Another Look at Genealogy Education

Another Look at Genealogy Education

I went to SLIG last week (by the way, real excited about next year’s courses!) and with registrations going on right now for IGHR and a relatively new institute offered by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy in April that I just signed up for, I have been thinking a lot about genealogy education.


Attending conferences,institutes and enrolling in educational programs is expensive. When I lived back east, I had to wait almost 20 years before I got to step a foot in the FHL. Part of the reason I became a professional was to make enough money to feed my genealogy habit and pay for conferences, institutes, books, society memberships, paid subscription services, etc. etc. etc.

Kimberly Powell recently wrote a blog post about “The Good Genealogist vs. The Educated Genealogist”,  and it made me think about my own educational goals and why I seek to increase my genealogy education.

For me it is not about being a good genealogist or an educated genealogist as much as I want the skills and foundation to help me be more successful in my research. But, more importantly, I find it FUN!

When we do genealogy research, we all eventually will come to a place and time when we will need to know more than what we know now. We need to search land records – so now we have to study all about land records to successfully understand how to find, use and interrupt them. Then we need to access NARA records, what do we do? We study all about NARA records.

Now we can do this as needed, studying and learning as we go or we can take a course that covers one subject or a variety of subjects all of once and then go forward applying them, or we can do it piecemeal, here a little, there a little by reading books and articles, attending webinars or conference classes. The great thing is there are lots of options! Many of which are free!

I wrote a popular blog post about my ideas for a free genealogy plan here. In reading that post I could easily add all the webinars that are being offered now. Angela Packer McGhie’s blog: Adventures is Genealogy Education offers a great many options. Kimberly Powell shared a two-part blog post about free genealogy options in her recent posts.

In preparing for my up coming presentation at RootsTech, I have come to realize that while tech is important to helping us stay current and productive in the field, there comes a point where you see the law of diminishing returns take effect. Questioning the importance of how much tech you use when you are spending more time on learning and upgrading tech and user skills than you do for the thing you got the tech for in the first place – namely less time for research. Don’t let the gadgets, apps, etc. overtake your life. Balance is crucial. Which is why in my course “From Paper Piles to Digital Files; Technology for the Organized Genealogist”  I have concentrated on the tech that will get the jobs done the quickly and easily – so you can spend more time researching and not fiddling with learning more tech.

Does the law of diminishing returns apply to education? Can you have too much genealogy knowledge? Is there a point where you know everything there is to know about genealogy? I don’t believe it is possible to know everything there is to know about family history, not only is the subject HUGE, but it is always evolving. Here’s the difference for me, I want to know enough about tech to get by and to operate the programs, apps, etc. to help me save time so I can do more genealogy, which is my love. I am always trying to figure out ways to minimize the amount of time it takes me to learn new tech so I can maximize my research time.

I do think there is a need for balance and also recognizing that we can’t do everything right now. Just because I had to wait 20 years before I got to the FHL did not stop me from doing research. I did what I could, when I could, with what I had. I try to maximize my effectiveness in genealogy research by increasing my genealogy knowledge. So while I am often impatient having to learn new tech skills, I am energized by learning genealogy skills.

I think there is a need for fun and passion. If you are getting burnt out – maybe it is time to explore a new avenue of study. Mix it up! If you are old school – mostly books and articles, try some new online options. Mostly an online user – go old school, try a real live book or go to a court house!

Main thing is, find a way to let your learning be a fuel for your joy of doing your family history research. When you can’t afford one way, find another until the time when you can. Don’t let getting a good genealogical education become another brick wall in your life. Have fun and keep learning!


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  2. Thanks for the mention. I like your points that education can be fun and also that there is always more to learn.


  3. Good job, Valerie! I have spent the past couple of years trying to find and maintain a balance between embracing the technology part of genealogy and still loving the thrill of the hunt in courthouses and cemeteries.

  4. There is a lot of wisdom in your advice. I like your saying: Do what you can, when you can, with what you have. The genealogy field is evolving, the apps are evolving, and meanwhile — it is impossible to do everything “right now.” (Confession: I have always tried to blitz through a project, do it “right now,” and I certainly can’t do that with genealogy.” I’m kind of midstream, figuring out my lineages one line at a time, and I’m making my peace with the concept that there will Never be time to get it all done. I just want to have fun while I’m doing it, and do it in a way that is most meaningful to me and my loved ones. Thanks for your post! And good luck in your continuing educational journey!

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