The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

The Search is Afoot: Methodology Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started
Image courtesy of Keattikorn/

Image courtesy of Keattikorn/

Shannon Bennett, Student

Anyone who discovers a passion for family history also discovers an addiction that they can’t describe except to others who share it. Being able to describe what I want to do and why, is something that I have struggled with from time to time. I am sure you can relate. Which is why I was excited to see a description of exactly who I want to be written in black and white in the first pages of this course.


A quote from Ethel W. Williams book Know Your Ancestors: A Guide to Genealogical Research sums up nicely what a genealogist should be:

Methodology part 1 and 2 post

Since I started researching my family I have at one time or another felt exactly like this passage.  Through this course, and the rest of my ongoing genealogical education, I hope that I can hone my skills and become a better detective, historian, sociologist, and anything else the field requires of me. These attributes, and the quote, are now hanging on a printout above my desk. A reminder, if you will, of what I want to become on this journey.


Working through the basic lessons was at times a bit tedious. However, since I had never, ever, done any genealogy on paper I had a great time making pedigree charts, filling out family group sheets, and creating a 3-ring notebook of information. Realizing the whole time that maybe, just maybe, I do rely on my computer software a little too much.


This should have been something I figured out ages ago. I really do learn and remember things better when I physically write them down. Charts, graphs, drawings in the margins that I’ve created are what I remember the best.  It just makes sense that I would make connections easier, remember the lines better, and overall understand all the little nuances of my family tree after I physically took the time to write it all down.


The only disappointing part from doing these first modules was the lack of family documents in my own home. I know the number one thing we do as genealogists is start with ourselves. We work from the known to the unknown. However, what happens when you have no proof of even the facts that you know in your mind? I don’t live near my family, so it’s not like I can pop down the street and raid their house for files. It is a full day trip via plane for that to happen, so needless to say I can’t be a bit spontaneous in this endeavor. That was my biggest struggle as a new genealogist, and thankfully there was the Internet, fax machines, and the postal service to help me gather a few of the documents I needed.


Well, I have to say my detective cap has come out, the magnifier is in hand, and I am ready to do some sleuthing. I can’t wait to see what other skills I should have looked into earlier.


See you online!

Who’s Your Cousin?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started

Shannon Bennett, Student

I am really excited that these Methodology, Part 1 modules have started to dig into the meat and potatoes of genealogy.  In them we are introduced to sources, evidence, and types of information. Subjects that serious genealogists or family historians need to understand to succeed in their research. However, the parts I found the most interesting where the explanations of terminology found in Module 4.

Relaxing family by Vlado/courtesy of

Relaxing family by Vlado/courtesy of

Words associated with kinship, social status, and legal jargon not to mention surnames have changed over time. Confusion can result when modern viewpoints and definitions are put onto older documents, resulting in the misinterpretation of records and the assumption of associations that were in fact not correct. For instance, the word cousin. It could mean not only what we think of as a cousin, but could also mean niece, nephew, grandchild, or any degree of cousin you can think of.

Cousin relatedness can get tricky and complicated. Many people just refuse to even try to understand what all the removes are and just refer to everyone as their cousin. Which, I can really understand. However, as researchers we need to know how people fit into our charts. Thankfully there was a nice chart showing an example tree with relationships included in this course.

From Methodology, Part 1. (c) National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

From Methodology, Part 1. (c) National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

I am always on the lookout for ways to explain to my family all the cousin connections I make while researching. This chart is one that makes a lot of sense and I can apply to future discussions.

The other thing I particularly liked was the discussion on changing boundaries.  Lines on the map change frequently, sometimes around our ancestors, and it is always important to know not only when your family lived but where. To me this goes hand in hand with good research skills.

While I understand this from the point of view of Colonial America it was great to learn about changing borders in Canada. I have no Canadian ancestry that I know of, which means I have never really looked deeply into the history or geography of that country. Also, I don’t speak French.  I took German in high school and college which means I have avoided the French speaking parts of Canada entirely. However, the short lesson on French surnames actually was intriguing since it was completely new information. Someday, it may come in handy. You never know.

Two more modules left in my Methodology course, so back to my reading.  See you online!


Transcription!: Methodology, Part 1

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started
Old Letters and Quill by Simon Howden/Courtesy of

Old Letters and Quill by Simon Howden/Courtesy of

Shannon Bennett, Student

These last two Methodology, Part 1 modules nicely wrapped up this course. They covered resources for research as well as explanations of record sets. While I was familiar with most of these I did like the variety presented and I picked up a few new ways to look at information.

Then I found the section on transcriptions, which made my day. This process is one that needs to be ingrained in every student of family history. Creating a correct transcription of a document  not only will help your research but the research of those who come after you as well. A lesson that is often learned the hard way by those starting out in the field.

Many people feel that this is the easiest thing in the world to do. I am serious; all you are doing is copying words down right?  Well, not exactly. Plus, depending on the document, transcriptions can be very difficult.

Within the section on transcription there was a list of basic rules, shown below.

Transcription rules from Methodology, Part 1. (c) The National Institute for Genealogical Studies

Transcription rules from Methodology, Part 1. (c) The National Institute for Genealogical Studies

These guidelines clearly define what is important to have in your transcription. It isn’t just copying down words, it is making an accurate and faithful copy of an original work. The transcriptionist must be true to the original plus know how to insert their comments correctly. That in and of itself is a bit of meticulousness and an art form, both of which come only with practice.

When I first started out I was confident that I knew what I was doing. Sure, I had the right idea about what I was supposed to do and how things were to be written down, but I had no idea about the when you were to use square brackets or when/how to make comments. Over the years I have gone back to those early transcriptions and cringed resulting in me redoing most of them from scratch.

Needless to say this is one of those skills that we all need to practice. The more transcriptions you make, the more comfortable you will be and the better you will get. Your research and your conclusions are only as good as your sources and information. That right there should be an excellent reason for you to make transcriptions to the best of your ability.

See you online!

Finishing up Methodology Part 1

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started
Genealogical Tree. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Genealogical Tree. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Shannon Bennett, Student

I came to the world of genealogy just over three years ago. That is not to say that I was not interested for years before that, but that is when the stars finally aligned and lead me to this path. My little girl dream of participating in the “grown-up” world of family story telling (aka genealogy) had come true.

For years I listened to the stories of my family told by my grandmother’s generation to my parents, their cousins, and siblings. Sitting around card tables, in boats, or while sipping homemade wine on the back porch.  No matter where I was, the stories always poured forth. As a child I had no reason to question my elders, they knew everything it seemed, and those stories just captivated me.  Even though I was not really allowed to be part of many of these adult conversations, I became adept at hiding in the right places so I could listen.  Amazing how few adults actually look under a kitchen table.

What did I learn?  Well, we were descended from people who came to the U.S. on the Mayflower. There was an Algonquin Indian Princess in the family. I heard how my great-grandfather held his mother’s hand while they watched his older brothers in their Union blue march off to the Civil War. The tragedy of accidental deaths and Indian raids on the railroad. The plight of Irish and German immigrants. There were so many stories.

But were they true?  As an adult I realized many of these stories may be just that, only stories. I decided that while I would be disappointed to find out my favorite tales were only myth and legend, I had a sneaking suspicion that the truths I would uncover would be so much more interesting. So, that is what I set out to do. I wanted to uncover the family truths. Needless to say that was exactly what happened, and I was surprised by all I discovered.

Having a background in science I am well versed in good research practices (even if on occasion I may choose to ignore them when I get wrapped up in the research). I realized very quickly that this was a good thing. Not everyone thinks analytically, feels comfortable in a research facility, or can navigate Internet search engines. However, this was a new field, and no matter how comfortable I may feel, I could miss something. Thus began my search for ways to make sure I developed a good basic understanding of genealogical principles and research techniques.

In Methodology Part 1, I had hoped to gather more basic ideas, tips, and research techniques. It is my opinion that there is no such thing as too much education. You can always learn something new, or hear something presented in a different way which makes more sense to you. As genealogists (no matter your level) you need to be open to education or you may miss out on something that could be critical later on.

I wanted this course to fill in any gaps I may have in my research knowledge.  Also, I wanted to  come across a few new ways to investigate. Whether that is via brick and mortar facilities, books, or online. Finally, I wanted to become more proficient with basic paper work (i.e. not rely so much on my computer).  I love my computer programs, and while I understand the basics of pen and paper research I don’t do it. It would be nice to work my way through some “old style” research practices.

This course was a great foundation course for those who have never done genealogy or for those who need a refresher course on the basic skills.

I would consider myself an intermediate level genealogist on most subjects.  That being said I really enjoyed taking this course. It gave me a taste of what to expect from courses through The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, showed me some basic holes that I needed to fill, and gave me alternative ways to think about problems. The assignments made me think outside of the box at times, but thankfully were not too difficult. Just right for the level of the course.

In particular I thought the way the course was presented with an international flavor was interesting. I am not Canadian, and my nearest European ancestor was well over 100 years ago. However, learning about various historical facts from different countries is important for anyone with a passion about genealogy. You never know when that type of information will be useful, or if you will have to start working in those types of records in the future. Being able to work globally is a skill that should be sought after, and I am pleased to see that I will have a taste of it while studying at The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

Next up is the course,  Methodology Part 2. Hmmm, wonder what I will find there?

See you online!

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