Why I Went to School
When I began my genealogical quest, I hardly knew what I was doing. There was no internet then and no computers for individuals to use. [No, I do not miss those days. I LOVE my techo toys!!]
What "Schools" Do I Choose?
My first school was through the local community college, known as a "junior college" back then. They offered a series of community service classes, so I checked out the spring schedule. There was a listing for a beginning genealogy class. I signed up. Sylvia was our instructor and she made the class fun and informative. She covered the "basics."
Once a year, the local genealogy society would offer a day long conference with 20+ classes on a variety of genealogical topics. I would sign up for several classes. This conference was not very expensive, generally around $20. I still use the handouts I received as reference material. Find the one in your area using a Google search.
I also attended the annual conferences that the local Family History Center held. This were similar to the genealogical society conferences. There were many choices of topics to choose from. The conference was free. For $5 you could purchase a set of the handouts from every session. I have one for every conference I attended. I still use them as reference materials.
My sister-in-law and I decided we would meet once a week to study specific topics. We made a year long schedule and took turns preparing materials from the internet and books we purchased or checked out from the library to use for learning and discussion. We studied every topic we could think of, so we could learn how to be effective and successful in our research.
With the advent of the internet, not only do I now have access to a huge amount of information on how to research, but also access to the great variety of subjects that are relevant to genealogy--history, geography, sociology, economic patterns and events and so on.
I use the lessons and e-zine articles online to further my knowledge on research techniques, records that are available and what is new online.
Going to School Can Produce Big Aha Moments
A few years ago, I had a chance to attend one of the National Genealogical Society's conferences. I highly recommend them to anyone who has a chance to attend. Since I am from
, most of my ancestors were Southerners and this conference had a strand that focused on researching in Southern states. I attended sessions on Texas , Maryland and Tennessee/North Carolina. I also attended a session on The Master Genealogist software. Virginia
The best session I attended was the one on Tennessee/North Carolina, by an instructor and professional genealogist from
, J. Mark Lowe. Maybe you remember Mark from the Lionel Ritchie episode on Who Do You Think You Are? Tennessee
I learned from Mark's class that not only did our ancestors cross county lines to record deeds and get married, but they also crossed state lines. They went to whatever courthouse was close and convenient.
As a political science major, I knew that the boundaries between counties, states and countries were not drawn on the ground, only on maps.
Who knew that could apply to my genealogy research?
I call it an "aha moment", some might call it "Duh!"
What I Learned
I learned so much from that beginning genealogy class that I still use today.
I learned that birth and death certificates were not required before the early 1910s in most states. Neither were marriage licenses.
I learned how to write a letter requesting information from county record offices and to write letters requesting information from individuals. [Yes, we had to write letters and mail them by 'snail mail.'] And you will do some letter writing yourself.
I learned how to approach the county clerk and what types of records I could expect to find in the county courthouse.
I also learned that not all first-born babies are born 9 months or more after the marriage and that we all have skeletons in our family closet. Note: if you are afraid of those skeletons, this is NOT the hobby for you. I am fascinated by them.
I learned what information I should collect to be able to properly document the sources of the information I collected. Interestingly enough, it was the same information I had to collect for all those research papers I did in college, a skill that has come in handy in my genealogy research.
I learned that not everyone provides you with accurate information and that even official government records can and will contain errors.
I have taken several local classes since then and in the last ten years have taught many classes for local genealogy groups. Whether I am the student or the instructor, I always learn something new.
My sister-in-law and I learned that you have to document everything and believe no one's research until you have verified their research.
Mark Lowe, during his session on
and Tennessee research, gave us a tip on how to discover the migration trails of our ancestors. He suggested that we get a tourist brochure that shows the historical sites and "connect the dots." The places that our ancestors left for us to visit help us cross the country to see the paths that they chose to travel. North Carolina
From this tip I was inspired to study migration patterns to discover what paths our ancestors used. I learned that they did not travel in a straight line from point A to point B. And I learned that where they went they frequently left records.
Why Going to School is Important
The more I "go to school", the more successful I become in finding the answers to my genealogical questions, but more importantly, the more I can understand why my ancestors made the life decisions that they did.
By continuing to search for new information, which is what schooling is all about, I am able to learn what new documents are available online, what new software is available, what new records have been "discovered" and to always review things I have forgotten.
Whether you are new to genealogy or experienced, check out these tutorials.