Getting a Genealogical Education : NGS & IGHR

Exhibit hall, 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, St. Charles, Missouri.
Exhibit hall, 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, St. Charles, Missouri.

If you follow my Tweets (and I know you are 😉 ), you’ll know I’ve been traveling recently including to the National Genealogical Society (NGS) annual conference in May and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University this month. Both are excellent opportunities to learn and improve your skills as a genealogist.

The 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference was held in St. Charles, Missouri, just north of St. Louis. This provided me with the opportunity to not only attend the conference, but to do some research, sightseeing and indulge in another favorite pastime: wine tasting. Look for a couple of future posts highlighting my experiences in the St. Louis area.

This was my first time attending the four-day NGS conference, and I’m happy to report it exceeded my expectations. I also attended a day-long pre-conference workshop on German genealogy. While some of the information presented in this workshop was not new to me, I still benefited from it. F. Warren Bittner’s primer on German history was informative and entertaining. If you’re researching German ancestors and not familiar with F. Warren Bittner, you should be. He is one of the premier genealogists in Germanic genealogy having performed fascinating original research in the field, as well as being an engaging speaker. You can find some of his work published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and hear some of his lectures recorded by Jamb Tapes, Inc. Although not presented at this workshop or conference, I particularly recommend his lecture “Understanding Illegitimacy: The Bittner Bastards of Bavaria.” Illegitimacy among our German forbears is not uncommon (yes, there is even one amongst my Bavarian ancestors!), and definitely not for the reasons you may expect. This lecture is available from Jamb Tapes, Inc.

In addition to the German pre-conference workshop, the conference also featured a German track. Baerbel K. Johnson’s talk “So You Think You Want to Get Married: Marriage Records, Laws, and German Customs” informed listeners of German marriage records beyond those created by the church. Town council proceedings include petitions to marry and may illuminate circumstances surrounding your ancestors’ marriages or indicate why they could not marry.

Cutting edge methodology was presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills in “The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA.” Here she demonstrated how she proved four generations of a maternal line for which no documents provided direct evidence of the relationships.

Other educators included Thomas W. Jones, Judy G. Russell, Julie Miller, Alison Hare, Angie Bush, and John Philip Colletta, cementing NGS’s distinction as the premier genealogical conference. The 2016 conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. More information can be found at the NGS website.

Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama; 2015.
Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama; 2015.

This past week was spent honing my genealogical skills at Samford University Library’s Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. Each year about ten different courses of study are taught by faculty distinguished in the fields of genealogical education and research. Courses include beginning, intermediate, and advanced methodology, genealogical writing and publishing, and specialties such as military records and research in the South.

This was my second year at IGHR. I was enrolled in Course 3: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis. The course coordinator and main instructor was Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL. Additional course instructors were Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA; David E. Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA; Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL; Craig R. Scott, CG, FUGA and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. In addition to having fancy post-nomials, they are all excellent teachers. Classes in this course included reasonably exhaustive research, conflicting evidence, legal foundations of genealogy, government documents, ethics and DNA evidence analysis, correlation, interpretation.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to see Judy speak, you’ll know she’s an excellent educator, and her teaching in Course 3 did not disappoint. So much so that she received a standing ovation from her students at the end of the week. I have no hesitations about recommending her course. If you are interested, be sure to register as soon as on-line registration opens. Course 3 fills up within a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately, after 51 years IGHR will no longer be hosted by the Samford University Library after 2016. Its future is uncertain, although IGHR is eagerly looking for an appropriate new “home” to continue its mission. On its homepage, IGHR has posted a video lecture titled “Time to Make the Doughnuts!” which addresses this issue. I will certainly miss the beautiful Samford University campus and the dedicated SU Library staff. If you’re looking for a solid genealogical education, I highly encourage taking advantage of next year’s IGHR offerings.