a genealogical education. Not all of the ideas are for everyone but a successful approach to your continuing education may require a few different types of learning opportunities to customize your education to meet the needs of your research.

Free Online Courses

Everyone likes something for free, and for genealogists one of the best things to get for free is education. The following websites have something for everyone and in some cases what is posted is consistently being updated, so be sure to check back often.

One of my favorites websites to find free classes is FamilySearch. Their section on Research Courses is a genealogist's dream come true with everything you need to improve your genealogy skills and break down brick walls. Watch videos about English, Irish, Italian, German, New Zealand, Russian and Polish research. Then learn how to read the handwriting of your ancestors whether they were Dutch, English, French German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scandinavian or Spanish. Learn genealogical research tools, how to conduct all aspects of American research and watch presentations from genealogy conferences. All these videotaped presentations are absolutely free and many of them include handouts that can be downloaded as a PDF.

While you are on FamilySearch consider looking at the FamilySearch Wiki for how-to information on subjects from individual state and country research to techniques, help with genealogy questions and informational online meetings. As of this writing, over 47,000 articles appear on the Wiki and that number continues to grow. Newer genealogists might be interested in research technique articles like Burned Counties Research, Research Logs and A Guide to Research.

Brigham Young University's Independent Study Program offers a handful of family history courses for free including an introduction to genealogy. Other classes include a look at family, vital and military records, French, German, Huguenot and Scandinavian research. These courses are perfect for the beginning researcher.

RootsWeb Guides to Tracing Family Trees are short articles covering ethnic research, record types and how-to tutorials. Short and easy to understand, these guides will help beginners learn more about genealogy, quickly and easily. A few specific titles include City Directories and Newspapers, Fraternal Organizations, Why You Can't Find Them, and Taxing Tales to just name a few. These 30 research guides are a must for any researcher.


Nowadays almost everyone has a MP3 player. While we often think in terms of listening to music with one of these devices, they can also be used to listen to other types of audio files, such as podcasts. Don't have a MP3 player? No problem, podcasts are also available to listen to on your computer.

What is a podcast? A podcast is very much like a recorded Internet radio show. Various genealogy podcasts exist and each covers topics as diverse as upcoming conferences and events, technology, ethnic research and research techniques. Many of these podcasts are weekly in nature so you have the option of checking back with the podcast's website or subscribing to it through a service like iTunes.

Some podcasts you will be interested in include:


Some researcher reading this may be ready to take their genealogy to the next step by taking classes at a college or university. Family historians have a few choices in this realm that include online courses as well as classroom learning opportunities.

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is a program of the University of Toronto and has been offering genealogy classes for 11 years. Students may take courses in certificate programs that include American, Australian, Canadian, German, Irish and Scottish Records as well as Librarianship and General Methodology. Courses are reasonably priced and completion of a certificate program includes a certificate and the postnomial designation of PLCGS (Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies)

Heritage Genealogical College is located in Salt Lake City, Utah and provides a curriculum that enables "students to be ready for employment in many different research-related fields." Students can currently earn certificates, Associate and Bachelor's degrees.

Boston University offers a 15 week certificate program in Genealogical Research. According to their website, "Boston University's Online Certificate in Genealogical Research will help you reach the next level of professionalism. Whether you are a serious amateur, a budding professional, or an expert with their CG�, this rigorous program will help you take your genealogical work to the next level." This course is not for the absolute beginning genealogist. The certificate program includes six modules that explore problem solving, evidence evaluation and becoming a professional genealogist.


Two of the larger genealogy conferences held every year include the National Genealogical Society conference (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference. These conferences are held in a different location each year and include various genealogy speakers speaking on topics that range from beginner level to advanced. Both conferences are coordinated by membership organizations but you do not need to be a member to attend. You can learn more about this year's conferences including their location, presentation schedule and cost at their respective websites, NGS and FGS.

Regional conferences exist that bring professional genealogy speakers, genealogical vendors and networking opportunities to different parts of the United States. Family History Expos coordinates conferences throughout the west in Arizona, Utah and California as well in the Midwest (Missouri) and the South (Georgia). Their schedule also includes Family History Library research retreats and one day seminars in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In some cases, individual societies may put on regional conferences that draw record breaking crowds. One such conference is the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree held every June. This large conference features 3 days of presentations and workshops as well as a vendor hall and nearby tours.


The Utah Genealogical Association coordinates the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) every January in Salt Lake City, Utah. Unlike a traditional conference, students at an Institute chose an individual track focused on a topic and participate in lectures in that track for a week. Various topics are taught including American Records, Research Methodology, Writing and more. Course tracks are organized by professional genealogists including Paula Stuart Warren, Thomas Jones, Josh Taylor and others. To see a schedule for their upcoming Institutes click here.

Located at the Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, The Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) provides a yearly institute with 10 course tracks covering genealogical strategies and techniques for the beginner to the advanced student. Held every June, courses are popular and students wishing to attend should note when registration opens to guarantee them a spot. You can check out future Institute courses at their website .

Other Ideas

Educational opportunities exist all around us. Check out your local genealogy society for educational program meetings featuring speakers presenting on family history topics. Many FamilySearch Centers (previously called Family History Centers) coordinate hour-long programs as well as half or all-day seminars. These events are free. Consider other opportunities such as reading genealogy newsletters, magazines and books. Genealogy companies, individuals and societies often put out weekly or monthly newsletters with educational articles. Check out Cyndi's List for some ideas on email newsletters and magazines that you may find of interest.

Create a learning plan for yourself and check out some of the above ideas that will help you in learning more about genealogy which will result in breaking down your genealogical brick walls.

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