November 4, 2012

Why I Recommend the NGS Home Study Course


If you’re weighing your options for genealogy education, you might be considering the National Genealogical Society’s American Genealogy Home Study Course. I finished the course in September 2011, and recently wrote about it for The In-Depth Genealogist newsletter. You can read the article, “Learn American Genealogy with the NGS Home Study Course,” to learn about what topics are covered. Today I’d like to share a little bit more detail about my personal experiences with the course, and hopefully answer some questions you might have about it.

To recap, the Home Study Course (HSC) is a 16-lesson program that explores all the essential types of American records, along with the principles of genealogical research, evidence analysis, and citation. It comes on a series of three CDs that are compatible with both PC and Mac systems. The National Genealogical Society does a good job of answering some questions about it on their FAQ page. But I recall having a few more when I was considering it.

What is the approximate level of this course?
I would classify the HSC as an intermediate-level course. It’s great for someone who has already done some family history research, explored resources online and at the local library, read books about finding ancestors, used a microfilm machine, and worked with a genealogy software program. I think beginners may find themselves in over their heads, and would be happier with the shorter, more basic course, Family History Skills, that is free with the cost of membership to NGS.

For example, one of the first assignments is to complete a pedigree chart and a family group sheet, with full source citations. If you haven’t done the research necessary to do that, or don’t know the basics of citation writing, you’re probably going to have a difficult time with it.

Why should someone take this course? What are the benefits?
  • The HSC gives a systematic, step-by-step progression through record types and the research process. One reason I signed up for it was that I felt I had gotten a lot of information piecemeal, from a variety of books and lectures, and wanted something more structured. The course provided that structure.
  • You can start whenever you want, and progress at your own pace. Each CD has four to six lessons, and you’re allowed one year to complete them (you can ask for an extension if needed). You don’t have to do the lessons in order.
  • The assignments encourage hands-on experience at archives and courthouses to stretch your usage of various types of records. Because you can use your own family for the assignments, the work you do actually helps your research.
  • The course serves as a foundation for more advanced study. If you’d like to attend one of the genealogy institutes, take a methodology-focused course, or are considering genealogy as a profession, it’s a good step to take. The HSC is one of five accepted prerequisites for the Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University.

What does “graded” mean?
When I started the course, you had the option of taking it graded or ungraded. Now it appears that everyone takes it graded, which is the best option anyway. “Graded” means that a genealogist who has volunteered to be a grader for a particular lesson will read over your assignment, check to make sure you’ve included everything that was asked for, and appear to understand the material. He or she will then stamp your assignment as “Complete” or “Incomplete.” You’re not given letter grades or number scores, but the grader will usually write a few lines giving feedback on what you’ve submitted. If an assignment is incomplete, they’ll tell you what you need to do differently, and how to resubmit it.

What tips would you give someone taking the course?
  • Do the recommended reading. Because it’s a home course, and essentially at a college level, no professor is standing over you to make sure you’ve done your reading. But you will get far more out of it if you do. I’d suggest buying the following three books at the outset, and highlighting, underlining, and making notes to your heart’s content as you go along:

  1. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition, by Val D. Greenwood (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000)
  2. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Third Edition, by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry Publishing, 2006)
  3. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Second Edition, by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009)

  • Create a binder or file with sections corresponding to each lesson, to collect information. I ended up with three binders, one for each CD, in which I keep copies of my assignments, printouts of journal articles and supplementary reading, lists of resources, and more. I even printed out the lessons so I could highlight and refer back to them easily.
  • Try to keep a consistent pace. I tried to do one lesson a month, but because I had a lot of other things going on and the last few assignments are pretty complex, it took me a little over two years to complete the course. Still, it felt good to make steady progress.
  • Sign up for the Home Study Course mailing list, which you should receive information about once you enroll. It provides a forum for questions and answers, with frequent input from graders. 

I hope this information is helpful if you’re trying to decide whether the NGS Home Study Course is right for you. If you have specific questions, you can email the course administrator at: courses@ngsgenealogy.org. I really do feel any investment you make in genealogy education is well worth it, and wish you all the best whatever path you choose!

--Shelley

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the insights, Shelley. I've been considering and debating whether to take this course (after finishing ProGen).

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    1. Hope this helped you some, Michelle. The ProGen study group and the NGS course have different focuses, so there's not a lot of overlapping material, at least in my experience. I'd say they complement each other well.

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  2. Thank you for this information. I did the Boston U program, but want to learn more and move forward in doing genealogy as a career.

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    1. That's a great goal, Yvette, and congrats on completing the Boston U program. An awesome achievement, to be sure. Hope the information helped. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. Thanks for your insight. I will be starting the course in January. Can't wait!

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    1. Best of luck to you, Cheri! I bet you'll find a lot of interesting stuff about your ancestors as you go along. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Thanks for this information Shelley!

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  5. This is a thorough and clear explanation! I would really, really like to take this course. Considering the benefits, it is worth the price. There are simply some important family events that we have to get past before I can commit the time. But I am saving this URL and will get back to it.

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    1. I know what you mean about the family commitments, Mariann. I have some things I need to wait for the time to become right, too. No worries!

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  6. Shelley, this is very helpful! I'd love to take this course... need to save a lot of shekels first, though. Sounds well worth the time and money. Thanks for posting.

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    1. Glad you found it helpful, Celia, and best wishes to you!

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  7. Shelley ~ Thanks so much for the info and tips! It's very timely for me as I'm just getting ready to start this course. At the time I ordered I still had the graded vs non-graded option but I chose graded because I knew I'd need the accountability!!

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    1. Good for you, Diana! I'm sure you'll do great with the course. Hope you enjoy it!

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  8. Shelley - I've talked to several people who have taken this course and their advice has been "Wait a few months. A revised course is coming." Actually, the first time I heard this was last spring. I really want to take the course and I think it would be best to take the revised course. Do you know when it will be available?

    Beth Benko

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    1. Beth, I really don't know. I'd suggest you email the course coordinator and ask. My experience is that they revise certain lessons, not the entire course. That's why I think it's best to order one CD at a time, when you're ready for it, rather than all of them at once. For example, while I was taking it they revised the lessons on CD 3. But it was no problem because I hadn't ordered that CD yet. So anyway, sorry I don't know the answer, but hopefully you can find out by asking. Good luck whatever you decide, and thanks for reading!

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  9. Shelley, I may someday take a course but for now I do no think this course is for me. I have more overseas work to do than domestic. However, what caught my eye here was your reference to citations. I have never understood citations or how to attach them to my work. Of course much of my initial information was oral and so I was launched well into my journey without references. Now I am so deep into the project it will take forever to go back and correctly cite my work. My question is where is the best place to learn correct form of citing and more importantly how to attach it to my work?

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  10. Great question, Judith, and one I have a feeling a lot of people share. The good news is you don't need a course to learn how to write citations. Elizabeth Shown Mills has written a very helpful little book called "Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian" that covers all the basics. (It was published in 1997, before the big "Evidence Explained" book I mentioned in my post.) The first chapter should answer a lot of your questions. You might also want to pick up her laminated "QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources" to help with citing things you find on the Internet.

    Citations are one of those things that get easier the more you do them, so getting started can be the hardest part. I'm sure you'll get the hang of it in no time. Thanks for reading, and best wishes to you!

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