The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


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

Learning How to Create Genealogy Programs

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, student

I am a teacher at  heart. It comes naturally you see. My parents were teachers, so too were my grandparents, great-grandparents… you get the drift. This is one of the reasons I love to do genealogy presentations. It makes me feel so good to explain something to someone who really wants to learn and watch them walk away with so many new ideas.

This is one of the reasons I really wanted to take the course  Creating Genealogy Programs for Adults & the Younger Generation. The instructor, Jennifer Holik, has written several books on teaching genealogy to children that many of my friends who homeschool use as textbooks. Looking through them, and talking to Jennifer in the past, I knew that I would learn a lot of new techniques I could use in the future.

Don’t fear though! This course is not one sided at all. She adequately covers how to provide appropriate education for all age groups from child to adult which can be more difficult than it initially sounds. Especially if you are trying to teach younger children and you have never done that before. That is a skill all on its own… and it requires a lot of patience.

I really like how she broke down how to create everything from an hour-long presentation to a day-long workshop. Each of which I have done, and it was a lot easier after I put into practice some of her tips. Trust me, it seems easy when you agree to do a 6-hour workshop until you have to do it.

In addition to outlines on how to create these programs Holik also gives ideas on types of activities you may want to include based on age group. If you have a multi-generational workshop you can even adjust any hands-on projects so that everyone can participate. As an example, adults can do a traditional pedigree chart and younger children can create one with pictures or drawings if they cannot write well. Pretty cool, huh?

If you are involved with scouting or other similar groups, Holik points out that they may need your help as a genealogist. Many of these groups have badges the kids can earn that focus on family history or  genealogy. This is a great way to get your name out into the community and help out too. I have done a couple of these and each one was an absolute blast. Something I would jump at doing again because the kids were great.

Needless to say, if you want to do more large format programs for a variety of ages this is a course you should register for. The sample plans, worksheets, and assignments alone are well worth it. The ideas are like the cherry on top of a decadent sundae.

On to the next course!!

Oh the Records You’ll Find for Institutions

Richmond, Virginia. Almshouse. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.

Richmond, Virginia. Almshouse. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.

by Shannon Combs-Bennett, student

Well, color me surprised. You don’t have to have a black sheep ancestor to get a lot out of the course US: Institutional Records. In fact, several of mine and my husband’s ancestors have institutional records. That means you do too! Which, by happy chance, led me to even more records and information on these people.

In Module 1 we covered how to dissect the various US census schedules to learn more about where institutionalized ancestors were. Many researchers forget about the various schedules that were created for the census beyond the population schedule. If you have not explored them you are truly doing a disservice to your research!

From there we moved on to  different types of institutions. Many of these places hold different records, but they all include similar types of information. I really have an obsession with  jail records. Honestly, I don’t know what it is, but they fascinate me to no end!

From these records, you not only learn about a person’s offence (or repeat offences) but you can also glean data to help with your genealogy research. Beyond the vital information data you can also learn about their last address, what they did while in the clink, and even where they were going upon release. For women, you can often times learn their maiden names.

Another record set that I am delving more into is orphan and poor house records. My husband has a collateral line ancestor who died in the New York City Almshouse in 1920. While he is not a direct line ancestor he had a significant impact on my husband’s family. He is one of those missing link people who I just have to find more information about. Because of this course I was able to learn  where the records are located. Now, I just need to get myself up to the municipal archives in New York City.

I hope you are as fascinated as I was about the amount of information you can learn from this course. The records, and how to search for them, really took my research to the next level. I know it will enhance your research too!

On to the next course!!
See you online!

Starting the US: Institutional Records Course

Historic American Buildings Survey, photo-copy of engraving by John Andrews, showing Dexter Asylum in 1869. - Dexter Asylum, Hope Street & Lloyd Avenue, Providence, Providence County, RI. Library of Congress.

Historic American Buildings Survey, photo-copy of engraving by John Andrews, showing Dexter Asylum in 1869. – Dexter Asylum, Hope Street & Lloyd Avenue, Providence, Providence County, RI. Library of Congress.


by Shannon Combs-Bennett, student

When you think of an “institution” what comes to mind first? For me, it is prisons or asylums. But guess what, this word can cover a whole bunch of other places as well. Places which most of us had ancestors in attendance. Not to say all ancestors were black sheep, just that they had reasons to attend an established facility.

The 6-week course US: Institutional Records  does cover researching prisons and asylums as well as a variety of other institutions. Places like poorhouses, orphanages, schools, and veteran’s homes. In addition, the course author, Amy Johnson Crow, also covers where to find the records and how to trace the clues. Both of which are crucial to a successful search.

I do not have any black sheep ancestors, much to my personal disappointment, but I and my husband do have ancestors which fall into other categories. This gives me hope that I can fill in more details about their lives for my research. Maybe even break down a wall or two in the process.

On that note, I am very excited to get started. Off to read the first modules.

See you online!

Specialty Newspapers in the United States

Image courtesy of Stoonn at

Image courtesy of Stoonn at

by Shannon Combs-Bennett, student

Extra! Extra! Read all about…. Specialty newspapers!  Seriously, I learned a lot about niche newspapers in Module 5 of the US: Newspaper Records course. While I don’t think I will be able to use it in my personal research I am certain this knowledge with come in handy for when I help others with their research.

I was surprised by the number and types of specialty, or niche, type newspapers that were published throughout US history.  Many of us may be familiar with ethnic newspapers, especially if we have immigrant ancestors from non-English speaking countries. However, did you know about that the following types of newspapers were published too?

  • Ethnic, including Native and African American
  • Religious
  • Military
  • Labor / Occupation

No matter which type of specialty newspaper you decide to investigate you will be able to do so with a bit of help from the five page finding aid section of this module.

My family has a long line of military involvement which means I need to follow those leads to see if I can find anything for my research in them. If I don’t find my people in them I am hopeful that I will be able to add context, images, and stories about what they did to my personal files.  You know, breathe some life into those biographies!

This module surprised me with the amount of information to say the least.  I know you will get a lot out of it too!!

I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday, February 28th at 3:00pm EST for a virtual meeting where we will discuss US newspapers and the US Newspaper Records course.

See you online!

What Do You Know About US Newspapers?

 Daviess County Democrat, Washington, Indiana. November 29, 1913 – Page 2. NewspaperArchive

Daviess County Democrat, Washington, Indiana. November 29, 1913 – Page 2. NewspaperArchive


by Shannon Combs-Bennett, student

Who loves history?  I do! I know you probably do too. Which is why Module 1 of the US: Newspaper Records course was absolutely amazing to read. Most of the module covered the history of newspapers in the US as well as an overview of the information you can discover. There was so much excellent information in those pages.

Many people don’t know that there were regular newspapers in the Americas dating all the way back to the 1600s. As the colonies grew, so did the number of newspapers. Not all of them were successful, but the ones that we are lucky enough to still have today are a great insight into life during that time.  Which is one of the things that excites me most about old newspapers.

A window into the past, that is what I like to think of newspapers. You can see exactly what was happening in a community during a specific day, week, or even month. It is one of the purest ways to study the social history of our ancestors.

The course author includes a section about advertising in the newspapers. Advertisements are great, not only for the social history aspect, but also to give you clues about your ancestors if they were in business.  For instance, one of the best advertisements I found in a newspaper was for my 3rd great grandmother’s hotel in my hometown. Because of that advertisement,  I learned the cost of a nightly rate plus the price of dinner in the dining room. This is the same woman who just a few years later was in the newspaper  as a person who was being reimbursed by the county for aiding the court. She housed  jurors in that hotel while they were in town for a trial.  Without a newspaper listing I may have never known that about her.

We learned in this course that by 1860 there were about 3,000 newspapers across the US.  While that may not seem like a lot today, it was actually pretty impressive for that time frame. Especially since by 1914 there were more than 15,000 being published in the US.  With those numbers every one of us should find something of interest to our family history!

To make sure we all understand what the newspapers are telling us our instructor provided a glossary at the end of Module 1.  It contains all of the terms describing parts of a newspaper which make us sound more knowledgeable about the subject.  Of course there is also a section about citing newspapers correctly for genealogical use.  Something we all must know how to do!

See you online!

Starting the US Newspaper Records Course

The Indiana Herald (Huntington, Indiana) 5 July 1848, page 3.

The Indiana Herald (Huntington, Indiana) 5 July 1848, page 3.


by Shannon Combs-Bennett, student


I think one of the most overlooked sources for genealogy research are newspapers.  Where else can you find information on current and historical events, your ancestors, and history all in one place?  Even before I started researching my family history I admit that newspapers were a bit of a fascination for me.  Old newspapers are intriguing, and hold so many stories just waiting to be uncovered.

When I learned that one of the required classes for an American Records certificate from The National Institute for Genealogical Studies  was a course on  newspaper research I was very excited.  I really, really hoped when I saw that I would learn some cool new tips about newspapers.  From my experience, and you probably have read this before in my past blog posts, I just knew that there was more to learn.

By looking at the syllabus for the US: Newspaper Records course you can see that a lot of different aspects of newspaper research are covered.  Particular importance is paid to learning how to dissect information out of stories as well as module after module on what information can be ferreted out of said articles.

I am looking forward to learning more about the information I will find in newspapers.  However, I know that I can always brush up on my search technique which means Module 6 will most likely end up being the one I find the most helpful.

On that note, off I go to learn about newspaper research.  See you online!


Learning More About US Court Records

Couthouse at Gulfport, Mississippi. Mississippi Dept of Archives and History. Flickr the Commons.

Couthouse at Gulfport, Mississippi. Mississippi Dept of Archives and History. Flickr the Commons.


by Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Who doesn’t love a good court record?  If you haven’t researched this type of record set, by the end of this blog post I hope you will investigate it more. While the amount of genealogical information can be overwhelming, the rewards are numerous. Due to the amount of information I have found over the years in court records I was very excited to take the course, U.S. Court Records authored by Ann Staley, CG.  I am always on the lookout for new information that I may have overlooked in the past, or something I simply didn’t know about.

Some of my favorite records to search are Chancery records, a type of court record relevant in states with a colonial past. These are the courts where you would go to have something divided, such as in the case of  a divorce, business dissolvent, or arguments over an estate.  Let’s face it, when our ancestors argued they left great records!  While these types of records were covered briefly I did learn a lot more about the types of records available across multiple jurisdictions.

By the end of the course I realized you could easily spend years studying court records looking for all aspects of your ancestor’s life!  Remember, they didn’t have to be a criminal to be mentioned in these records. Naturalizations were done on the local level for many years before becoming a federal process as were vital record registrations in many places. Thinking you will only find the bad deeds of your ancestors will only  limit the research you do for your ancestry.

The further I was in the course the more I realized there is a lot to remember and take in when you research court records.  Not only is there the history of the laws, but there are jurisdictions, and types of courts.  I am not sure how people can remember it all!  Which means I was counting on this course to be a reference guide for me in the future.  The instructor for this course, Ann Staley, did an excellent job laying it all out, keeping it organized, and giving the student the resources they needed to understand the material.

If you look over the syllabus for the course you will notice it is quite extensive.  The course has 6 modules and includes a couple of case studies with an appendix which includes supplemental information for use in and out of the course.  I was particularly interested in learning more about territorial records and courts which was not what pops into my mind as a place to research for court records.

I am sure you will find this a useful and informative course for researching your ancestors in US court records.  It is really one of those that can take your studies to that next level!

See you online!



Planning a Research Trip: Salt Lake City

Microfilm at the Family History Library. (c) 2016 Shannon Combs- Bennett

Microfilm at the Family History Library. (c) 2016 Shannon Combs- Bennett

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah is one of those dream research locations for genealogists. Many people plan for years to take just one trip to this world famous library. Others are lucky enough to go on a regular pilgrimage to this repository. I thought having a section on researching in Salt Lake City was a wonderful addition to the Planning A Research Trip Including Preparing for Salt Lake City course. Once again, there are tips and tricks in there that I wish I had known about before I made my first, or even, last trip!

I have gone to the Family History Library (FHL)  twice, and I am getting ready to go for my third trip in February 2017.  In my past trips  I had only 1 day at the FHL, but this time I am excited to put what I learned in this course to good use and spend multiple days there.

When I  go also corresponds with the  RootsTech conference, so it is a crazy time in the area. Other times of the year are less packed, but at other times of the year you cannot run into so many people from the genealogy  community all doing what we love…research.  While my experiences may not match yours (from the past or in the future) I hope you can see why I think the last two modules of this  course are so valuable.

Not only do the course instructors walk the students through how to navigate the Library but also Salt Lake City and other facilities that are of importance to researchers.  Until this course I knew little about the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (JSMB).  The JSMB holds some records that are only found on microfilm at the FHL as well as having computers for research and places to eat.  The one thing I can vouch for is the JSMB café.  I ate there once and it was very, very good food for a reasonable price.

After these two blog posts I hope you will consider taking this course if you are preparing for a research trip.  The information contained was extremely informative, and no matter your level, very useful. Interested in hearing more about this course? I’ll be talking about this course and my Salt Lake City tips in a Virtual Meeting on Monday, January 9th at 12:00pm EST.

On that note I am off to spend the time I have left before RootsTech doing my research prep.  Say hi if you see me there, otherwise I will see you online!

Starting Planning a Research Trip

Shannon at the Family History Library. (c) 2016 Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

Shannon at the Family History Library. (c) 2016 Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

When I started out on this genealogy path I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what it took to visit a research facility. Boy, was I wrong!  True, I knew how to use most search features on the computer, plus a card catalog, but there was so much more to a trip than I realized. I wish I knew about the course Planning a Research Trip Including Preparing for Salt Lake City  before I took my first major research trip.

That is not to say that if you think you are an old hat at research  this course won’t be useful. Far from it. I am sure this blog post will prove to you that there is something for everyone in this course.

My  first big research trip (away from home) was to the Allen County Library in Ft. Wayne, which was also at the same time as the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference that year. I was making it a comprehensive trip, since I am from Indiana, which meant that not only did I visit large and small repositories, family members, and dozens of cemeteries.  It was a great time, but it could have gone so much better. How do I know?  Well, I am still working on processing the data from that trip since I saved information in so many different ways and places.

The first two modules of this course were fantastic in walking you through what to expect, how to prepare, and what to do when you get home from your trip.  All those things I didn’t really take time to think about before my first trip. Like how to transport my research home safe and sound.

For my trip I was lucky enough to be able to stay with family. Many people when they take a research trip will not be so lucky.  It was a nice touch that our instructors talked about how to learn more on where to find good lodging, navigating a new place, and other details that may normally fall through the cracks.

When I travel it is usually with my family and I try to do activities outside of research with them as well. However, one tip from the course that I thought important was to consider attending a local genealogical or historical society meeting. There you might meet someone who is familiar with where, or even who, you are researching. Those types of networking opportunities are wonderful, and I encourage you to take advantage of them.

I’m looking forward to what more I can learn from Planning a Research Trip Including Preparing for Salt Lake City.

See you online!

The Importance of Analysis and Skills Mentoring

Image courtesy of Stoonn at

Image courtesy of Stoonn at

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

If you are working towards a certificate at The National Institute for Genealogical Studies,  the Analysis and Skills Mentoring 12, and 3 courses are required subjects. However, as you will read below, they are also great ways to test if your genealogy methodology and research skills are up to par. I wrote previously about Analysis and Skills Mentoring 1 in this blog post so you can get an idea about that course. This blog post takes a look at both Analysis and Skills Mentoring 2 and 3 because they have the same elements and each one builds upon the other.

The main difference between Analysis and Skills Mentoring 1 and the other two courses is that Analysis and Skills Mentoring 2 and 3 require you to transcribe and abstract a document. This can be one of the more difficult assignments for students.  Many feel it is because everyone has a different style of how they transcribe or abstract.  And, while this may be aesthetically true for abstracts, a transcription is a true-to-life copy of the original.  That fact by itself means that if you adhere to the guidelines taught in the course you will be fine.  Abstractions are the ones that I feel can be more difficult.  To me, beyond deleting the boiler point information, it feels almost subjective as to what you should leave in or take out.

Beyond the transcription and abstraction, your assignments  include a series of research questions that test the skills you should have learned through the intermediate level (AS 2) and advanced level (AS 3) courses.  I didn’t feel they were too difficult, as long as you take your time and read through everything.  In one instance I rushed through an assignment, but luckily I put it to the side and came back later to review my work before submitting.  There were a couple glaring errors which should have stood out to me the first time!  So big tip: read and the re-read your submissions.

All three Analysis and Skills Mentoring courses have a National Genealogical Society Quarterly journal article to read and analyze.  A lot of the students I talked with thought the Analysis and Skills Mentoring 2 reading, Organizing Meager Evidence to Reveal Lineages: An Irish Example-Geddes of Tyrone by Dr. Thomas W Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, was a bit harder than the Analysis and Skills Mentoring 3 article, Identification through Signatures: Using Complex Direct Evidence to Sort Colwills of Cornwall by Ronald A Hill, Ph.D., CG.  In fact, many felt it was the most difficult article of all  three courses.  This may be, in my opinion, because it is a bit more theoretical and there are some great “get you thinking” type questions.

On that note, I hope you feel a little more prepared to jump into the Analysis and Skills Mentoring courses.  Remember, you have a full year to complete the course.  So there’s no need to rush, especially through the transcriptions.  You also have two instructor consultations per course which is a great way to get feedback from instructors at The National Institute on what you may need to work more on.  Plus, there are always Article Review Virtual Meeting (and Analysis and Skills Mentoring General Virtual Meeting) sessions you can join in when you get to a sticking point with the articles.  If you take your time, and take advantage of the resources made available to you, these courses will be no problem.

See you online!

%d bloggers like this: