Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Improving your skills

Over the years, I have often reflected on whether I could have learned more and done a better job, if I could have skipped high school altogether and just learned the subjects on my own. One of the problems with that attitude is that many of the classes I had in high school were totally uninteresting (I dare say boring) and I would never have even studied the subjects without the the requirements of Board of Education. As we pick up new information, such as learning how to do genealogy, we have the same problem. If we only learn those things that seem interesting to us and are attractive, we will miss some, if not all, of the meat of subject matter.

Having a structured class and a teacher that "makes" you study things you don't like and wouldn't do on your own, is the essence of acquiring a well-rounded education. I wonder how many of us have the intestinal fortitude to push on and study and learn, even subjects that don't seem important to us at the time?

For example, military records are a valuable source of information for genealogists. But how may of us spend the time to learn even the basics of military history so that we can guess that records might exist for one of our ancestors? Every area of records in genealogy has a similar set of basic information necessary to understanding how and why the records may be important to finding and documenting our ancestors. Another example is land records. There is a whole world of terminology and concepts that must be learned before you can begin to understand property transfers. Do we take the time to learn the basic vocabulary so we can search land records?

I get the impression that most learning is situation driven. We only learn when we are forced to do so by circumstances. How many times have you dived right in and started searching records before you understood what you were looking at?

I would suggest that you take some time to review what the records may or may not contain, when and how they were created. Who is likely to be contained in the records and many other considerations. It is interesting how many people start looking at Census records before they understand what information is available on the forms and fail to know what each column represents.

Today, we have a huge amount of basic and advanced instruction online. Here are some suggestions I have made in the past:

FamilySearch's Learn Center -- almost 400 classes at all levels
BYU Independent Study --  Free online Independent Study Courses -- Free classes
National Genealogical Society -- Free courses to members

This is just a beginning. You can, of course, attend genealogical conferences, classes at the various Family History Centers around the world and on and on. The opportunities for free or very reasonably priced education are extensive.

Now, if you can't see yourself in a structured environment. Start reading. There are many free books online or go to your public library and check out the genealogy or history books.


  1. James,

    I have a commitment to lifelong learning; some of this is needs driven and some is just to take advantage of opportunities that come my way.

    As the content mostly mirrors my interest in family history I find that I am an attentive and motivated student. I chronicle my CGD (Continung Genealogical Development) in a page on my Geniaus blog

    There are many opportunities for uss to extend our knowledge. As an isolated Aussie I especially appreciate webinars and streamed conference sessions from over the seas.

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