Saturday, 8 October 2011

Getting Educated

Genealogy education is a topic that’s been on my mind quite a lot lately. Firstly, I just heard that I’ve successfully completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies from the University of Strathclyde. Secondly, I’ve recently joined a ProGen Study Group and one of my first assignments was to draw up an education plan for the next few years. And finally, last month I attended an AGRA Associates Day in London where the main theme was Continuing Professional Development. 

I think it’s fair to say that education is a pretty hot topic in the genealogy world right now. I’ve read two articles on the subject in the last few weeks: 'A Qualified Success' by Suzie Grogan in the October 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine (UK) and 'The Art of Teaching Genealogy' by Lisa A. Alzo in the September 2011 issue of Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Geneabloggers Radio had a 'Back to School Special' devoted to genealogy education in August and Angela McGhie, administrator of the ProGen Study Groups, writes a blog, Adventures in Genealogy Education, devoted to the subject. 

It’s clear that there’s a great demand for education from genealogists, whether tracing their own families, researching professionally or aspiring to become professional. Not surprising perhaps as genealogists are typically people with a thirst for knowledge and, I suspect, generally optimists who believe that the answer to finding that elusive ancestor is out there somewhere, if only they knew where to look. 

Last year when I completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies I wrote a post about my experience of the course. You can read that post here and much of what I said also holds true for the Diploma course. This year, whilst considering ideas for my continuing education, I thought I’d write a brief summary of available genealogy education options from a UK perspective. 

Long-term Courses 
For those seeking an in-depth programme of study lasting several years there are three main options in the UK. The University of Strathclyde Genealogical Studies Programme, The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS) Correspondence Course in Genealogy and the University of Dundee Courses for Family and Local History (leading to a Postgraduate Certificate or Masters Degree). 

All of these courses are available online for distance learning. I don’t have personal experience of them all, but one of the main differences seem to be that the Strathclyde course involves intense study with assignments submitted to meet regular deadlines, whilst the IHGS course can be completed at the student’s own pace and the Dundee course is modular with students having some choice over what modules to complete and how many modules to undertake at a particular time. 

Short-term Online Courses 
For those looking for a shorter course, Dundee University also runs two online distance learning courses entitled Beyond the Internet and modules from it’s main genealogy course can be taken individually (although a £95 registration fee applies). 

The main provider of short-term online courses in the UK is Pharos Tutors who are currently offering about 40 individual courses on a variety of genealogical topics. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is based in Toronto, Canada but offers courses on English, Irish and Scottish research from basic to advanced levels. Some courses are non-credit but others are credited and can be used to gain a Certificate in English, Irish or Scottish Records. Celia Heritage of Heritage Family History has created a 4-module e-Course which can be purchased and downloaded from her website

Short-term Local Courses 
There are many genealogy courses available throughout the UK which can be attended in person. These are typically provided by university lifelong learning departments, adult education programmes, family history societies, libraries & record offices and private individuals and range from beginner’s workshops to advanced courses on particular record types. 

Free & Low-cost Options 
The above courses, especially the long-term ones, involve a serious investment of time and money, which not everyone is in a position to make. However, one of the things which was stressed in both my ProGen reading and at the AGRA Associates Day was that genealogy education doesn’t have to involve an organised programme of study. I hadn’t previously viewed many of my activities related to genealogy as educational or fully appreciated how much I was learning all the time. Below are are few of the other ways us genealogists can educate ourselves. If you’re the type of person who regularly reads genealogy blogs then chances are you already participate in quite a few of them. 

Webinars are a topic I’ve heard a lot about lately, although they’ve yet to make much of an appearance in the UK. The Society of Genealogists held a webinar on Using Legacy Software a few months ago and hopefully there will be more to come. In the meantime, there are plenty of webinars available from the US which are relevant to genealogists worldwide. Legacy Family Tree is a major provider of webinars and if you are not able to attend live then many recorded ones are available from their website (in some cases they are available free for a limited time and can be purchased after that). GeneaWebinars provides details of upcoming genealogy webinars and a calendar to keep track of them all. 

FamilySearch Learning Center offers a growing collection of videos and recorded lectures, described as free courses. There are currently 66 in the UK category (some of which are actually lectures from The National Archives available elsewhere) and others, for example in Instructions and Methodology, which are not location specific. These range from the ‘5 Minute Genealogy’ series for beginners, to advanced topics lasting about an hour. A recent addition is Scotland’s Old Parish Registers: How to Access, Use and Interpret. Nick Barratt, editor of Your Family History magazine, has an online video series on YouTube called The Family History Show. So far there have only been a few pilot episodes but hopefully more will follow. 

Podcasts are a good way to keep up with the latest news in the genealogy world and to increase your knowledge. The Genealogy Guys Podcast and Genealogy Gems Podcast are both US-based but frequently cover UK news and sources. The BBC radio programmes Tracing Your Roots and Digging Up Your Roots can both be downloaded as podcasts (but only for a short time after they are broadcast) and Geneabloggers Radio can be listened to live online or downloaded as a podcast. The National Archives (UK) Podcasts are recordings of lectures held at TNA and cover family, military and social history. There are currently over 70 lectures in the family history section covering topics from 'Sources for Anglican Clergymen' to 'The Pub and the People'. 

Genealogy books and magazines are another good low-cost education option and you don’t necessarily have to buy them. A simple keyword search for ‘genealogy’ on my local library catalogue returns over 900 titles and whilst some of these are transcriptions and indexes (as well as duplicates) this still provides plenty of educational reading. Membership of most genealogy societies includes a subscription to the society’s journal and allows you to attend talks given by the society. Talks, lectures and workshops are also hosted by local history societies, libraries, archives and educational organisations and whilst these may not always be specific to genealogy they can help to broaden our genealogy education. 

At present, ProGen is the focus for my genealogy studies but my wider education plan involves most of these free and low-cost options. What about you? What other forms of genealogy education do you participate in?


  1. Congrats on the Postgrad Dip from Strathclyde, Kirsty, and a great summary of courses available!


  2. An excellent wrap-up of educational opportunities and the various podcasts are excellent and do make the housework go faster!

    I'd also like to acknowledge all the learning opportunities provided by the family history magazines who do excellent articles spotlighting document analysis, county research and other items of interest. And of course blogs which all contribute to the reader's knowledge.

  3. A fabulous summary of the educational options available to both existing and aspiring genealogists, Kirsty.

    It seems that in genealogy, the learning never stops, there just so much out there and always a new twist or turn to be discovered.

  4. That's some, post, Kirsty! Very, er, educational. Have mentioned it on my blog (

  5. Thanks, Kirsty, for this valuable summary. As a great believer in lifelong learning I coined the term CGD (Continuing Genealogical Development) for myself.

    I keep a Learning Log of the activities in which I participate on my blog

    I also believe in the value of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)for genealogy - described more eloquently here than I can describe them:

  6. I'm very new to this, so I don't have any resources to add, but want to say thank you in particular to the podcast references. I will listen to them and can't wait to start learning!

  7. So much to learn - so little time! Kirsty I've posted a link to this on my UKancestors Facebook page, and other people are "liking" and sharing. Very useful post - there's no excuse for anyone not to learn how to carry out research properly, whatever their budget!

  8. Congrats on the diploma! It's quite overwhelming how many opportunities there are for genealogical education right now - your synopsis is much appreciated.

    I'm currently doing the IHGS course, and found your comments on the Strathclyde certificate course very interesting. I think the 20+ hours per week requirement would have been my undoing! My only worry with the self-paced IHGS course - will I ever finish??