Linda Clyde | Dec 12, 2017

Continuing Your Genealogy Education at Home: Tips, Blogs, and Books

This is the first of a two-part series highlighting resources and tips for continuing your genealogy education at home.

Whether you’re just getting started in genealogy or you’re a seasoned professional, there’s always something new and exciting to learn. Maybe you’re learning to navigate a new app or website, or perhaps you’re taking your first dive into African or Irish genealogy. No matter what your interest, there’s a way for you to learn more about it from the comfort of your own home. Today’s self-directed learning opportunities are vast and diverse.

As you go about learning on your own, keep in mind that reviewing the basics while also taking opportunities to stretch yourself are both important parts of the learning process. 2017 RootsTech conference presenter, Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for Ancestry.com, recommended that new and old researchers alike step back to square one together to make sure everyone is “playing in the same way.” She related a story about a former UCLA basketball coach who would teach his new players how to correctly put their socks on during their first practice. While many of the young 18-year-old hot shots initially found his coaching style condescending, the coach succeeded in building a unified understanding of best practices from a foundational level.

Cowan shared that genealogy education can be viewed in much the same way. Going back to the basics ensures that everyone is moving in the same direction and following the same standards. Whether “you’re intermediate or advanced, sometimes we just need those beginner reminders.” She also encouraged those who are newer to genealogy education to do things that feel like “drinking from a firehose” once in awhile and take full advantage of learning opportunities that will challenge you.

Know, Like, and Trust

As you start to explore learning opportunities, it’s important that you gather information from reliable sources. Cowan spoke of what she called the “know, like, trust factor,” saying “first you have to know something or someone or some service or business or opportunity exists. Then you have to have some kind of an interaction enough with them to like them. . . . Then you reach a place where you can finally trust them.” One of the things that accelerates that process more than anything else is referrals. If someone you already know, like, and trust tells you, go check this thing out, then you’re more likely to do that.”

Explore the Blogosphere

Self-directed learning can include blogs of knowledgeable individuals on either broad or very specific subjects. Cowan recommended following blogs that are trustworthy sources of information. For example, did you know that most of the big genealogy companies keep a blog? These can be a great starting point for online learning. Check out the following companies’ blogs: FamilySearch, Rootstech, Ancestry, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

Here are some other great resources recommended by Cowan:

  • On the GeneaBloggersTribe website you can search the list of more than 3,000 genealogy-specific blogs to find one that matches your area of interest.
  • Evidenceexplained.com is a website focused on historical analysis, citations, and source usage. It is written by well-known independent scholar and historical writer Elizabeth Shown Mills. This blog is advanced, and Elizabeth uses the blog to answer questions. 
  • Russ Worthington, or “Cousin Russ,” knows Family Tree Maker inside and out and blogs about it at ftmuser.blogspot.com.
  • Genea-Musings offers research tips and techniques, news items, commentary, and a bit of genealogy humor. The blog is maintained by Randall J. Seaver.
  • Clue Wagon is a genealogy blog that is both informational and funny. Blog author and genealogist Kerry Scott knows how to keep things lively and interesting.

What’s an RSS feed?

RSS can stand for any of the following: Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary, or even Really Simple Syndication. In a nutshell, it’s a way to get the most recent content from all of the sites or blogs that you follow into one place so you can quickly scan the newest content. RSS feeds allow you to keep up on all sorts of things, like the latest news, sports, weather, stocks, or all of your favorite genealogy blogs!

Must-Have Books

Cowan listed a handful of books she personally has on her own shelves. One or two of them she uses enough to justify two copies—one for home and one for the office. She told RootsTech attendees, “Not only have I read them, but I reference them continually.”

  • The Genealogy Standards Manual is just that. Offered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, this reference manual “presents the standards family historians use to obtain valid results” (Genealogy Standards [2014], back cover) Cowan referenced the book in relation to the UCLA basketball coach. “It’s putting on our socks, right? It’s running drills. And every one of us, regardless of our skill level, can utilize that. . . . I reference this book probably weekly as it sits on my desks.”
  • Another book is called Evidence Explained. It’s by Elizabeth Shown Mills, the author of the blog listed above, evidenceexplained.com. The book preceded the blog. “According to the author, there are no historical resources we can trust at face value. Records simply offer evidence, and their assertions may or may not be true. To decide what likely happened, we must understand those records. To analyze that evidence and judge what to believe, we also need particular facts about those records.” So, according to Cowan, “If you need to create some kind of a source citation or be able to analyze a genealogical record, no matter where you obtained it, [this book] will show you how to do that.”
  • If you inherited someone else’s work on your family tree and it’s a complete mess, or if you’re not quite sure how to clean up your early genealogy work, try getting your hands on Thomas MacEntee’s The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook. Over the course of a year, it will take you through 12 journey markers to “ensure that you are on a firm footing to find your ancestors.”
  • It’s a good idea to be organized from the very beginning, and Drew Smith’s new book Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher is just the ticket. Learn how to organize digital files, discover great naming conventions for all of your downloads, and even learn how to organize your research process.
  • Lawyer and geneticist Blaine Bettinger wrote The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. This book will help anyone who wants to orient themselves to the wonderful world of DNA. It covers the various types of DNA testing, the companies that offer these services, the future of genetic genealogy, and even touches on relevant ethical questions.
  • Mastering Genealogical Proof is a book you might tackle after learning about Genealogical proof in The Genealogy Standards Manual. It was written by Thomas W. Jones, award-winning genealogical researcher, writer, editor, and educator. This book “aims to help researchers, students, and new family historians reconstruct relationships and lives of people they cannot see.”

What other resources do you use for continuing your genealogy education at home? Tweet @RootsTechConf with your tips!

Linda Clyde

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