Monday, May 28, 2012

The toughest genealogy course you can take?

I haven't taken every possible genealogy course, but I suspect that the Advanced Evidence Practicum is the hardest. It's being offered for the second year 14-18 January 2013 at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. (Registration opens 9 AM Mountain Time, Saturday morning June 2.) The following was published earlier this week as a guest post on Angela McGhie's blog Adventures in Genealogy Education, and benefited from her editing:

Want to spend a week solving the toughest genealogy problems, a new one every day?

That describes the most challenging genealogy course I've ever taken, the Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). Oh, I learned more in the advanced methodology classes given annually by Elizabeth Shown Mills at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University and Thomas W. Jones at SLIG. I could not have functioned in the practicum without them. But the level of difficulty in the practicum is something else because I had to apply that knowledge repeatedly, and found out right away whether I had headed in the right direction or found the answer. I also had to adjust to very different record environments and kinds of problems than I was used to working on.

The course actually grew out of the 2011 session of Tom Jones' Advanced Genealogical Methods class at SLIG. He gave a couple of homework assignments involving a problem to be solved, with evidence provided. We enjoyed the challenge and wanted more of this type of assignment. One day four of us were sitting around and somehow the idea was born of trying to design a whole course consisting entirely of this kind of homework. Now two of that group are coordinating the 2013 course, one is the director of SLIG, and I'm the only one remaining with a purely student's-eye view.

The format of the Practicum course is simple. Every afternoon a different expert, usually a board-certified or accredited genealogist, presents the initial evidence for a genealogical case that they have worked on and solved but not yet published. In some cases, all the evidence and documents are provided and the students analyze and correlate it, trying to come to a well-grounded conclusion. In other cases, some evidence remains to be found, either on line or in records at the Family History Library. Where off-line records are required (as they were in four of last year's five cases), the information is available in digitized files on request if the student can figure out exactly what s/he needs (since even the Family History Library can't be expected to create two dozen copies of those particular microfilms everyone will be wanting). The following afternoon, the group reconvenes to discuss their research and evidence-evaluation adventures with the expert and find out how they approached and solved the problem. And then it's time for the next case to be introduced.

The format differs from most genealogy institutes in that there are five faculty members (experts), so you deal with a new personality every day as well as a new problem. The 2013 lineup of instructors is mostly different from last year, but my main sense last year was, “I had no idea there were so many different ways to be equally excellent!”

Compared to the usual SLIG class schedule, this course looks light. So few hours in the classroom! But few of us had time for anything else. (I had invested in some evening lecture sessions but ditched most of them because the problems were so tough, and one of my main approaches to such problems is to spend a lot of time fussing.) Most participants found it both educational and humbling. Questions of research strategy arose that I'd never heard discussed so specifically anywhere else. If you've been through an advanced course or the equivalent, and want a truly challenging workout in a friendly setting, this is the course for you.

If you're still wondering whether this course is a good fit, name three of your favorite articles from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. If you can't think of any, or if you don't enjoy reading the Quarterly, maybe you're not ready. Because this course is like being dropped down the rabbit hole into the middle of one of those articles, and having to claw your way out.

[Also now available: Melinda Henningfield's take on the same course.]

Harold Henderson, "The toughest genealogy course you can take?" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 May 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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