If be­ing a pro­fes­sional re­searcher is your fan­tasy job, or you want to get to the bot­tom of a tricky fam­ily mys­tery, then a course could be the an­swer. Claire Vaughan finds out why...

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Do you fancy im­prov­ing your chances of dis­cov­er­ing what hap­pened to the fam­ily for­tune, or per­haps you’d like to give up your day job and be­come a pro­fes­sional fam­ily his­tory sleuth, solv­ing other peo­ple’s ge­neal­ogy mys­ter­ies? What­ever your dreams, a course could make them come true. There are plenty on of­fer – from free bite-sized op­tions to de­grees with an £8,000-plus price tag.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Ge­neal­o­gists and Re­searchers in Archives (AGRA) ac­tively pro­motes learn­ing and con­tin­ued pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment among its mem­bers and po­ten­tial mem­bers. Antony Marr, chair of AGRA’s Board of As­ses­sors, says: “Re­search­ing our fam­ily his­tory is some­thing many of us slip into as a hobby, and the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence of the sub­ject is picked up piece­meal over many years with no for­mal train­ing.”

The rel­a­tively re­cent surge in in­ter­est in fam­ily his­tory has gen­er­ated some ex­cit­ing ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. Uni­ver­si­ties and other in­sti­tu­tions now of­fer cour­ses to those wish­ing to take a bold step into the world of pro­fes­sional ge­neal­ogy – or just hun­gry for knowl­edge. “For a long time the ed­u­ca­tional op­tions for ge­neal­o­gists were few and far be­tween,” says Antony. “But as the growth of the in­ter­net has fu­elled in­ter­est in the sub­ject, the num­ber of cour­ses avail­able to re­searchers (ama­teur or pro­fes­sional) has in­creased.”

Be­fore you make the leap, it’s im­por­tant to con­sider why you want to do a course and what you hope to get out of it. There are other con­sid­er­a­tions too, such as bud­get and time con­straints, even though the in­ter­net has now made re­mote learn­ing as easy as ABC.

If it’s about boost­ing your knowl­edge, the Lon­don-based So­ci­ety of Ge­neal­o­gists (SoG) runs lec­tures, half- and full-day sem­i­nars, even­ing classes, short cour­ses and week-long Fam­ily His­tory Get­aways to sat­isfy a wide range of tastes. It also of­fers a dis­tance-learn­ing pro­gramme with

The surge in in­ter­est in fam­ily his­tory has gen­er­ated ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties

Pharos Tu­tors in Fam­ily His­tory Skills and Strate­gies (Cer­ti­fied), plus e-learn­ing cour­ses and mod­ules for mem­bers via the new Learn­ing Zone on its web­site (­ses).

“We al­ways try to find in­ter­est­ing lec­tur­ers who look at the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of ge­nealog­i­cal re­search, as well as doc­u­men­tary sources and the so­cial and his­tor­i­cal con­texts. The teach­ing is backed up by the re­sources in the so­ci­ety’s re­mark­able li­brary,” says SoG genealogist Else Churchill. “Our pro­gramme is aimed at any­one with a cu­rios­ity and pas­sion for fam­ily his­tory.” Its timetable is packed with top­ics, from Lon­don street traders to French pris­on­ers of war. “We cover what you need to know and what you didn’t know you needed to know!” laughs Else.

Learn­ing to bust brick walls

The Na­tional Archives (TNA) in Kew is also a great place to go for brick-wall­bust­ing cour­ses on spe­cific sub­jects. Au­drey Collins, TNA’s fam­ily his­tory records spe­cial­ist, says: “Our of­fer­ings are unique in that they are based on the in­cred­i­ble wealth of records we hold, and the ex­per­tise of records spe­cial­ists, who cre­ate and main­tain our on­line re­search guides.”

TNA has free podcasts and we­bi­nars too on ev­ery­thing from Agin­court to Zep­pelins ( me­­tion­, plus “we have a reg­u­lar pro­gramme of talks and events at Kew. In Au­gust we are run­ning a two-day fam­ily his­tory course in part­ner­ship with King’s Col­lege.” You can find out more at, while TNA also has free on­line tu­to­ri­als on Latin and palaeog­ra­phy on its web­site.

Some lo­cal fam­ily his­tory so­ci­eties run their own even­ing or week­end classes, and you can find the so­ci­ety near­est you at the Fed­er­a­tion of Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­eties web­site:

mem­bers2/con­tact­ing. The North of Ire­land Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­ety (NIFHS), for ex­am­ple, has a very ac­tive pro­gramme of cour­ses ( nifhs.

org/re­sources/cour­ses). “They are unique in that we take on board topic sug­ges­tions from our mem­bers. For ex­am­ple we are now pro­vid­ing a wider range of cour­ses on DNA be­cause of de­mand,” says Martin McDow­ell, NIFHS’s ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer.

He notes that a sense of com­mu­nity has de­vel­oped around the cour­ses. “They ap­peal to all age groups and so­cial back­grounds. It’s great to see dif­fer­ent groups help each other out when they can.”

You should check out fur­there­d­u­ca­tion col­leges and your lo­cal au­thor­ity’s adult-learn­ing of­fer­ings too; some, like Bris­tol City Coun­cil, run fam­ily his­tory cour­ses ( bris­tol­courses. com/cour­ses/fam­ily-his­tory).

If fam­ily com­mit­ments or other obli­ga­tions mean that your free time is lim­ited, you’ll be glad to hear that there are some great on­line/dis­tance-learn­ing op­tions. These struc­tured pro­grammes can in­clude as­sessed course­work and reg­u­lar on­line hook-ups with tu­tors and fel­low stu­dents.

Pro­fes­sional genealogist Celia Her­itage re­cently launched a pro­gramme aimed at stu­dents who want to learn ex­pert re­search skills ( her­itage­fam­i­ly­his­

ecourse). “Hav­ing been a tu­tor on the In­sti­tute of Heraldic and Ge­nealog­i­cal Stud­ies cor­re­spon­dence course, I wanted to of­fer peo­ple a shorter, more man­age­able set of mod­ules with a less scholas­tic ap­proach, but still sup­ply­ing es­sen­tial, in-depth know-how.”

This op­tion is not tu­tor-led, but you can top-up with one-to-one tu­tor ses­sions – and work at your own pace. “It has an ac­com­pa­ny­ing stu­dent-links web­site that acts as a por­tal for a host of on­line fam­ily his­tory re­sources. It’s de­liv­ered as an e-course with downloadable mod­ules and spe­cially for­mat­ted click­able im­ages that en­large, so you can study them in de­tail along­side each mod­ule.” To do all seven mod­ules costs £299.

Turn pro­fes­sional

But if you dream of work­ing as a pro­fes­sional re­searcher, you can im­prove your chances of suc­cess by join­ing one of the pro­fes­sional bod­ies such as AGRA, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Scot­tish Ge­neal­o­gists and Re­searchers in Archives (AS­GRA) or Ac­cred­ited Ge­neal­o­gists Ire­land (AGI; for­merly the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Ge­neal­o­gists in Ire­land).

One route to AGRA mem­ber­ship is via an ac­cred­ited course. Antony Marr says: “These range from short, sub­ject-spe­cific cour­ses, like those of­fered by Pharos Tu­tors, to uni­ver­sitylevel op­tions that lead to recog­nised qual­i­fi­ca­tions.” You can find a use­ful guide at­u­ca­tion.

Pharos Tu­tors cour­ses mix on­line re­sources with dis­tance learn­ing, and take the form of bite-sized chunks cov­er­ing many top­ics – each stu­dent chooses what they want to fo­cus on.

Prices range from about £34.99 for a short unassessed course ( pharos tu­­es­mainsd.php).

Helen Os­born, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Pharos Tu­tors, says: “Our cour­ses are friendly, af­ford­able and flex­i­ble. Class sizes are small, and stu­dents can re­ally get to know each other and the tu­tors with­out hav­ing to travel. They don’t sim­ply learn about dif­fer­ent types of records, but are also equipped to un­der­stand the com­plex world of ge­neal­ogy sources on­line and off­line.”

An­other op­tion ac­cepted for AGRA mem­ber­ship is run by the In­sti­tute of Heraldic and Ge­nealog­i­cal Stud­ies (IHGS), which Celia men­tioned. It of­fers ac­cred­ited cour­ses cov­er­ing sub­jects from her­aldry to 20th-cen­tury re­search as on­line or cor­re­spon­dence cour­ses, from ele­men­tary level to a Di­ploma in Ge­neal­ogy.

Les Mitchin­son, IHGS’s di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion, says: “We sup­ple­ment our cour­ses with a pro­gramme of tu­to­ri­als and one-day mod­ules, and of­fer prac­ti­cal classes cov­er­ing clien­tre­port writ­ing, draw­ing a pedi­gree tree and a full day on be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional genealogist. We also have a spe­cial­ist six-mod­ule her­aldry course.

“We want stu­dents to have the con­fi­dence to visit the archives and use a wide range of records. It’s won­der­ful to watch an ab­so­lute beginner de­velop into a com­pe­tent re­searcher.”

It’s won­der­ful to watch a beginner de­velop into a com­pe­tent re­searcher

The cor­re­spon­dence course in ge­neal­ogy costs £2,340. Visit ihgs.­ses for more de­tails. In ad­di­tion sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties run fam­ily his­tory cour­ses. At Aberys­t­wyth stu­dents can work to­wards the Cer­tifi­cate in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion: Ge­neal­ogy – a part-time, flex­i­ble scheme – as part of the Life­long Learn­ing pro­gramme ( en/life­long-learn­ing/ge­neal­ogy). Mod­ules, from house his­tory to writ­ing for the web, take place on cam­pus. Tu­tor Cal­ista Wil­liams says: “Stu­dents en­joy ac­cess to a wide range of fa­cil­i­ties, and there is the op­por­tu­nity to visit the Na­tional Li­brary of Wales next door.”

Gill Rossini also teaches on the pro­gramme: “We run the cour­ses on out­reach all over Wales and are in the early stages of de­vel­op­ing them as on­line/dis­tance-learn­ing cour­ses. The core mod­ules of­fer a solid ground­ing in the ba­sics of re­search­ing and can be stud­ied in English or Welsh, but we also have op­tional mod­ules that put stu­dents’ an­ces­tors firmly in the con­text of the world in which they lived.” Mod­ules start from £55 for five-credit op­tions.

Strath­clyde and Dundee both of­fer post­grad­u­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions in ge­neal­ogy. The Univer­sity of Strath­clyde’s free on­line course Ge­neal­ogy: Re­search­ing Your Fam­ily Tree is a great in­tro­duc­tion to for­mal study and is of­fered in con­junc­tion with Fu­ture­learn ( fu­ture­ cour­ses/ge­neal­ogy) for begin­ners and in­ter­me­di­ate-level stu­dents.

See­ing the big pic­ture

“The course pro­vides an un­der­stand­ing of the big pic­ture of dif­fer­ent as­pects of ge­nealog­i­cal re­search and how to get started with fam­ily his­tory in a way that is log­i­cal and pro­vides well­doc­u­mented re­sults,” says the course’s di­rec­tor Tahi­tia McCabe.

It acts as a gate­way to Strath­clyde’s Ge­nealog­i­cal, Palaeo­graphic & Heraldic Stud­ies on­line post­grad­u­ate pro­gramme (­with us/cen­tre­for­life­lon­glearn­ing/ge­neal­ogy). You can do a foun­da­tion­level Post­grad­u­ate Cer­tifi­cate, Di­ploma and MSc part time over three years or there’s a one-year full-time MSc in Ge­nealog­i­cal Stud­ies.

“The Post­grad­u­ate Cer­tifi­cate pro­vides a thor­ough ground­ing in the the­ory and prac­tice of UK re­search,” Tahi­tia adds. “We re­quire stu­dents to work with Scot­tish and English records, as we feel that UK ge­neal­o­gists need a fa­mil­iar­ity with both coun­tries’ records.” The pro­gramme’s fo­cus on ge­netic ge­neal­ogy is unique: “We be­lieve ev­ery genealogist should be able to ad­vise a client about what DNA test­ing can tell them.”

In ad­di­tion a cou­ple of eightweek stand­alone begin­ners’ cour­ses are avail­able cov­er­ing Bri­tish records, her­aldry and ge­netic ge­neal­ogy. They can be used as en­trance cri­te­ria for the post­grad­u­ate pro­gramme.

“Our pro­gramme is recog­nised by AGRA and AS­GRA as pro­vid­ing some ex­emp­tions from the cri­te­ria re­quired for mem­ber­ship. It ap­peals to ge­neal­o­gists who want a recog­nised qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and is use­ful for those who want to work with so­lic­i­tors do­ing ‘heir hunt­ing’.

“We fo­cus on tra­di­tional re­search meth­ods and record sets, but also pro­vide stu­dents with in­for­ma­tion on new tech­niques such as ge­netic ge­neal­ogy and fam­ily tree soft­ware.”

The full-time post­grad­u­ate di­ploma/ cer­tifi­cate each cost £3,100, and the full-time MSc £8,350.

At Dundee Univer­sity you can study for post­grad­u­ate di­plo­mas, cer­tifi­cates, Masters de­grees or PhDs; do short ac­cred­ited cour­ses; and try taster ses­sions – all on­line and flex­i­ble (­grammes/fam­i­ly­lo­cal­his­tory). Post­grad­u­ate and short cour­ses are ac­cred­ited by the Archives and Records As­so­ci­a­tion (UK and Ire­land) and are recog­nised by AS­GRA, while Masters stu­dents can join the Reg­is­ter of Qual­i­fied Ge­neal­o­gists (find out more at qual­i­fied­ge­neal­o­

“Our stu­dents gain the nec­es­sary knowl­edge and skills to find, read and un­der­stand archives, and dis­cover the con­text in which they were cre­ated. We aim to help peo­ple build up a real pic­ture of what life was like for their an­ces­tors,” ex­plains pro­gramme leader Caro­line Brown. “Some of our stu­dents take the cour­ses purely for in­ter­est, but oth­ers plan to work in fam­ily and lo­cal his­tory.”

Fees are £7,620 for the Masters, £5,820 for the di­ploma and £2,910 for the cer­tifi­cate.

Which­ever course you choose, it will be time (and money) well spent. You’ll im­prove your re­search skills, en­abling you to get more from the records that you use; you’ll meet like­minded peo­ple; you might break down a brick wall or two; and your stud­ies could even lead to you turn­ing your pas­sion for ge­neal­ogy into a whole new ca­reer.

Study­ing fam­ily his­tory has changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion since these boys learnt about the 1931 cen­sus

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