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:
- The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition, by Val D. Greenwood (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000)
- The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Third Edition, by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry Publishing, 2006)
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.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!