Taking Back What Was Once Lost

How to Keep On Learning Genealogy

I got a chance to hang outwith a bunch of my genealogy buddies a few Saturdays ago after an genealogy meeting. We were throwing down at Miss Shirleys on some good ol’ Southern food. I’m talking about somebodys-grandmother-is-in-the-kitchen good food! We had a great conversation about all kind of genealogy tidbits. Michael’s post reminded me not just of all the wonderful people we meet on this journey, but also all of 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:

  1. Take a class. There are local classes at many community colleges like this one at Howard Community College; check your local listings for the non-credit program. The National Archives does a free genealogy lectures series each and every month, as well as a longer, more advanced fee-based class on using their records every year. The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has a free online refresher course for members, as well as fee-based training, covering topics such as Working With Deeds.   The Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) operates a renowned weeklong genealogy class at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama every year that I hear fills up as quick as it is announced (that’s on my personal ‘to do’ list). I take a few classes every year, of all kinds.
  2. Join a local genealogy group (or 2 or 3). I can’t stress the value of this enough. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people I meet who have been researching for years and are not connected to any local group. People perceive that because they don’t live in the area they are researching, the local group won’t be helpful but that’s not the case. You need that energy and that connection–you’ll learn things at every meeting because the eyes and ears are multiplied to share the latest gen news, latest resources, websites, etc. It’ll keep you inspired when you hit that brick wall. Especially when your relatives are tired of hearing you talk genealogy; your genealogy “buddies” will understand the excitement of your latest find..LOL. And there are genealogy groups for almost everybody. There’s usually a group for your 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 in my state’s genealogical society (Maryland) and in a professional genealogy networking group (the Association for Professional Genealogists). These groups are also an additional route to training, as most groups have speakers come in every month and give presentations on topics of interest. So get out & mix it up. I think Michael in his post did an excellent job of discussing the benefits of this kind of networking.
  3. Utilize the full spectrum of online resources. Don’t just limit yourself to Ancestry.com. You should be a member of the mailing list for each of your research counties and the message boards for your surnames (go to Rootsweb to sign up.)  Read blogs (DUH…I guess you already know about that one:)) I recommend everyone researching African Americans join the Afrigeneas mailing list. Whenever I have a question, you can count on the collective knowledge of the folks at Afrigeneas. It’s also a great place to keep abreast of all the great local stories about African-American history and genealogy. Stay plugged into your research State Archives website as well as the area historical and genealogical societies (many times, those are two DIFFERENT groups). More and more resources are being digitized and uploaded to these sites, but you’ll never know about them if you don’t periodically browse the sites.
  4. 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. I didn’t go to conferences the first few years I researched and I can demarcate how my skill level jumped substantially when I started to attend regularly (every year) and learn from some of our field’s best minds. I recently missed the International Black Genealogy Summit, and I’m still upset about it, especially after all the posts and reviews from my friends. This is what happens when you still work a day job. ARRGHHH.
  5. Most people read Family Tree and Ancestry magazines, and they are good. But I highly recommend that as you progress, you start to read professional genealogy journals on a regular basis. You will learn methodology, analysis and resources that will advance your thinking in big, big ways. I prefer NGS Quarterly, but as I mentioned in my previous post listing slavery related articles, there are many different genealogy journals and I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. There are also state-level genealogy journals like the one for Maryland. As a member of NGS, I get a subscription to NGS Quarterly as well as NGS Magazine, which is also an excellent publication. Membership in APG gets me the APG Quarterly. All of these types of publications will contribute to your growth as a genealogist, whether you intend to pursue it as a business or simply are completing your own research.
  6. Read genealogy books. This seems intuitive, but again, I encounter plenty of people who research for years and years and haven’t read any of the many excellent books out there. Many libraries have pretty good genealogy collections, I’ve found, or I am a big fan now of purchasing used books from a website such as ABEBooks. My list of “key” genealogy books would probably get too long, but at a minimum, I suggest:
  • “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 by Patricia Law Hatcher (fabulous book)
  • “Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records”
  • “Google Your Family Tree: Unlocking the Hidden Power of Google” by Daniel M. Lynch
  • “The Family Tree Problem Solver” by Marsha Hoffman Rising
  • “Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case” by Christine Rose

Whew! Where in the world do I find all the time to do this stuff? Hopefully, this post gave you a few ideas about how to get and how to stay informed and how to continually educate yourself. You’ll run into me a a conference sooner or later & please do come up and say hello;)


  1. November 19, 2009    

    Ok lets see, waiting on 1 to begin and working on 2. Have to get into reading a little more and would love to do a conference. Got It(lol)

  2. November 21, 2009    

    Doing 3 and 6, need to explore the others plus some of the books that I’ve not read that are listed in No. 6.

  3. November 24, 2009    

    Great post! I’m working on my research and reading plans for 2010 and will incorporate some of your ideas. Thanks!

No Pings Yet

  1. Tweets that mention How to Keep On Learning Genealogy « Reclaiming Kin -- Topsy.com on November 18, 2009 at 7:44 am
  2. Casefile Clues « Reclaiming Kin on November 23, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

First Time Visitor?

Welcome! Please go to the link above titled "Start Here." If you like the content, do join us by free subscription via email below so you can be notified of new posts.

About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh