Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmetic
Seek every opportunity to attend classes and lectures on genealogy. Become familiar with the names of outstanding genealogists, and look for opportunities to hear them lecture. Read their published articles.
Regional conferences are not on a regular schedule. Watch for announcements of them in your region. The dates and locations are published in the genealogical magazines and sometimes posted on the bulletin boards of libraries.
In addition to the seminars sponsored by your local genealogical society, there are regional and national seminars and conferences. Attending the conferences will give you new ideas for solving your problems, help you hone your skills, introduce you to new materials, and connect you with others who share your enthusiasm for genealogy.
The National Genealogical Society (NGS) at www.ngsgenealogy.org and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) at www.fgs.org each sponsor a national conference in a different location every year. The NGS conference usually takes place in May or June, while FGS is in August or September. These conferences run for three or four days, and feature five or six simultaneous presentations by top genealogists and lecturers every hour. The topics are wide-ranging: military files, land records, problem solving, ethnic research, newspapers, courthouse research, and methodology, to name a few. Presentations on DNA, digital cameras, and scanners integrate technological advances with genealogy.
Your conference registration includes a syllabus, a thick volume with material submitted by the lecturers. The material ranges from a few paragraphs to a detailed outline of the lecture, including bibliographies, maps, special instructions, and more.
The syllabi are good references for future research. As you tackle a new problem, see if there were any lectures pertaining to it, and study the bibliographies. They can give you ideas on information sources. Even if you have not attended a conference, you might find the syllabus helpful. Occasionally, sponsoring organizations have syllabi from past conferences for sale through their offices.
Networking is a vital part of the national conferences. In talking to your table mates at lunch or relaxing during a break, you may find that you share a common research problem or possibly even an ancestor. Many attendees have made connections from such contacts.
National conferences draw hundreds of attendees. In addition to the lectures, one of the attractions is the exhibit area where vendors sell everything from rare books to T-shirts with genealogical messages. You'll find genealogical supplies such as charts alongside materials for preservation such as acid-free paper. Books (new and used) and maps are big sellers. The major genealogical book publishers stock booths with their new releases along with a selection of older titles. Computer programs are popular, as are CD-ROMs. Some vendors specialize in photo restoration. Large genealogical societies sponsor booths, recruiting members and selling publications. National and local research libraries and archives are well represented.
At both the regional and national conferences, there are hands-on workshops that enable you to develop and practice skills important to your research. Workshops on land platting are usually oversubscribed. This skill can be crucial to solving genealogical problems of many kinds. Practical experience under the guidance of knowledgeable, patient instructors makes the techniques easier to acquire.
Occasionally, there are workshops devoted to abstracting and handwriting, as well as workshops on how to complete successful lineage society applications. In the latter, the emphasis is on the types of evidence needed to establish your line, and suggested sources for finding that evidence.
Computer workshops concentrate on specific genealogy programs, explaining many of their features, or on general topics, such as learning to use the Internet for genealogical research.
For a week of saturation in genealogy, attend one of the various genealogical institutes. Rather than a series of unrelated lectures, the institutes usually offer one or more tracks of related subjects. For instance, at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama (www.samford.edu/schools/ighr), there may be tracks for introductory genealogy, intermediate and advanced methodology, records of the South, military records, genealogical writing, and others. Some tracks are offered yearly; specialty tracks are available periodically.
The National Institute of Genealogical Research (NIGR), Washington, D.C. (www.rootsweb.com/~natgenin) takes place at the National Archives and concentrates on genealogical materials available in the National Archives. Other institutes are held in Illinois and Utah. Some genealogists return to these institutes year after year, taking advantage of the variety of courses offered each time.
In-depth lessons that you can do at your own pace are the attraction of home study courses. You miss the interaction of classroom instruction, but home study may fit better into your time and budget. The National Genealogical Society has the accredited and highly rated NGS American Genealogy: A Home Study Course. Completing the lessons gives you a good grounding in how to find and record your sources, maintain your records, and evaluate your evidence. To register or learn more, go to www.ngsgenealogy.org/eduhsc.cfm. Brigham Young University offers a distant learning certificate in Family History (genealogy). Information is online at http://ce.byu.edu/is/site/courses/index.cfm.