The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


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

Growing Your Genealogy Business

When, why, and how to grow your genealogy business are important questions to tackle. These questions may always be in the back of your mind, but unless you formally address them periodically, you may never take the necessary actions, or you may find your business growing in a way you do not like or are not prepared for. Some small business owners are content, and rightly so, with the size of their business, which suits them perfectly. Growing your business is not a requirement.


The bigger your business, the less personally involved you can be in all of its operations. Thus, a bigger business requires different ways of doing things, more structure, and organization.  As you grow your business consider:

  • creating a team  that can  give you valuable advice
  • hiring an assistant
  • committing to a growth strategy

Following good business administration practices as shown throughout the course, Business Skills: Business Administration will help you maintain an awareness of just where you stand and help you reach your goals.



Creation of Vital Records in the United States

Creation of Vital Records in the United States 

In order to understand where vital records can be found and what they can tell you about your ancestor, it’s important to understand a little history of these records. 

Birth Records 

Birth  records were slow to be brought into compliance within the states.  Some states were very slow to adopt the statewide recording for vital records.  Georgia and New Mexico were the last two states to adopt a statewide policy in  1919.  However, Texas took until 1933, to meet the 90% (of records being recorded) completeness standard.  

The  earliest birth records reflected the child’s name; that is if the child was named at the time of birth. It will include the names of the parents and the date of the child’s birth. It might also ask where the parent was born. If a baptismal record is located it will state the date of baptism in the church record, not the date of birth.

Marriage Records 

Marriage records are kept by the county in which the ceremony took place and typically by the state as well. If you have a copy of a marriage license application, note the questions answered. Consult the Red Book, found on the RootsWeb Wiki  for years when marriage records were kept by the county and state your ancestor lived in.

Used with permission Angela Rodesky

Divorce Records 

Some people feel that divorce records are a vital record but they are really a court record. However, they usually do contain vital record information that would be considered reliable, but in need of documentation. When doing family history research, this record should not be ignored as it might lead you to further research opportunities.

They Aren’t Perfect 

Are vital records perfect? No, realize that people can falsify records on purpose, as well as by accident. There are many reasons for having incorrect information on birth, marriage, and death records. What reasons would there be for incorrect information?  

  • A distraught spouse will respond incorrectly to a question; such as, “mother’s maiden name” either because they are guessing or just confused.  
  • A respondent may fail to fill-in “all of the blanks.” 
  • The clerk wrote the information incorrectly. 

It’s also very important to remember spelling does NOT count before about 1910! Think up every possible way one can spell a surname and use those variations when you search online databases.  

With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more ways to view and access these vital records and more. Learn more about the course and register on our website. 

Understanding & Using US Vital Records

Understanding & Using US Vital Records  

Vital records are the most important documents needed as you begin to prove your family lineage. It is necessary to know when vital records started for the researcher’s place of interest because not every state began keeping records at the same time. The records created in the last century can provide detailed information about a person. Whether a birth, marriage or death record, all ask for the full name; date and place of birth; parents’ names; and in some instances, even more in-depth information about the person.

Used with permission Angela Rodesky


Most states were not instantly compliant in collecting vital record information. Many took years to come into compliance. Just because they started keeping records in 1910 does not mean they kept ALL records. Nor does it mean that ALL people were willing to have their vital information recorded.  

All vital records are not created equal! Success will depend on the time frame and the area you are searching. With our United States: Vital Records course, we will give you the tools needed to understand and use vital records.  

Know Your Evidence

Evidence is what we use to answer our research questions and establish conclusions. Once we have evaluated and analyzed the data we find in various sources we need to determine if the information helps to answer our research question. If it does, we use it as evidence to answer our question and support our conclusion. Evidence is classified as direct, indirect, or negative, and each type can be used to draw conclusions.

Direct evidence is that which completely answers the question. For example, if our question is “Who were John Smith’s parents?” and we find a church baptism record that states he was the “son of Ebenezer Smith and Mary Jones,” this would be direct evidence.

Indirect evidence is the complete opposite in that it doesn’t completely answer the question. For example, if our research question was “When was John Smith, son of Ebenezer Smith and Mary Jones, born?” and the same church baptism record only provides a baptism date, we could consider this indirect evidence. Although he would have needed to be born before that baptism date, the information does not provide his actual birth date.

Negative evidence is a situation where information does not exist where you expect to find it. For example, you have tracked a man in the census from 1880 through 1920, each time living in the same town in New York, but cannot locate him in that town come 1930. This absence of information could lend itself to the conclusion that the man died between the 1920 and 1930 censuses or that he relocated.

When assembling evidence to answer our research question, we tend to make assumptions based on the information we have collected, our general knowledge, and or research experience. Therefore, it is important to remember that we can make assumptions that are incorrect. That’s why we offer our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls  course, to help you with your evidence and avoid brick walls.

Who’s the Informant?

Once we verify the type of source we are looking at we need to evaluate the information found in that source. Then, after all of the information we have obtained from our sources has been evaluated and analyzed, it becomes evidence to help answer a research question.

According to the Evidence Analysis Process Map, information is based on the informant’s knowledge of the event and whether that knowledge is primary, secondary, or undetermined.

Used with permission. Angela Rodesky.

Primary information is that which is provided by someone who participated or witnessed the event. For example, the marriage date on a marriage return completed by the officiant would be considered primary information, as the officiant was present and performed the ceremony.


Secondary information is that which is learned in a manner other than being a participant or witness to the event. For example, if a wife provides her husband’s birth information on his death certificate it is considered secondary information since she was not present at her husband’s birth.

Used with permission. Angela Rodesky.


Undetermined is when the informant is not identified. A common example is the information supplied for household members on the US Federal Census prior to 1940.

Evaluating and analyzing genealogical documents is a challenging task. But when we take the time to properly do it, we are able to correlate all of the information and use it as evidence. Our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course will give you the tools needed to accomplish this and more.

Genealogical Sources

Sources are the foundation of our research. They are the places from which we get information that provides evidence to form a conclusion. Examples of sources include, documents/records, books, photographs, artifacts, websites, newspapers, video or audio recorded interviews, and people. Sources are classified by type;  original, derivative, or authored.

Used with permission. Angela Rodesky.

Original sources are considered the first interaction of a record. For example, the first recording of a birth shortly after the birth occurs.

Derivative sources include transcriptions, abstracts, and translations. For example, using the birth record scenario above, if we requested this record from the county recorder’s office they may extract some of the information from the register and type it up on a certificate form. This certificate would be considered a derivative source since it was created based on the original register.

Authored sources are works that are created based on other sources and the author’s analysis of those sources. Sources such as family histories, local histories and case studies, would be considered authored sources.

Used with permission. Angela Rodesky.

While original sources are preferred, they are not always possible to obtain. It’s important to fully understand how to evaluate the sources used by family historians. Learn more about sources in our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls  course.

More To Think About In Nuts & Bolts

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540

by Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

What do you think the hardest part of writing is?  Maybe you find the ideas or planning hard. For me, it is the editing. Self-editing and proof reading are my downfall on many projects. Not only do I find it tedious and boring, the further my writing is away from my “natural” voice the more difficult I find it to correct. English class was never my best subject in school.

Editing is a necessity though for anyone who wants to do any type of writing. In the last module of the course Skill Building: Nuts & Bolts of Reporting Research we are taught about everything you need to think about while you are writing your research. While the list may seem long and intimidating, in the syllabus it is quite a wonderful list to go through. Trust me.

One important thing to keep in mind is, do you have permission to publish certain items?  Now, if it is for your files you may not be as concerned about this aspect, but remember citing your sources is vital. If you ever want to publish your work (online or in print) and it contains anything from another person you must get their permission to reprint it.  No exceptions.  I was excited that this subject was covered because it can be confusing for many people.

Finally the list of suggested reading was excellent.  I have added the suggestions to my list of worthwhile books and articles. Yes, another guide I have created. Books, articles,  lists of things that are good to re-read or share with others.

Needless to say I was very happy and impressed with this course. I learned a few things from a different aspect and filled in more holes. Yes, sometimes I have to hear things multiple times before it sticks.  It is just the way I work. Now, off to write!  Those ancestors are not going to report on themselves after all.

Nuts and Bolts of Report Writing

Typewriter Keys Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

by Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Well, this is when we get into the meat and bones of the course Skill Building: Nuts & Bolts of Reporting Research. Report writing. Now don’t be scared or nervous. This was a great section on all the why’s and how’s for you to become a great report writer.

Before that however you need to plan your research. The section on research planning, complete with example case studies, was an excellent outline of how the process should work. We all know, or should know, that you need to have the ground work of good research laid out before you can build your report. But, how do you do that?

It is a combination of many smaller things that when merged together create a solid case for your writing.  Through the research planning section of this module the process is laid out nicely step-by-step.  Complete with online, and off line, resources for you to consult.

The breakdown of the types of reports out there I think will be very helpful to anyone who has never created one before. For those of you who don’t know, or just need a refresher, the types of reports you can create are:

  • Narrative
  • Software formatted
  • Letter
  • Formal

Depending on your background these may have varying degrees of difficulty for you. That is ok, too. For instance I tend to enjoy writing formal reports and have very little experience using software programs to generate reports. This is where the case study comes into play. It gave me great practice into how to layout, plan, and write. I bet you will  find it useful too.

See you online!




The Nuts and Bolts of Research Guides

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

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Well Modulus 1 and 2 are under my belt for the course Skill Building: Nuts and Bolts of Reporting Research and I am happy to say they covered two of my favorite topics: citations and guides. You are probably wondering what the big deal is?! We all know how important citations are but guides, what do you mean?  If you have never made a research guide then you are in for a treat.

Guides are a wonderful resource for you as a researcher. I learned that many years ago, and continue to create them for places I go to do research. However, I have discovered that many researchers do not do this and, to be honest, I think research would be a lot easier for them if they did.

You can create a guide for a specific place (town, county, state, and country), a repository, type of publication, or really anything else that you reference or use frequently in your research. As a living document (i.e. one that is designed to grow and change over time) you can start small and build on your experiences making sure all the pertinent information you need to be successful is listed there.

I have several types of guides on my computer as well as in my filing cabinet. My computer documents contain ideas, website information, checklists I have created, resources that I keep track of, etc.  In the cabinet I keep facility/tourist brochures, handouts that I get while on site, or other non-electronic information that I collect for that guide.

Needless to say I picked up a couple more ideas for my guides from this module. I know you will like it too!  On to the next lesson.

See you online!


Starting: Nuts and Bolts of Reporting Research

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

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

One of the most important skills a researcher needs to have under their belt is how to report the information they uncover. While there are various writing styles and types of reports to choose from there are specific items that need to be covered so your reports represent your best work. Which is why I was very excited to see a new course offered in the Skill Building track, Nuts and Bolts of Reporting Research.

While I enjoy writing blog posts and articles, reports can be like pulling teeth at times. Reports are necessary however, even if you never take a paying client in your life. Technically, your family are your clients. I am sure you have heard that we should document our own research the way we would want a professional too. So, that means you should really be writing reports for yourself, your loved ones, and your files.

Looking over the syllabus it looks like instructor Leslie Brinkley Lawson makes it easy and simple for everyone to learn. While some of it looks like review  (or maybe you have attended lectures on the topic) there are also a few gems in there. Practical exercises are always a wonderful way to practice, learn, and hone your skills. Exercises and case studies are exciting additions to a course and I was thrilled to see them both being used in this course. Case studies are excellent ways to learn from someone else’s experience.

For those who enjoy writing it also looks like the last module covers various types. While I find the thought of writing an article for the Register or NGSQ stomach turning, I do know many who want to do that at some point in their life. That’s  right, you can write more than just blogs and reports in this line of work!

One note, there is required books/readings for this course. Some articles/books are online or available through inter-library loan. You may purchase the books through The National Institute’s GenealogyStore. All of the books are excellent additions to your bookshelf. They include:

  • Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace
  • Genealogy Standards
  • Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians 

Which means I am off to try my hand at learning more about reporting my research.  Maybe it will help me make sure I have ideas for my own blog!

See you online!


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