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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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;)