Becoming “Institutionalized”

From the time I was a little boy, the value and importance of education has been stressed. My father often quoted to me ”They can take everything away from you, but they cannot take your education.” My father and I did not see eye to eye on much but this lesson I took to heart and it sticks with me to this day.

Northern States Hospital, Sedro Woolley, Washington

Northern States Hospital, Sedro Woolley, Washington

I have always stressed the importance of good genealogical education. I remember well the first bit of genealogical education that I received. No, it was not from a book. No, it was not at a general meeting of a local genealogical society, I did not even know there was one in my hometown. Not a state conference, I couldn’t tell you where the conferences were held at the time. No, it was not at a national conference, as I did not know anything about them either. My first bit of genealogical education was with some of the best, brightest, and most knowledgeable genealogical educators in the field. My first experience with genalogical education took place at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

I let my fingers do the walking, and on the internet, I found a genealogical institute. Claire Bettag CG CGL, Marie V. Melchiori CG CGL, Connie Potter of NARA, Marian Smith of USCIS,  Patti Shawker CG, Laura Prescott CG, John Deeban of NARA, Shirley Wilcox CG FNGS, Claire Prechtel-Kluskens of NARA, Reginald Washington of NARA, and others all gave me my first indoctrination into genealogical education. Yes, you are correct, my first hint of instruction beyond being self-taught was the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) now known as the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (GenFed). This was an incredible experience for me. I set me up for success and put me on the path to seeking out more quality instruction.

Seasoned genealogists refer to the volumes of information thrown at you in an institute akin to drinking from a firehose. Being a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department, I can tell you that they are wrong. Drinking from a firehose is less intense. In the pre-study, I took Patti Shawkers advice and aligned my genealogical problems to the classes being taught. After each lecture, I would immediately run downstairs and put in my pull requests. Sometimes I was tardy for the next session. I learned so much valuable, and accurate information on my first go around of genealogical education that it ruined me… well sort of. My expectations as to what was next for me may have been unrealistically high. I thought all educators had this kind of incredible information, I was wrong.

When I returned home, I hungered for more.. I found my local society and went to my first meeting. The speaker was talking about land records, a favorite of mine. The instructor, heralded as the expert in the state, had presented many times throughout the area. I was excited until one of the first things out of his mouth was, “ I don’t know what the big deal is about land records, they do not have much genealogical value.” Wha, wha, whaaaa. What a letdown.

Having been educated with more accurate information, I knew this educator was mistaken. I found the education in the local area was not of the caliber I hungered for. So I searched out more institutes to feed that hunger.

The next institute I went to was the Salt Lake Institute (SLIG); Held in January each year, at one of the meccas for research, in Salt Lake City. Here I took the Advanced Swedish Research course with Geoff Fröberg Morris. Definitely, one of the top Swedish researchers in the United States. The details learned in this class dramatically helped me to understand the massive amount of records held in Sweden that have genealogical value. This course punctuated for me the vast inequities across the genealogical education spectrum. This fantastic experience set firmly in my mind, if I wanted consistent, high-quality information and instruction, I would need to go to institutes.

Since then I have gone to more than a dozen including the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) a.k.a. Samford, The Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), and the British Institute (BI) held in Salt Lake City in September or October. I have taken many advanced courses from leading genealogical educators to include, Elizabeth Shown Mills CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, Tom Jones PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, David Rencher CG, AG John Colletta PhD, Judy Russell JD, CG, CGL, CeCe Moore, Angie Bush, MS Blaine Bettinger, JD, Rick Sayre CG FUGA, Pam Sayre CG FUGA, and D. Joshua Taylor, to name a few.

Now I will be teaching at an institute. This year’s British Institute, held October 10th – 14th in Salt Lake City will feature a course, “Crossing the Pond: Finding your Immigrant Ancestor in Their Homeland.” This course is open to all people of all ethnic backgrounds. Though we may use many British examples in class, all of the techniques taught will transfer over to any other research one is doing. My fellow instructors are some of the best professionals in their fields, David Ouimette CG, Cari Taplin CG, and Luana Darby MILS. This team of instructors are experienced researchers in the United States, British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Balkans, Spain, Italy, and other areas of Europe.

The format for the British Institute is about four hours of instruction in the morning and the afternoon includes, three hours of assisted research, with your instructors, in the Family History Library (FHL). Specific to Crossing the Pond, all students will bring at least five of their personal genealogical problems to research. Every day in the library, the student’s will take what they have learned and apply it to their personal genealogical problems. The instructors will be there to assist each student to frame their research question and develop a research strategy to resolve the “brick wall.” The goal is to have each student experience personal success in their research. The students will be asked to bring multiple problems because the FHL may not have all of the records needed to solve the case and records may need to be sought elsewhere. What great, inexpensive way to get high quality, professional research help.

One of the classes I am excited to attend is Advanced Researching at the Family History Library, taught by Luana Darby. Most patrons of the FHL do not fully realize the vast amount of information available to researchers only in the Family History Library. Their computer databases, subscriptions, and CDs is massive and comprehensive. Their book collections housed in the High-Density secure area is an untapped gold mine. The hidden treasures at the FHL can dramatically supercharge your research.

I hope to see a few familiar faces and many new ones in the seats at the British Institute in October. For more informationa about the British Institute, click on the link provided to the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History (ISBGFH). If you want to inquire to me personally about the course please contact me here . Becoming “institutionalized” is not always a bad thing.

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