So, you’ve been working on your family tree for years, you’re an expert on Ancestry, a frequent user of FindMyPast, and can easily navigate the database of FamilySearch. Why should you take a genealogy course? Well, I’m about to tell you.
In 2016, I had been researching my family history for well over 15 years. I’d helped numerous friends build their family trees, and felt rather confident around genealogical websites and record collections. Then, I encountered something in my research that was unfamiliar to me. I was aware that a certain set of records existed, but up until that point I had never needed to examine them. I wanted to do the job well, and the only way I could ensure I was interpreting the documents correctly, was to learn more about them. I had a choice: read lots of books or take a course. I’d actually been toying with the idea of returning to studying, so that option won – now I had the task of choosing what, where and when.
I had recently attended the Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition in Birmingham, and had spotted some representatives from universities and institutes, so I knew the courses existed, but which one was right for me?
I’m not going to go into detail of the pros and cons of Dundee versus Strathclyde, or Pharos v IHGS, this blog is to share with you what you can gain from enrolling on a course. You can investigate the different providers yourself and choose which one best suits your own personal situation.
It had been a very long time since my brain had had any academic exercise, so I was rather nervous as to whether I could handle it – but I needed to do this. I always like to perform a job well, and I realised my knowledge wasn’t as deep as I thought it was.
I chose to enrol with Pharos Tutors. Their Distance Learning Intermediate Certificate Course Family History Skills & Strategies is tutor-led, can be started at any time of the year, and seemed to suit me perfectly. You can pick and choose which modules you take when; and as long as you complete (and pass) all ten assessed units within a three year period, you receive the Intermediate Certificate. The fact that I could pay for each module as I took it, suited my pocket too.
Each unit taught a different subject within the field of genealogy. They ranged from Nonconformity to Wills and Administrations, Employment Records to Poor Laws.
Yes I had lots of experience with many of the collections discussed, but studying these modules allowed me to delve deeper into why the records were created, the change in legislation that caused them to be, who should appear within them, but also who might be excluded. I soon began to recognise that my knowledge of the documents I had been exploring for years was actually rather superficial.
The tutors were super supportive, and so were my fellow students. The format of the course was to receive a lesson (via email) for each week of a module. We would need to complete exercises and post our answers in an online forum; which often prompted questions, and the subsequent discussions frequently highlighted recommendations for books or websites. The collaboration continued with a weekly online text chat where we would discuss what we had learnt that lesson. Each unit concluded with two assignments which would be assessed by the tutor.
As the months rolled by, I was becoming more and more motivated to study further. I had caught the studying bug! I was growing ever confident with my research skills, and making friends with the students.
A feeling of camaraderie was developing, and those who lived near each other made plans to meet up in person.
We shared details of other courses we had seen advertised, and I enrolled onto some short classes. IHGS were offering some one day tutorials, and I signed up to Civil Registration, Palaeography and How To Draw a Pedigree Chart on Powerpoint – which were all great. Then I spotted Family Tree Magazine were hosting a DNA Bootcamp course led by the brilliant Michelle Leonard. I was really keen to expand my understanding of DNA in family history, so I went for it. It was fantastic. Weekly lessons held via Zoom, with handouts of what we were taught being emailed to us.
Before I knew it, the Pharos Intermediate Course was coming to an end, and I’m happy to report I passed with flying colours. This qualified me to be accepted onto their Advanced Course, which I did not have to think twice about. I’m currently two-thirds through the first year and I am still loving it. Several of my fellow students from the Intermediate Course are with me, and we communicate regularly outside of the course’s forums to help and encourage each other.
So, in answer to the question ‘Why should you study genealogy courses?’ I have three things to say: