I recently had a reader ask me how I got started, more specifically, where I took my first genealogy class. So here is a quick summary of my genealogical education.
I have always enjoyed research. In college I was an art major and spent a semester as a research assistant for my art history professor. It was a blast. Also, I was one of those weird kids who was delighted every time a research paper was assigned in class. I love being in libraries and archives and this is probably one of the aspects of genealogy that drew me in.
When my first child was born in 2000, I felt myself losing brain cells. There’s only so much Sesame Street and Bob the Builder one can take in a day before their vocabulary is reduced to one-syllable words. As a stay-at-home mom I needed an outlet, some place where I could hang out with and converse with adults that also had a purpose. I had been dabbling in genealogy for a little while by this point so I found a local genealogical society and joined. (Hi Boulder Genealogical Society!)
A genealogical society usually offers lectures, classes, regional conferences and other people with experience from whom you can ask questions and grow as a genealogist. At the society I attended, I learned about genealogical methods, records, and other topics as well as about conferences and classes I could attend. Shortly after this I attended my first national conference in 2003. A national conference has the benefit of having a lot of lectures to choose from on a large variety of topics. You can also meet other people who are also researching their family history and begin a wider network of genealogists.
As for actual classes, I attended any regional conference that came my way. I begin in the Denver-metro area and there were many active genealogical societies who brought in a lot of high-caliber genealogists. I also began attending week-long institutes that focus on one topic for an entire week. And now I have found many online opportunities such as free or for-pay webinars that I enjoy attending in my sweat-pants and slippers in the comfort of my own home. I wrote a series of blog posts about these institutes which can be read here.
Genealogical conferences, like the recent FGS 2014 conference in San Antonio, are as much about reuniting with far-flung friends and making connections with new ones as they are about the wonderful educational opportunities. Attending the high quality lectures invigorates me, renews my energy for finding ancestors and gives me new insights on projects I’m working on. Plus, I get a chance to visit a city that I’ve most likely never been to before. If you’ve never attended a conference, I encourage you to do it. The next national conference will be the FGS 2015 conference combined with RootsTech in February 2015.
I have the following tips for making good connections at conferences:
Don’t go alone. Plan to attend with a friend who has gone to a conference before, especially if you have never attended one yourself. They can show you the ropes and perhaps introduce you to some folks they’ve become acquainted with, breaking the ice for you.
Attend at least one luncheon. You will have the chance to sit at a meal with other genealogists and make new friends.
Talk to people in the exhibit hall, not only the vendors but also volunteers and other attendees.
Attend unusual lectures. Sometimes I attend lectures that are on topics I have no research projects in. I find I always have a good time and I definitely learn something new. Also, new methods are almost always applicable to any project and get you thinking about your work in a different way.
Go out to dinner with new people. Find a new friend or two (or seven) and go to dinner with them! This is one of the best ways to form new connections and see the city.
Over the years, I have made so many great friends by attending conferences and every time I attend, I make even more! Not only are these friends fun, but they can be very helpful in giving insights into your research, giving opinions on documents, taking classes with online or at institutes, or by sharing your finds with others who are interested. Consider making some new connections at the next conference!
When you begin any new project, you need to understand the geography of the area you are researching. It is possible that it’s an entirely new location, an unfamiliar county or state, and understanding where you are researching can have a profound effect on who you are researching.
My first step is usually to Google the county. I look at it on a map, I look at its entry in Wikipedia and I’ll look at the FamilySearch Wiki to see what’s been written about it. I will do a quick scan of the Ancestry.com card catalog and the Family History Library catalog to see in general what holdings and databases they have available. I will also see if there are any local genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, archives, courthouses, and so forth. In essence, I create my own locality guide.
Sanders Scroggins and Sarah Dimick lived in Hardin and Gallatin Counties which are in the southern tip of Illinois along the Ohio river. Hardin County was created out of Gallatin County, so some of the records I might need may be in one or the other of those counties. When you are researching a new area, be sure to learn about county formation and boundary changes. Locate a county history to learn more. These are readily available through Google Books, FamilySearch Books, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust or sometimes through local library, university or historical society websites.
The History of Hardin County, Illinois was very helpful in understanding the migration to and from this county on the Ohio River. The area was largely settled by people moving from Tennessee and Kentucky, mostly Irish. Some English and French settlers arrived early on before moving farther west. The book also contains some information on the first pioneers, agriculture, Ohio River transportation, and much more.
Familiarizing yourself with the geography of a new area can help you understand where records might be located and how the people may have traveled. This is an essential first step when undertaking any research in an unfamiliar area.
From the compiled genealogies I mentioned in the previous post, I compiled the following data:
Jeduthan Dimick, 1787-1837 m. Mary Burgoyne
daughter Sarah Dimick, 1819-1884, m. Sanders Scroggins (she was his second wife)
Franklin Dimick, 1823-1885, m. Amanda Clancey
2 other children: Fayette and Mary
Chatten Scroggins, c. 1787 – bet. 1840&50, m. Elizabeth Ledbetter, 1790-aft. 1850
Son Sanders Scroggins, 1816-1893, m. Sarah Dimick (his second wife)
other children: James Lewis, Mary, John, Henry
So, this was what I had to work with to begin my research. The next several posts will go into detail the geography of the area, record types searched, websites used and more.
I needed an Illinois family to research, quickly. I had less than a month to put together a program all about Illinois research. I knew VERY LITTLE about Illinois research. (I am still baffled that I pulled off the program.) Most of my research experience is in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri and New Hampshire, with a smattering of stops in other states. I pulled up my database and searched for any individuals who had “IL” or “Illinois” in any of their fields. I found four. 4! Yikes.
It turns out one of those four is a surname I’ve done quite a bit of research on: Dimick. However, this line of the Dimicks is a collateral line that I have spent no time researching until now. The only information I had was from an undocumented (no sources given) compiled genealogy from Dr. Alan Dimick. He has compiled an impressive amount of research on all of the known Dimicks in this country since the 1600s. However, there are very few sources (a few names of contributors now and then) so I can’t be sure how accurate it is. I actually find this situation to be a lot of fun. A compiled genealogy is full of clues and breadcrumbs to be followed. I personally love working with them.
The entry in my database was for a daughter of Jeduthan Dimick, Sarah. Jeduthan is the cousin of my ancestor who moved to Ohio from New Hampshire. His daughter Sarah Dimick, according to this compiled genealogy, married a man named Sanders Scroggins. Sanders Scroggins. I’m sorry, but that name is so rare and odd that I had to take it on. There was also a compiled genealogy on the Scroggins family (the surname was more prevalent than I thought it would be) available online.
With these two compiled genealogies as a starting point, I was on my way. I spent the next couple of weeks learning as much as possible about the geographic area and the individuals as possible using the Internet. As any good researcher will do, I scoured the Internet from the comfort of my home office in my slippers, hot coffee in hand, and learned as much as possible before stepping foot outside and spending one dollar on gas or one minute driving to a repository.
I am continually grateful for the education opportunities that are available to me on the state level, national level and online. I am also thankful for the teachers, educators, lecturers and mentors who give their time to bring those opportunities to me (and everyone else who benefits, too). I know I wouldn’t be where I am today in the field if it hadn’t been for some really excellent examples who have stood at a podium and unleashed their wisdom upon a group of eager students or those who take time to talk to me (and others) personally about genealogy-related topics.
Those who have “gone before” taking the time to teach those of us coming next is one of the best parts of the genealogical community. A big thank you to all of those who have gone before and are “up there” at the podium (or writing books and articles, or teaching webinars, or leading small study groups). You’ve been a great influence on me!
Like the problem of language barriers, literacy (or the lack thereof) likely complicated the census taker’s job. Most of my ancestors, as far as I can tell, had a limited education. Only in the 1900s do I begin to find out that my ancestors went to school. Those that I was able to talk to only went through some elementary or middle school. Their focus was on earning a living, and especially through the Depression era, helping their parents make ends meet. School and education were not a focus in my family until recent times. I have one grandfather who attended Bowling Green State University, but it is unclear if he graduated (WWII happened and he enlisted). Other than that, it’s been my parents’ generation that really began to focus on education.
Keep this in mind when trying to locate your ancestors in the census. While YOU may know how your ancestors spelled their names, sometimes they did not. Take Andrew Slye (father of Leonard Slye, aka Roy Rogers). He is enumerated in the 1920 census as ‘Schlei.’ We can only imagine why. I don’t believe the Slyes had accents since they had been in the country for many generations. Maybe a neighbor gave the information because they weren’t home. Maybe the census taker was foreign-born. Maybe the census taker hadn’t done that well with spelling in school or never went to school. Who knows. The point is, literacy could and did affect the way millions of ancestors were enumerated.
Literacy can be complicated by the previous post, language barriers. Imagine if the census taker had a limited education AND had to try to understand a thick accent! Double trouble.
If you’ve never been to a genealogy institute, you may not know what to expect. The first time for anything is always a little mysterious. I hope some items in this post will help dispel some of the mystery and give you a good idea of what to expect throughout your week. These tips are from my personal experiences at GRIP and IGHR. Some of the other institutes might work a little bit differently and have some aspects that I am not aware of yet. If you have been to one of the other institutes and would like to share something that I have missed, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Generally registration and check-in occurs on Sunday afternoon. This is where you will be given your name badge, meal tickets, keys to your dorm room, your class binder and any other items necessary for your week. If you are not staying on campus, this is a good time to find your hotel, get acquainted with the area for any amenities you might require such as a grocery store, a coffee shop, restaurants and the like. Some institutes have a Sunday evening dinner with an orientation session. This is where you will learn about specifics for the week, what optional evening sessions might be available, any changes to the schedule, and other details about the campus or the institute. This is a great time to get to know your fellow classmates and institute attendees. In your binder will also be a schedule for the week, a class roster with contact information so you can connect with your classmates, and other informational pages in addition to your lecture notes for the week.
Plan on being in classes all week. There will be slight variations in starting and ending times depending on your course instructor. Throughout the day there are planned break and lunch times. Sometimes in the afternoon there are coordinated breaks with free snacks and drinks. Depending on the course, you might be expected to do homework. Of course this is optional, but you will get so much more out of what you are learning in class if you do the homework. Later in the week there might be a banquet with a dinner, a speaker and any awards or honors the group gives out. You may also experience the joy of class pictures day. GRIP especially loves the class picture and sells their own polo-style shirts for students to wear on picture day.
One of my favorite features of attending an institute is that the pace is slower than you might find at a state or national conference. There is time to speak with your instructors and fellow students. No one is rushing to get to the next lecture. The size of the classes is small enough to allow for very insightful discussions and meaningful relationship building. These are amazing networking opportunities and a great way to meet people at a similar experience level or who share specific interests as you. And of course, at the end of the week you earn a certificate for all of the hard work you put in all week.
I enjoy getting to learn from these distinguished instructors in a more intimate setting and I love seeing all of my genealogy friends and meeting new ones. I love attending institutes for all of the reasons I described in this series and probably some that I didn’t. The most important thing to remember is to have fun! I hope that you will try an institute in the future!
It is an unfortunate fact that genealogy institutes only have so many seats for each class. If I have gotten you excited to attend an institute, great! Now, I want to share with you some tips for getting registered and sitting in one of those precious few seats. Have you ever bought concert tickets online? If so, the process is similar. If you have not, here are some tips.
Each institute’s registration process is a little bit different so first you will want to become familiar with their website, locate exactly which page you need to be on to register. You may also want to set up an account ahead of time, if possible, so when it’s time to register, you don’t have to go through the entire process of entering your name, address, phone, and so forth. Once they make public the date of registration, mark that date on your calendar. I enter it into my Google calendar which also syncs with my iPhone calendar, so that on the day of registration I get a reminder before it’s too late. When the day arrives, be sure you are at your computer at least five minutes ahead of the registration time, find the correct page, and log in if possible. Then sit there and wait.
At about one minute till, I start clicking the “refresh” button on my browser. The webpage will not automatically refresh when the site opens for registration, so you’ll need to force your browser to do it for you. [UPDATE: The GRIP registration page has been changed to include a countdown timer to registration. When that expires, the page will automatically refresh for you. On their new system, it is actually to your disadvantage to click the “refresh” button.) Once that magical registration screen appears, get busy filling in the blanks. You’ll want to get through the process as quickly as possible as some of the courses have been known to fill up in a matter of minutes. Some institutes might require you to pay right then and there with a credit card. I know that both IGHR and GRIP allow you to pay by check as long as they receive the payment within 30 days of registration.
After that’s done, take a deep breath. You made it!
Up next, what to expect during the institute week and a few concluding thoughts.
There are what I would consider five major genealogy institutes: British, IGHR, GRIP, NIGR, and SLIG. Readers, if there are others that I’m missing, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I may want to attend! By institute, I mean the week-long, in-depth course you take on one topic with one or two instructors for the entire week. You can read the previous post to read my description of an institute. This post will begin the tour of those five and give some insights into what I know about each of them. They are being presented here in random order, and just to remind you, I have only been to GRIP and IGHR personally although I will be attending SLIG in January. So while some of this is firsthand knowledge, other bits are what I have read, heard or found on their websites, which I will also be linking to for easy access.
I find institutes to be invaluable learning opportunities for genealogists wanting to know more and go deeper into a topic. There are many choices within these five institutes. They all seem to have a core of classes that are taught annually and some that rotate. Check their websites for each year’s lineup.
The first institute that I will be covering is the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History Institute (or “British Institute” for short). As the title would suggest, this institute focuses mainly on British Isles research, including Irish research. It is held annually in October at the Radisson in downtown Salt Lake City which is located within walking distance of the Family History Library. Classes are designed so that you have class/lecture time in the morning with time at the library in the afternoon and individual instruction time with your instructor. For current pricing, visit their website.
This year the institute is offering four tracks:
“Sources For Tracing Pre-mid-nineteenth Century English Ancestors” with Maggie Loughran and Paul Blake
“From Simple to Complex: Applying Genealogy’s Standard of Acceptability to British Research” with Tom Jones
“Irish Land Records and Fragmentary Evidence Correlation” with David Rencher
“Using the Cloud for British Family History Research” with Graham Walter
The website currently only lists David Rencher’s course as being sold out, so there may still be time to register and go if you are interested. I have not attended this institute yet, but it is in my future plan to do so. If any of you have input on your experiences with British Institute and would like to share them, please do so in the comments.