What are the ways we can keep getting smarter and better at this genealogy thing?
Here’s my list of ways I have used and continue to use to sharpen my skills.
Take a class. There are often genealogy classes at community colleges. Check your local listings for the non-credit program. I taught one for about five years int he community where I live.
The National Archives has a free genealogy lectures series each and every month, as well as a longer, more advanced fee-based class (Genealogical Institute of Federal Records) every year.
The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has several online courses, with discounted prices for members. One of my favorite courses is their Effective Use of Deeds. (Update: They also have also updated their website and have some very content for genealogists at all levels.
Join a Group
Join a local genealogy group (or 2 or 3). I still meet too many people who have been researching for years and are not connected to any local group. This is a mistake.
People perceive that because they don’t live in the area they are researching, the local group won’t be helpful. This is not the case.
You’ll learn things at every meeting. Groups invite lecturers where you can learn about resources and strategies. Members also share the latest genealogy news, resources, websites, etc.
Your relatives will eventually tire of hearing you about talk genealogy. But your genealogy “buddies” will understand the excitement of your latest find!
They can also be another set of eyes on your research and can provide suggestions to further your research.
There are genealogy groups for almost everybody. There’s usually a group for your research county, but there are regional groups & ethnic groups as well.
For African-American research, find a local Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) chapter.
I’m also a member of my state’s genealogical society (Maryland) and in a professional genealogy networking group (the Association for Professional Genealogists).
These kinds of groups can all enhance your genealogical expertise.
Utilize the full spectrum of online resources. Don’t just limit yourself to Ancestry.com. Be a member of the mailing list for each of your research counties and the message boards for your surnames on Rootsweb.
(Update, 2020: Though many people don’t use Rootsweb these days, they have massive archives and mailing lists that should be mined for information and contacts.)
In your research state, stay connected to the State Archives website. Also, know the historical and genealogical societies in your research locale (many times, those are two DIFFERENT groups).
Many of these websites contain digitized records, but you’ll never know about them if you don’t periodically browse their websites. It goes without saying you’ll want to eventually visit these repositories in person.
There is no substitution for in-person research; there will never be a time when all records are available online.
Start going to annual genealogy conferences. The big ones every year are NGS and FGS (The Federation of Genealogical Societies), but there are any number of regional, state-level and local conferences as well.
(Update 2020: NGS and FGS are merging into one organization.)
My genealogical skills improved substantially when I started to attend conferences and learn from some of the field’s best minds.
(Update 2020: You can access some of these presentations from home at the subscription site Legacy Family Tree Webinars)
Study Journal Articles
Most people read Family Tree and Ancestry magazines, and they are good. But I highly recommend that you begin to read professional genealogy journals on a regular basis.
You will learn methodology, analysis and resources that will advance your research skills. I enjoy NGS Quarterly (National Genealogical Society) and the Maryland Genealogical Society’s journal. As I mentioned in my post about slavery related articles, there are many different genealogy journals.
Membership in the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) includes the APG Quarterly magazine. These publications will contribute to your growth as a genealogist, whether you intend to pursue it as a business or are completing your own research.
Read, Read, Read
Read genealogy books. This seems intuitive, but many researchers still haven’t read any of the many excellent books out there.
Many libraries have pretty good genealogy collections. I am also a big fan of purchasing used books from websites such as ABEBooks.
My list of “key” genealogy books would include (my longer list can be found here–please view with Firefox or Explorer browser to see the book images):
- Evidence Explained: Citing Historical Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,”by Elizabeth Shown Mills
- A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African American Ancestors, by Emily A. Croom and Franklin Carter Smith (Excellent case studies!)
- Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree, by Tony Burroughs
- Finding A Place Called Home: A Guide to African American Genealogy, by Dee Parmer Woodtor
- Courthouse Research for Family Historians, by Christine Rose
- Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, by Patricia Law Hatcher
- The Family Tree Problem Solver, by Marsha Hoffman Rising
- Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, by Christine Rose (newest edition)
Hopefully, this post gave you some ideas about how to continually learn genealogical skills.
When you run into me at a conference, please do come up and say hello;)
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.