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My Favorite Course: US Newspaper Records

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

By Emma Whaley Compton, PLCGS

While studying for the American Records Certificate with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, one of my favorite courses included in the program was US: Newspaper Records. If I had to choose a favorite record group for research, it would be newspapers, so it’s perhaps no surprise that I greatly enjoyed this course!

When you think about newspaper research, the most obvious thing that comes to mind is obituaries, which are a wonderful source of genealogical information, particularly if vital records are hard to get or may not even exist for that time period but newspapers offer much more to the researcher than just obituaries. You can frequently find birth, engagement, marriage and anniversary announcements and sometimes court cases, divorces, bankruptcies and real estate transactions will also be included.Then there are the regular newspaper stories or perhaps even photographs that may feature ancestors. Small town newspapers have society pages that give great detail about their inhabitant’s lives, such as who was in the hospital, had visitors from out of town, or may have been out of town visiting relatives, hosting a party or taking part in various club activities. Our ancestors didn’t have Facebook or smart phones, so they got all of their news (or gossip!) through the newspapers and we’re fortunate that many of these day to day records have been preserved and are even becoming accessible over the Internet due to digitization projects.

So newspapers can perhaps help us find out information about our ancestors directly, through announcements and articles but they can also help us understand our ancestor’s lives better through studying social history. What events were happening nationally (wars, recessions) or locally that had an impact on their daily lives?  For immigrants, ethnic newspapers helped them keep abreast of what was happening back in their homeland and other specialist newspapers served a similar purpose for religious communities, labor groups or the military.

The US: Newspaper Records course covers all these aspects of newspaper research in much greater detail and also goes into the history of newspapers in the United States. I found this very interesting, it’s surprising to learn how long newspapers have been a part of daily life (and no I’m not going to give that detail away, sign up for the course and find it out yourself!). Perhaps the most important part of this course is that it gives detailed information about how to find newspaper collections on a national and individual state level, so if you’ve always wanted to do newspaper research but didn’t know where to start looking, this should give you some ideas.

Although it’s an advanced level course in the American Records program, this really is a fun course. I knew I’d enjoy it, so I saved this course for last and I wasn’t disappointed. A word of warning though, you may become so immersed in the past when researching in newspapers that whole hours fly by unnoticed!



Bio: Emma Whaley Compton, PLCGS graduated from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in spring of 2014 with distinction in the English and American Record Certificate Programs. A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and Co-President of the Imperial Polk Genealogical Society, she started her own genealogy business, AncesTreeFinder Genealogy Research, early in 2015.  When not actively researching or trawling around cemeteries, Emma likes to spend time with her husband and cats, watch TV and movies and read books.  Originally from England, she now lives in Lakeland, Florida.


My Favorite Course: Methodology Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

By Lisa-Dawn Crawley, Student

Like the Baseball World Series but waaay better because it’s GENEALOGY, my favourite course from The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is not just ONE course — it’s an entire SERIES. I couldn’t pick just one!! I’m a Genea-Knowledge Nerd and, as such, I triumphantly welcome you back to Nerdville.

In case you missed it, I gushed about Methodology Part 1: Getting Started in my previous post.

I have to admit that I was definitely most looking forward to Methodology Part 2: Organizing and Skill-Building of all the (six) courses in the series. You should probably know that I’m the kinda gal who enjoys creating organizational systems and cleans when she gets stressed… However, if you want the answer to the question “What the HECK do I do with all this crap I’ve gathered from my own investigating, gramma, auntie, the attic, that nook, yonder cranny…??” this course will help you with that. I say “help” because I still don’t have everything in my vast cavern of accumulated genea-goodies labelled, filed and stored in comprehensive, orderly fashion. [I bow down to the genea-freak who does!! Are you out there?? Please say No so I can continue on in my delusion that everyone else is just as bad as me…] But at least I know what to do and how to do it!!

I must pause here to note that this course does NOT address the issue of proper preservation materials and techniques for your precious items. The Naitonal Institute does offer a course on that topic called Protect Your Precious Documents.

The material in Methodology Part 2: Organizing and Skill-Building builds slowly and surely upon that which was introduced in the previous course, delving deeper into the development of basic research skills. Emphasis is squarely placed on the importance of accuracy with objectivity and consistency in documentation. Ye olde noggin be not failproof nor foolproof, genea-friends! No matter how spry you think you are, memory alone is never good enough for tracking what you looked at, where it was, what it said, what you did with that information and how it impacted your research. It’s best to learn NOW, at the beginning, to prevent repeated work and wasted time. With that said, my own advice can only be to establish your good habits and best practices as early in your genea-journey as possible…

[You don’t really think about how MUCH you’ve learned in a National Institute course until you go to write a blog post about it. I mean, the sheer quantity of information just boggles my mind – how much I didn’t know before I started, how much I have learned since finishing and how much I need to review. But I digress… ] Education is ever ongoing, right? Right! So whether you’re looking to refresh, recycle, initiate or improve – this course delivers!

Always careful to acknowledge the fact that one way of doing things which works well for one person may not work well for another [and that is perfectly okay!!! as long as you abide by the consistency rule], Methodology Part 2 focuses on the skills required to “do genealogy” effectively. It reinforces the idea that research should not be a collection process but one of progression from the unknown to the known. Skills like citation, transcription, abstraction, extraction, deciphering old handwriting, noting interpretations, making comments and standards for these are explored in-depth. Methods of organizing (ie, reference numbering systems) and documenting your research processes (ie, checklists, forms, journals) are discussed. Much attention is given to the Not-As-Scary-As-It-Sounds Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) which should govern your research practices and lead in the development of your research plans.

It’s a lot — but don’t worry!! A plethora of examples and exercises are provided to gently guide students along. Teachers are only ever an email away are are usually quick to answer questions. Don’t forget to check out the Virtual Meeting schedule and make a date to assail your genea-gurus with your myriad queries! [They actually like it!]

Until next time…
Happy Hunting!

Lisa-Dawn Crawley is a current student of The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. She is enrolled in four certificate programs (Methodology, Professional Development, Canadian Records and English Records) and hopes to graduate with honours in her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario at the 2017 OGS Conference, in the National Capital’s celebratory year of Canada’s 150th birthday. Her new blog LDC: The Zombie Genealogist chronicles her sleepless endeavours to bring the dead back to life, to interest her relatives and the younger generation in family history, to preserve some of her own thoughts, experiences and memories and, ultimately, to become a professional genealogist. Besides genealogy, LDC’s vices include books (so, so many books!), movies (and Netflix), boardgames and geekery (zombies, minions and Star Wars, oh my!), photography, contesting, bargain hunting, social media and privacy (yes, conflicting).

You can usually find LDC online at:

Twitter: @elle_dee_see


Personal Blog:

My Favorite Course: Palaeography

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

By Cheryl Levy, Student

The  Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents course is compulsory for almost all certificates, and with good reason. My initial expectation for this course, was that it would be mostly learning how to write various old scripts, using the pen and workbook provided. To my surprise, this aspect was only included in the first module. The detailed course notes and excellent companion workbook will stretch your knowledge and transcription skills. The extensive, customized exercises are a valuable component of this learning experience.

The course description states:

A number of topics linked to palaeography are covered to ensure participants have sufficient background to tackle unfamiliar documents that span the past five hundred years. The primary goal involves transcribing the unfamiliar writing in old documents to the modern day hand. A secondary objective is to provide the student with a feeling of success and achievement when new skills are learned. As Britain had a major influence on the cosmopolitan development of North America, examples will be taken from British and Canadian resources. Canadian resources will focus on The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, which are British in origin, and are now held at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg. These materials reflect the profound influence of British language, culture and economics on the development of North America.
Module 1 featured practical handwriting exercises, and a brief introduction on the relevant materials required for experimenting with scripts. Website URLs  were given for a variety of specific scripts and alphabets, as well as tutorials and resources for further study. I have purchased one of the recommended books, Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry and Margaret C. Klein, and I have found it very applicable for my Colonial New England research. Personally, I love transcribing and the challenge to “solve the puzzle,” but this course explored so much more than merely deciphering the code for unfamiliar letters. As with all research, we need to understand the records we are examining. Analysis and evaluation involve more than simply recording the words of a sentence, we need to comprehend the context. As so many terms are no longer used, their original meaning may be lost to the one reading the text. Even after we have identified all of the letters, we must be familiar with the archaic terms to appreciate what has been recorded.

Module 2 investigated Early Forms of Speed Writing with a look at abbreviations and contractions. These were a challenge for me. I was familiar with some of them from my previous research, but many of those listed were new. It increases the difficulty of transcribing when the words are unfamiliar. The many examples provided, with the accompanying  images or the detailed lists, will be a ready reference used many times in my future research.

Module 3 presented Roman Numerals and Currency, along with their historical context, which was extremely helpful. I can now calculate in British currency and I understand references to terms such as, guineas and farthings. Learning the currency of the country you are researching is very important, and is essential to understanding economic status and conditions.

Module 4 explained Calendars, both ancient and modern, and provides explanations of the various dating systems. Understanding the reason for using double dates is crucial, especially for properly calculating an age and accurately identifying when an event took place. This will save future frustration and valuable time that could have been lost due to miscalculations.

Module Five explored the vast topic of Weights and Measures. The extent of the lists provided was a surprise. Many references very common to my ancestors, can now be a total mystery without these tables and explanations. Who knew there were specific terms for the measuring of wool or coal, or even rum? Very useful, invaluable in fact, for future reference.

Module 6 revealed aspects of The Church, the Manor and Social Life that were part of our ancestor’s daily lives. Feasts, Festivals and Fairs were definitely a vibrant part of the community they lived in. The Manorial records were a brand new topic for me, and it took some additional study to understand and consider the possible treasures hidden in these collections. Some of the Anglican (Church of England) terms were familiar, but not the Latin references. Holidays and feast days are interesting to research, however, many are no longer observed today. This material definitely helped to paint a picture of the social aspects of living in those communities.

Module 7 on Surnames and Occupations was extremely interesting and it could be the topic of a course on its own. Quite naturally, the two categories become intertwined as the origins of family surnames are investigated. This provides a great background for launching into a One Name Study project, or calculating possible naming patterns used in your family. Exploring this topic helps to understand the conditions in which our ancestors lived and worked. When visiting historical sites, be sure to watch the demonstrations of these skilled craftsmen as they display their craft. Sadly, many trades are becoming a lost art, even in our own lifetime. One interesting job: Knockerupper (London) – one who wakes you up in the morning. It was before alarm clocks and makes perfect sense that you would need someone to make sure you were awake in time to work your next shift.

Module 8 with the Latin Terminology was the most difficult module for me. I was totally unfamiliar with Latin terms, although a few of the medical terms were somewhat familiar. Identifying the religious and court terms, converting abbreviations, especially prescriptions, along with transcribing the scripts, is very challenging. A lot more practice is needed in this area to master these terms.

Overall, this course required a lot more work than I had anticipated, but wow, I learned so much. By completing the exercises in the workbook provided, I was able to apply what I was reading about and practice is essential to hone the skill of transcribing documents. Becoming familiar with the style of handwriting and the context of the documents that you discover in a specific time period will greatly enhance your research analysis skills. I can certainly understand why this is a compulsory course and the binder of course notes will be used as a reference resource for many future projects.

Every researcher will benefit from this advance course. I highly recommend including Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents in your portfolio of courses, whether you are working to complete  a specific certificate or not. You won’t be disappointed.

Cheryl Levy. Used with permission.

Cheryl Levy. Used with permission.

Cheryl Levy is a National Institute for Genealogical Studies student, who is currently working on the Advanced Level courses for her Canadian Records Certificate. She became interested in family history at the age of 17, when she asked her grandmother to identify distant family members she had never met. From this beginning in the 1970s, she began researching her family tree and soon discovered many fascinating stories about her ancestors and their place in history. Her passion for genealogy grew into a desire to help others discover their forgotten family connections as well. Her genealogy research interests include: Nova Scotia & Colonial New England roots, Loyalists & British Redcoats of the American Revolution, and the Quinte region of Ontario. After graduating, Cheryl plans to pursue courses in the Professional Development Certificate to further expand her research skills. She is currently a member of several genealogy societies, and holds the position of webmaster for the Quinte Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. She is also actively involved in genealogical groups on Facebook, where she monitors several groups and pages.

My Favorite Course: Methodology

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

By Lisa-Dawn Crawley, Student

Greetings from Nerdville and the geek who picks the Methodology series as her favourite offering (so far!) from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies!

It’s only logical, (said Mr. Spock, from Star Trek) that we start with the first course in the series, right? Right.

Reporter Table by koratmember/Courtesy of

Reporter Table by koratmember/Courtesy of

Methodology Part 1: Getting Started was my first peek into the world of practical genealogy study. In fact, it was only the second course I took through the Institute! I had been doing my own thing for a couple years at that point, climbing and pruning my trees in a consistent though haphazard manner. As such a typical beginner, I knew there must be better, more efficient ways to manage what I was doing and I was eager to begin learning Proper Techniques for researching and organization. I was not disappointed.

I get excited just going back to the outline for this course on the website and reading through my submitted assignments (which you can do by clicking the S beside any completed course in your Student Briefcase). I remember how new and wondrous it all was at the time. So much to wrap my little brain around! Fortunately, this course (and the series, for that matter) took it slow and steady. Not only did it give me a realistic idea of “how far back you can go” and of the caveats involved in most human interaction versus what is recorded and/or remembered, it introduced and explained frequently used and helpful forms (ie, pedigree charts, family group sheets) and provided the reasoning behind such things as the standards for recording abbreviations and dates. I have found that understanding the reason why a practice is considered standard often makes it easier to be consistent just as looking back at this course material and my notes was a great refresher — are you listening, More-Seasoned Researchers??

Methodology Part 1 is a solid overview of this Hobby-That-Is-Also-A-Skill. I believe it would serve as a good review for an experienced genealogist. It is most certainly a course for eager beginners to get their feet wet in all the areas of general research most interesting to them — from the many types of records and repositories available to interviewing living relatives and collecting clues closer to home — while developing a solid foundation of practical knowledge. In fact, it offers hands-on experience at working through a research problem and building a research plan. Confusing terms and situations which will likely arise are also discussed. Similarly, types of sources (original versus derivative) and information (primary versus secondary) are introduced — WITH EXAMPLES, thankfully!!

Indeed, this is the course series where you first really begin learning about those strange and sometimes scary but significant terms new genealogists stress over — numbering systems? proof? evidence? transcribe?? abstract?? extract?? CITATION???? But not to worry!! Your completion of The National Institute’s Methodology series will ensure any terror and trepidation subsides considerably, if not disappears completely!

Until next time – Happy Hunting!



Lisa-Dawn Crawley is a current student of The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. She is enrolled in four certificate programs (Methodology, Professional Development, Canadian Records and English Records) and hopes to graduate with honours in her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario at the 2017 OGS Conference, in the National Capital’s celebratory year of Canada’s 150th birthday. Her new blog LDC: The Zombie Genealogist chronicles her sleepless endeavours to bring the dead back to life, to interest her relatives and the younger generation in family history, to preserve some of her own thoughts, experiences and memories and, ultimately, to become a professional genealogist. Besides genealogy, LDC’s vices include books (so, so many books!), movies (and Netflix), boardgames and geekery (zombies, minions and Star Wars, oh my!), photography, contesting, bargain hunting, social media and privacy (yes, conflicting).


You can usually find LDC online at:

Twitter: @elle_dee_see


Personal Blog:

My Favorite Course: Research: American World War II Ancestors

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

It’s difficult for me to choose just one course as my favorite. I have a unique position among those who will write about their favorite courses on this blog. I was a student of The National Institute for Genealogical Studies before I started my work here. Currently, I read through the courses as they are turned in by the instructors. This allows me to see the latest courses and resources before they are added to the website.

Because I am so familiar with the 200+ courses The National Institute offers, how can I choose just one? So I decided to write this post about a course that students may not be as familiar with. Research: American World War II Ancestors- Part 1 and Part 2.

Woman machinist, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif . Flickr the Commons. Library of Congress.

Woman machinist, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif . Flickr the Commons. Library of Congress.

These courses, authored by World War II researcher and author  Jennifer Holik, provide students with a look at all facets of researching World War II and its effect on Americans, on the battlefield and the home front.

The description for these two courses are:

There are many records that were created during World War I that are similar in World War II. Learn what led to the start of World War II, how the U.S. became involved and the military records available. They did not all burn in the 1973 fire! This course will move from military records for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines to civilian jobs including the USO, Merchant Marines and others. You will learn how to research the service of your military ancestors through numerous sources

In Research: American World War II Ancestors-Part 2 we begin with records from the Army, Army Air Corps, Marines and National Guard and explore military and other records that can assist you in conducting World War II era research. We explore life on the home front and the role of women in World War II including their service in the military. A case study gives ideas for piecing the life of you World War II soldier’s story together.

Do you have ancestors and family living in the United States of America during the World War II years? Then you owe it to yourself to learn more about their lives. Check out Research: American World War II Ancestors- Part 1 and Part 2 today.

My Favorite Course: Geography and Maps

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series My Favorite Course

**My Favorite Course is a new blog series where students and graduates write about their favorite National Institute for Genealogical Studies course. Do you have a favorite course you want to write about? Leave a note in the comments!

Erie Canal Map1853. Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by User:Mwanner

Erie Canal Map 1853. Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by User:Mwanner

By Shirley L. Sturdevant, PLCGS, Graduate of The National Institute

It is hard to believe that I have finally graduated with my certificate in Canadian Studies. I am so thrilled to be able to place the post-nomials PLCGS behind my name. My adventure took longer than planned due to other commitments and also to the fact that I spent a lot of time at the end of each course making detailed outlines and notes for myself as well as deciding how best to share my new-found information with other genealogists and family historians.

Many of the courses were very interesting but I think my favourite was Canadian: Geography and Maps written by  Althea Douglas, UE, MA, CG.  Much of the reading for this course came from her book entitled Genealogy, Geography and Maps (©2006 The Ontario Genealogical Society).


The course description reads:

Genealogy, geography and maps are inextricably entwined, particularly in a country like Canada where almost everyone has ancestors who came here     from somewhere else. If you are looking for their records you must travel across geographic boundaries as well as across time. Wherever you travel, maps are essential.

Can you read a map? Did you hate geography in school? You know what road maps tell you, but are you aware that topographical maps tell you much more or that geographers and cartographers now use maps to show us all sorts of information both about the here and now and the worlds our ancestors once inhabited.

While many Canadians look back to Europe or the British Isles, in the multi-cultural society we have become some of us will need maps of every continent except Antarctica. Not just maps of the place as it is today, but older maps that show former political divisions and place names, where old roads, canals or railways once ran, perhaps ownership of land, or city plans that show every building, including the one where the emigrant ancestor was born.

If you plan to be a successful family historian you must learn to look at maps and extract the basic, secondary, and even the third level of information they offer, and then evaluate that information. Is what it shows accurate, up to date or obsolete, misleading or intended to deceive? Maps can be many things and the more you know the fewer traps will catch you.


This course dealt with general information about maps (terms and symbols, making of maps and map websites); migration; various types of maps, atlases, gazetteers, guide books and directories; city and town plans; and, locating maps. Most importantly it taught how to apply maps and geography to our genealogy.

Using maps is nothing new for genealogists and family historians. We have used them to locate countries of origin, track immigration to new destinations and migratory routes in general terms, which have led us to vital and church records, land records, court records and other documents of importance in understanding our family history.

However, using maps that are more specific, and understanding the geography of an area at various points in history, can aid us in discovering and understanding so much more. Through more in-depth study, we answer the questions of not only when and where, but also how and why our ancestors chose to travel or settle as they did. This, added to historical information of an area, broadly expands our vision of the life, times and decisions made by our ancestors.

In my case, the understanding of when various modes of transportation were introduced in my areas of interest assisted in understanding why my family travelled when and where they did. Getting to North America was not always as easy as getting to the coast and taking a ship. Did they need to travel by rail or by slow boat along canals, if such were even in place at the time? Did they choose to travel to Ellis Island on the eastern seaboard of the United States, for example, rather than Canada ports even though Canada was their intended destination?  If they were travelling across the Atlantic during iceberg season, travelling via a more southern route across the Atlantic and then travelling north by trail, road or canal or even trekking by foot would be preferable to the treacherous northern waters.

This course introduced me to so many websites of which I had been previously unaware; not only the usual political maps, but also: historic, thematic (climate, economic, geological, etc.); migratory routes; and more. All led to a broader understanding of my own family’s history.

I encourage readers to check out what maps are available for your area of interest or take this most fascinating course. I cannot talk enough about where your new understanding might lead you!


Shirley Sturdevant. Used with permission.

Shirley Sturdevant. Used with permission.

Bio: Shirley L. Sturdevant, PLCGS, is a 2015 graduate of The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Shirley got involved in genealogy, or rather family history, as a young adult in the 1970s when she heard her parents telling family stories she had never heard before.  Her mother, always one for taking family photos, had also kept numerous albums and had some basic genealogy completed by another “cousin”.  The rest is history; she is now the family Kinkeeper. She got involved with the Kent Branch of The Ontario Genealogical Society and is currently the organization’s Past-President and Program Chair for the 2015  conference “Tracks through Time”.  Besides genealogy, Shirley is an avid reader, enjoys, ballroom dancing and geocaching.  She is now moving forward with her company – SL STURDEVANT Family History Services.


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