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My Favorite Course: Methodology

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:

Methodology 5

Old Documents  by nuttakit/Courtesy of

Old Documents by nuttakit/Courtesy of

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Proof, sources, information and evidence are crucial to genealogical work. Being able to prove a connection can be hindered by the validity of your source, the reliability of the information and the evidence at hand. Understanding how these elements work together is a skill that all genealogists must possess to be effective researchers and successful. Through the six modules of Methodology 5 you are taught these skills.

I don’t know about you, but I love case studies and other examples to demonstrate the lesson you are learning. Which is why I was very happy to see that there were many different types of examples to walk you through the process for solving advanced research problems. These examples highlighted the skill we were just learning about to show the student how to put to use the information they just learned.

The entirety of Module 5 is using the skills you learned in the course to work through various problems. I enjoyed reading through these case studies, several of which are similar to problems I have faced in my own research, and was able to learn new ways to approach problems and a different perspective to follow the leads in the future. The way the instructor presents the problems, walks you through the solutions and then shows you the proof is very informative and I feel that many people will get a lot of great information out of this section.

One thing that I did not find awkward was the large number of non-US document examples used in the course. This was actually  a question I was asked when I was working in The National Institute booth at RootsTech this year. Some students were worried they would not be able to understand lessons if they cover unfamiliar documents. I get that. It can be intimidating to see documents from other countries.

What I told them, and what I am telling you now, is seeing documents used as examples that you aren’t familiar with is great! There are no preconceived assumptions about what it may or may not contain. You can also focus in on the question at hand and learn to use your investigative instincts. Plus, you will constantly come into contact with documents you are not familiar with as you do research. No one can master everything, there will always be surprises.  So honestly, this is not be a big deal.

Overall I think this series of methodology courses for the intermediate level was a great foundation for future courses in this section and beyond. No matter your experience level this will give you a good grounding in the fundamental skills you need for excellent future research.

See you online!

Stepping Through Methodology 4

Steps Concept by Master isolated images/Courtesy of

Steps Concept by Master isolated images/Courtesy of

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

I know this is a blog post about  the Methodology 4 course, but I am going to suggest that if you have not gone back and read my post about Methodology 3 you should do that first. Why you ask? Well, like I stated in the previous post these two courses are linked together. Almost like a part 1 and part 2 and this is a post about part 2.

Methodology 4 continues with the last three steps in the six steps to success. These three steps focus more on recording, documenting and preserving your research than other more fundamental skills. Don’t get me wrong. These, in my opinion, are some of the most important skills you should have. Unfortunately they are skills many genealogists feel are not as important as the research find itself. I would like to say they are wrong, and here is why.

While we all love making the big finds and love adding pieces of ephemera or information to our family trees, knowing what to do with it after you find it is crucial. Without the analysis, documentation and proper storage all we have is a cool item and not something that we can really share with others. Sure, we could show the document around but having an analysis and documentation to go with it makes it much more valuable.

This course starts with proper recording of information. Sometimes it amazes me that people (even those who have researched for years) do not keep good records. Without good records we are doomed to retrace our steps or not find information again if we lose it or need to reanalyze it. Bad records will ultimately lead to unreliable research.

Then one of the hot topics, at least in places that I have been, the instructor covers various ways that you can preserve your research. I know many people want to create something, anything, to show off their hard work and pass on to future generations. In this section were some great ideas that I have now stored away for future use. She does cover simple publication ideas (like charts) all the way through to  books.

My next post will be on Methodology 5. See you online!









The Steps of Methodology 3

Checklist by Rawich/Courtesy of

Checklist by Rawich/Courtesy of

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Well, I have entered the realm of the Intermediate coursework. I decided that I am going to first take Methodology 3, 4 and 5 back-to-back  to lay the ground work for the other courses that are coming in this section. Following those three, I will work on the rest of the required courses for the American Records Certificate and then a few electives. So, hang on to see what I am up to over the next few months.

Methodology 3 is broken into six steps the instructor thinks you need to know to be successful. The first three steps are covered in Methodology 3 with the last three covered in Methodology 4. Which made me thankful that I was taking these two courses back-to-back since they really read as a part 1 and part 2 of the same course.

These steps are:

  • Defining your goals
  • Learning the basics
  • Deciding on strategies for research
  • Effective searching and recording
  • Documentation
  • Presenting and preserving your research

For this post I will focus on my takeaways from the first steps listed. The next post will cover Methodology 4 and the last three steps.

To be honest, Methodology 3 focuses primarily on setting up your office space and further honing your research skills. Now “office space” may be too formal of a term. I started out at my kitchen table with boxes that I shifted around when we actually had to use it. Just recently I have moved into the ranks of a office with a door. No matter where you may be on that scale you will get valuable information here.

However, the section on performing oral history interviews was, for me, the most valuable lesson in this course.  Many people are nervous about doing this or have no experience performing any type of interview. The step-by-step instructions were great and I think perfect for anyone no matter their comfort level. I have done several interviews and I am very comfortable talking to people in general but I will be adding  a few of the course suggestions in future interviews.

Finally, the sections covering research strategies were excellent. Many newer genealogists are intimidated by the process and actually doom themselves to not doing complete research on the problems or getting caught going down rabbit holes. We have all done it, I still do it! But understanding the process of creating a plan and sticking to it will help any researcher do better work.

See you online!



Methodology Resources

Www With Hand Pointer by digitalart/Courtesy of

Www With Hand Pointer by digitalart/Courtesy of

Looking for some help with genealogy methodology? Brenda Wheeler, National Institute instructor,  has some ideas for you. April’s Methodology Virtual Meeting included so many great resources, here’s just a few.

Don’t miss another Methodology Virtual Meeting. To check out dates and times, see the schedule.

More New Courses for 2015 Starting NOW!

There’s nothing like looking forward to a new month of genealogy courses and this month we have quite a few new ones you’ll want to register for. New courses begin today, Monday, February 2, 2015. But there’s still time to register.

Image courtesy of  stockimages/

Image courtesy of stockimages/

Writing the Genealogist’s Memoir 

As a genealogy researcher for your family, you can enhance the results of your work, as well as realize personal satisfaction and value, by creating a memoir to enlighten those who read it. Your memoir can tell them about the story behind your research: your inspiration, motivation and/or interest in genealogy; your process; “aha” moments; roadblocks and disappointments; and successes. The professional genealogist or personal historian can also offer a service to help clients create such a companion piece for their family trees or histories.

This course written by Personal Historian Diane Dassow will explore the importance and value of memoir, a method for accomplishing one, and special issues to consider. Exercises will offer practical application of the material and opportunities to work on writing your memoir. The course will focus on writing as a method but will explore other options, such as audio and video, as well.

To learn more about this course, check out our website.


Dna by dream designs Courtesy of

Dna by dream designs Courtesy of

DNA: Introduction to Genetic Genealogy

This course written by Diahan Southard is a comprehensive introduction to genetic genealogy. The basics of DNA and genetic inheritance are explained in detail. The three main test types, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y chromosome DNA (YDNA), and autosomal DNA (atDNA) are explored as they relate to genealogy. This includes an overview of laboratory procedures for each kind of test, data interpretation techniques, database searching, match interpretation, and case studies for the three kinds of DNA testing. This course will include comparisons of tools and companies, as well as the genetic stories of famous people.

To  register for this course, click here.


Pile Of Books by Surachai/courtesy of

Pile Of Books by Surachai/courtesy of

Skill-Building: Evidence Analysis 

Taking the time to study a wide variety of case studies and proof arguments/summaries can expand your knowledge of methodology, evidence and analysis, sources, citation formats, cultural mores, immigration patterns, as well as  many other things. It will make you a better genealogist by expanding your knowledge beyond the subset of genealogy that you normally work in.

As an example, someone working in Canadian research on a daily basis can learn much from a case study on Irish research and vice versa. Amongst other things, they can learn methodology, new sources of evidence, how to analyze evidence, and even gain geographical and cultural knowledge!

Read more about this course here.

And that’s not all. In case you didn’t hear we have other new courses that started this year including:

Skill-Building: Nuts & Bolts of Reporting

Research: FamilySearch Resources

Italian: Language and Location

Australian: Newspapers and Biographies


So really the only question is, which course will you take first?


Methodology Virtual Meeting Monday

Courtesy of  jannoon028/

Courtesy of jannoon028/

We have virtual meeting scheduled for Monday morning. Beverly Rice will be hosting the Methodology virtual meeting on Monday, April 21st at 11:00 AM EDT. This session is applicable to all students no matter which country your ancestors came from!

Time zones: Monday, April 21st – 11:00 AM Eastern; 10:00 AM Central; 8:00 AM Pacific; 4:00 PM in London, England; Tuesday, April 22nd – 1:00 AM in Sydney, Australia

(NOTE: No user name or password required. Please type in your first and last name; then click “Enter as a Guest”.)


Remember, you do not have to be registered in these courses to join a Virtual Meeting … anyone can participate.


We are very sorry but the Lecturing Skills ***STUDENT PRESENTATION*** has been rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. Susan Hill Bonko will now be presenting “To Cite or Not To Cite Your Sources” on Wednesday, April 23rd at 7:00 PM EDT.


If you have not attended a Virtual Meeting before, read the Instructions available at If this URL does not open, please go to, click on Information in the top menu bar, and then Virtual Learning Room in the drop down menu. The link to the Instructions (in PDF format) will be at the top right of the page (you may need to scroll over to the right side of the page).

Methodology, Part 2: Finishing Up

Shannon Bennett, Student

Another Methodology  course done, another four to go! Whew, I will make it because you will cheer me on right? This one was, once again, packed full of information to help a researcher build a good foundation for their genealogical research. I know the information taught here will help me and others who take the class be better in their genealogical endeavors.

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/


The theme of organization was carried on throughout the course. We were shown new forms we could use, ways to organize our finds, our time, and our office. All things that I know many genealogists struggle with from time to time. Just know that you are not alone in that, but maybe these ideas will help you with it. I know I picked up a few new tips!

I particularly found the words of encouragement from the summary section helpful. In it the instructor walks us through how to stay focused, organized, and on task. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with the “oh shiny” problem from time to time. Remembering to stay focused and not go down rabbit holes was always a struggle for me. Using the tips and tricks learned here I am sure I will be able to focus better in the future.

Once again I discovered new information in the research skills section. While I am pretty confident in my research abilities I found myself nodding along with the list and mumbling to myself “I never thought of it that way before!” Again, no one should ever scoff at basic level lectures, programs, or classes. You never know when inspiration will strike or if someone will present something in a way that just clicks with you.

Hopefully you will join me at the chat I will be doing where you can hear more about my thoughts on these first two methodology courses.  Join me on  April 17th at 11:00am (EST).

See you online!


Methodology, Part 2: That 1 Thing

Pile Of Books by Surachai/courtesy of

Pile Of Books by Surachai/courtesy of

Shannon Bennett, Student

What’s the biggest complaint among serious hobby or professional genealogist? Do you know?  Well, from the comments I have seen and heard, that would be source citations. More particularly, the lack of them. Are you guilty of this, because if so when you take Methodology, Part 2 and get to module 6 you will find out why citing your sources is important.

On the first page of the module you learn why citing your sources is critical:

(c) 2014. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

(c) 2014. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

These two items are the underpinnings of good research practices. People who read your research in the future must have confidence in you. They have confidence in you because of the types of materials you use. Those researchers know what types of sources you used due to the citations you create.  Without them how do they know where you found that information? For all they know you could have made it up.

Through the module you will learn what elements need to be recorded to have a complete citation. One of the elements a lot of people may not realize is important is including a description of the location you retrieved the information from. For a website it could simply be a list of the clicks you preformed ( > 1880 US Census > Indiana > ….) that way you or someone else could get back to that exact page. Or if you visited a brick and mortar building you should include information on which collection you looked at and any particular identifiers another researcher will need to follow on where they should look for this information (County Courthouse > Clerk’s office > Collection name > …)

The key is consistency. If you choose to use your own method, the suggested way in the module, or the examples from Elizabeth Shown Mills book Evidence Explained stick with one and do it that way for everything you create. Use the same style, punctuation, italics, etc. for every citation you write.  It will help you and not leave you second guessing what you wrote down.

One last important note.  Source citations are a fundamental part of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).  The GPS, set by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), is what serious researchers use as their guidebook.  If you don’t have a copy of their standards manual you should think about picking one up.  Every researcher needs a copy on their shelf.

Remember, cite your sources!  Make you work look great, give it credibility, and make it easy on the next genealogist in your family. They will thank you for it, and you will be happy you did it too.

See you online!

Methodology, Part 2: Forms

Note Book And Compass by nuttakit/ courtesy of

Note Book And Compass by nuttakit/ courtesy of

Shannon Bennett, Student

Modules 3 and 4 of Methodology, Part 2 focus on the types of forms to use during your research. I love forms. Seriously, love them. Of course I can be a little OCD about them, but that is another story. Forms, checklists, to-do lists, guides, etc. are a great way to provide road maps to your research. They keep you going forward, not lost in limbo with no direction. Think of them as genealogical compasses.

Module 3 covered ways to track your research and module 4 covered ways to organize your research.  Both are important for you and those that follow in your footsteps, they let you have the compass pointed forward and not spinning in confusion. Clearly organized and documented research is a fantastic feeling.

There were two suggested forms that really jumped out to me. They are things that 1) I already do and 2) I think that serious researchers should really do too. Hopefully you will see why by the end of this post.

First is the Daily Journal. I can hear some of you making noises about that one already. Trust me, I am not a journal writer per se but keeping a research journal is very important. This is more a running list of things you do on a daily basis with your research. Who did you call? What did you search? What were you results? Did you get an email and what did it say? Those types of things. The one place that you can keep track of all the hills, plateaus, rivers, and cliffs while using your genealogy compass.

Second, is a Repository Chart of research centers and websites that you use. Having a handy computer file, or binder with this form on the outside and all the brochures on the inside, is a great item to have on your genealogy bookcase. You can see where you have been, get clues for places you need to search, have the information for those repositories at your fingertips, and will not need to worry about forgetting what you can find where or wasting time with fruitless searches.


(c) 2014 The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

(c) 2014 The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

While we may get lost on occasion wandering around in the woods, if we use the tools that we uncover along the way our path may become a little straighter and a little less frustrating. The compass can only lead us when we know which way we want to go. Try a journal or a repository chart. I bet you will find them as useful as I do!


See you online!

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