This past summer I took the Genealogical Research Program offered by Boston University over the Internet. This is both the first genealogy class I have taken as well as the first course of any type I have taken on the Internet. I got a lot of good out of it and would recommend it to others.
The class is divided up into modules, each with its own instructors and teaching assistants. I couldn’t tell before the class, but the teachers are not slouches. Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas Jones are editors of the National Genealogical Society and Elissa Scalise Powell is trustee for the Board for Certification of Genealogists® . I found them all to be very helpful, even when I was arguing with them.
The focus of the class is laying the foundation to become a professional genealogist. This included a combination of genealogical, professional and business techniques. The genealogical techniques were medium-advanced level. It would be a rough class for a beginner, but while the class covers topics like ethnic groups, forensic genealogy, photo analysis, and the like, if you are only interested in one of these topics you are better off taking a class in just that subject. It was good for me, though, because I have mostly been an Internet genealogist, so getting broader exposure to all these topics was very useful to me.
One big thing you learn in the class is research methods, including the dreaded citation. You are expected to cite the facts you present, and cite them in the correct format. You will learn to do this in the class, through a combination of the standard work Evidence Explained, and through learning the logic of how citations are layed out. If you do this right, you will learn the logic of what goes into a citation so you do not just look everything up in Evidence Explained. I’m still working on that.
The course does not have lectures per se. There are video introductions to each module, but they just introduce what will be discussed. Instead, there is written material that you read online. This is a bit different, but is fine with me as I can read faster than I can listen to a teacher, and the instructors are available for questions.
Part of the grade is discussion. You are required to post so many discussion entries on specific topics, and to reply meaningfully to other posts. I have mixed feelings about the discussions. The idea makes sense, but I felt like a number of the discussion questions were more like publicly graded homework assignments rather than a discussion of issues. I know it is hard to come up with provocative questions for the class, but I would have preferred that homework-type questions be homework.
Along with the scholarly things like learning citation methods, there are also fun assignments like identifying people in photographs you aren’t familiar with, doing forensic investigation and doing genealogical research on different ethnic groups. They are serious assignments and require work, but they give you a good chance to learn and apply new techniques.
One side note. The web page about the class has a self-test which is pretty trivial. While you definitely aren’t ready for the class if you fail it, the class is more serious and difficult than the test makes it appear.
One thing they let you know up front is that the class requires a lot of work. It was a very busy session for me, with a lot of time at the computer doing research. It was worth it, though. I now have a better understanding of what counts as good genealogy and how to do it myself. If you are looking to strengthen you genealogical skills the class is worth taking, even if you don’t want to be a professional.