Have you ever wondered what fascinating stories hang from the branches of your family tree? This course can teach you how to start climbing. Through a mixture of engaging lectures, intriguing primary source documents, and a wide variety of anecdotes from my own path of discovery, you can expect to quickly learn the basics of genealogical research and to begin tracing your roots.
In Section 1, we will discuss how to set goals for your project, how to take stock of what you know, and how to conduct interviews. Section 2 will provide resources to help you maintain accurate and detailed records of your findings. Through Section 3, you will learn to locate and examine some of the most common sources of genealogical information, and how to begin using these to construct your own family history. In Section 4, we will discuss how to overcome some of the most common challenges that researchers may face in exploring their ancestry. And in Section 5, we conclude with advice for sharing your findings, and for passing on your work to future generations.
Researching your family history can be a life-changing experience, and one that I know you will not regret. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself on a journey that is never quite finished; you may very well end up encouraging others to do the same!
This first lecture will introduce students to the increasingly popular field of genealogical research. It will address essential questions related to the purposes, methods, and challenges of this exciting field of historical inquiry, and will prepare students to undertake their own rigorous yet rewarding projects.
In Lecture 2, students will be challenged to think about what they hope to get out of their genealogical research. We will discuss the importance of setting goals and parameters for projects, as well as examining how smart, attainable goals can serve to drive a project forward. Students interested in exploring their own family history will also learn meta-cognitive strategies for making sense of the information they may already have on hand.
This lecture will teach students some of the essential principles of conducting productive interviews for genealogical research purposes. This will include strategies pertaining to note-taking, constructing questions (and knowing when and how to use them to maximize their effectiveness), and helping elderly interviewees to access long-buried memories by approaching topics from a variety of different angles.
In this portion of the course, students will learn to ensure that their research yields results that are as historically accurate as possible. This will include discussions of how to properly corroborate facts using multiple sources, what to do when source data don't align, and how to know when you have met the burden of proof. It will also include a note about resisting the urge to claim others' research as your own without first examining it carefully.
Here, students will learn how to use the most basic and useful tools in any genealogist's arsenal. First, students will learn to construct family trees, and will discuss their usefulness in keeping track of large and complex family structures. They will also learn to complete ancestral charts - which are used to show the ancestral lineage of a single individual - and family group sheets, which deal with the lives of individual nuclear families. Finally, we will briefly discuss note taking strategies and tips for keeping your information organized.
This quiz will check for understanding of how to use the various data recording devices discussed in Section 2. Students will be asked questions about how to complete ancestral charts, family group sheets, and family trees, as well as how researchers use them, both individually and in conjunction with one another. It will also address the fundamentally important issues of knowing how to research properly, how to corroborate information, how to meet the burden of proof, and how to present facts responsibly.
This third section of the course will begin with an introduction to the five most commonly used sources of genealogical information: census records; vital statistics records; military and pension records; newspaper records and obituaries; and immigration and naturalization records. This lecture explains what each has to offer, and offers suggestions for locating them. The lectures that follow will delve deeper into how to use each to maximum effect.
Lecture 8 will introduce students to the multitude of genealogical resources that are available online, both free and paid. Students will be introduced to the Internet's two most popular genealogy resources, FamilySearch and Ancestry. We will also discuss a number of other reference sources, including Cyndi's List, Fold3, JewishGen, NewspaperArchive, Google, as well as the unique things that each has to offer.
This quiz will evaluate students' knowledge of available resources and where to find them. It includes questions about the relative strengths of various websites, where students are most likely to locate certain kinds of documents, and the advantages of both online and in-person research.
Vital statistics (birth, death, and marriage records) are among the most important tools for genealogists, as they are the records most likely to provide information about a subject's parents. This information, of course, can be used to add additional generations to the family tree. As such, learning how to locate and properly read these sources is an essential step in the research process. Lecture 11 will train students to do all of these.
For many family history researchers, discovering their ancestors' points of origin is their ultimate goal. For others, finding this information can be the gateway to an entirely new journey of discovery. In either case, immigration and naturalization records serve as essential tools for uncovering details of where people came from, and of how they got here. In Lecture 13, students will learn to find these sources and read them, but will also learn how to make a game plan of where to go from there.
Lecture 15 will address a variety of information sources not covered by the other lectures in this section. Some of these will be easy to find, while others may be more like needles in a haystack. These include court documents, maps, deeds, photographs, and personal histories, as well as international records. As with so many things in the field of genealogical research, the availability of such resources is likely to vary widely by individual project.
This quiz will assess students' understanding of the content presented in section 4, including questions about each of the five most commonly found and commonly used types of genealogical records - where to find them, how to read them properly, and what they each have to offer researchers.
At some point, even the most experienced researcher will hit the proverbial "brick wall." Sometimes, months or even years can go by between breakthroughs, but sometimes, stones are left unturned. In this lecture, students will develop strategies for what to do when challenges inevitably arise in the course of their research.
Whether using Google, Ancestry, or any number of other platforms, sometimes the difference between finding something and finding nothing comes down to a single keystroke. Lecture 17 will introduce students to a number of methods for yielding greater results in online searches. This will include details on how to exclude certain results, how to search for multiple spellings of names, and how to locate places long-since disappeared.
One major benefit of the sudden interest in genealogy taking place across the world is the influx of new ideas and new projects. This lecture will introduce students to a multitude of exciting avenues for genealogical study that have begun to emerge in recent years. We will examine ongoing large-scale digitization projects, Web 2.0 development, and the growing field of DNA-driven genealogy, and the implications of each for genealogists
This quiz will test students' problem solving skills, and will address much of the content discussed in Lectures 16, 17, and 18. This includes ideas about breaking through brick walls, being clever and efficient with Internet searches, and making use of emerging tools available to researchers.
This lecture will address one of the greatest challenges for any genealogist; coming to recognize the fact that, sometimes, the details of the past may simply be lost to us. By understanding of this reality, it becomes possible to better appreciate the journey that family history research represents, rather than simply focusing on the destination.
From the moment any genealogical research project begins, most will begin to fight the urge to immediately show off each new discovery. In Lecture 20, we will finally discuss how to compile your findings into final products that are both easily digested and visually stunning. Students will learn how to collate data using the record keeping forms discussed in Section 2, how to choose and organize primary source documents, and how to create family trees and family history books that are sure to become heirlooms for future generations.
As genealogy has become a topic of growing interest to the public in the past several years, enthusiasts of the discipline around the world have reaped the benefits. The increased exposure, funding, and collaboration for genealogical research has led to countless discoveries, and more are sure to follow. As you begin your own research into the past, others are sure to have questions, and you will hopefully be thrilled to answer them. This lecture will seek to help prepare you for your new life as a genealogical ambassador.
Lecture 22 concludes the course, and offers words of advice and encouragement as you go off to begin making your own genealogical discoveries and reconstructing your own past. After viewing, please be sure to follow the link to the final course evaluation.
This "lecture" presents students with all relevant course handouts and diagrams in a convenient PDF format. If you would like to examine any other documents or handouts more closely, please contact the instructor.
Daniel Isaac is a practicing New York State certified history teacher who has been doing genealogical research for nearly a decade. He holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a master's degree from Bard College, as well as certification in Educational Leadership. He studied overseas at the Institute for American Universities in Aix-en-Provence, France, where he received the Jeane and Evron Kirkpatrick Prize for Excellence in Political Science. Daniel has also been a recipient of Cornell University's Harrop and Ruth Freeman Peace Studies Fellowship, and has been a summer fellow of both the Gilder Lehrman American History Institute and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Daniel's primary area of genealogical expertise is the New York metropolitan area. He has done extensive work with domestic records from over a dozen states as well as having worked with international records ranging from countries throughout Europe, including Ireland, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Slovakia, and several others. He continues to expand his own skill and knowledge base.