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Professional Teaching (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Teaching[edit | edit source]

We can’t underestimate the importance of creating a course that extends over several weeks or months. Registering for a course is often the hands-on introduction to genealogy for neophytes from the general public, heretofore ignorant of the whole subject but eager to learn about their roots. Your course will (or should) have a lasting effect on them. You want that effect to be as beneficial as possible. In one sense, teaching a course is similar to a series of lectures. However, teaching involves much more interaction with those who register for a course. Each session of a program cannot always be presented in the same delivery style as a lecture.

We also can’t say often enough that meticulous attention must go into the planning stages. If you have no formal training in educational methods, to become a teacher of genealogy demands some self-education in teaching—planning, methodology and results. In other words, learn about teaching principles in general and explore what others are offering along this line. See Sandra Leubking’s “Classroom Teaching” in Professional Genealogy.

Independence v. Sponsorship
Offering a course or workshop independently is a natural concept as an outgrowth of your business. You need to be certain of attracting enough registrations, finding the right place/space in which to teach it and fine-tuning a budget for it. Creating the course, locating the venue, acquiring the equipment and supplies, setting the fee, advertising—all are serious considerations.

Perhaps you have been asked to develop a course. Perhaps you have been asked to both develop and teach a course. The group that wants you to do this will then, in all likelihood, provide the necessary market or students. But as a professional business person, you may have to seek out opportunities for sponsorship in offering such a course or program or workshop. Some situations may require volunteering at first rather than generating income, so that you can show you are providing a desirable service.

Looking For a Market[edit | edit source]

Where to look for a market?

  • Genealogical and historical societies are logical places to consider. They have the memberships to draw from.
  • Check the libraries around you to see which are likely candidates to approach about offering a basic beginners’ course. Some of them may already be offering short courses of other interests to the community. Or would they be interested in a trial, part-time genealogist-in-residence who will handle the family historian patrons?
  • Similarly, a local archives might be amenable to outside assistance. Would an archives or library agree to an in-house program of guidance to using its particular genealogical materials?
  • Seniors’ centers may be looking for new, interesting activities. Many of us don’t become interested in family history until we reach these years, and then don’t know where to begin.
  • Does your local school curriculum include any reference to family history? The school or the board of education might be grateful for your input. Even if it’s just a guest appearance it gives you some experience with a certain age level.
  • Nearby colleges, even universities, may be interested in such a course or as a component in their future or existing courses.
  • Community recreation centers may have a number of programs that continue through one season or a year. Sometimes these centers sponsor children’s summer day camps, if that age level appeals to you.
  • Some professionals have been successful in selling a proposal to cruise ship lines which like to have a variety of on-board activities.

Whatever the venue you settle on, you mustn’t overlook the equipment or facilities it can provide. What kind of seating arrangements are there? Students will need desks or tables they can write on. Does the facility offer a chalk board or a white board? Projectors and screens? Do you have to lug your own projector back and forth?

Preparation and Planning[edit | edit source]

Some things to consider when creating a course (the following is adapted from The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual):

  • Courses are comprehensive, well-designed and sequential to include a variety of student activities and projects directly related to the course objectives; they include a means of measuring the student’s grasp of the objectives.
  • Lessons include information about genealogical sources; respect for historical material and its custodians; research strategies and procedures; how to compile research results; and becoming accustomed to citing sources of genealogical information.
  • Instructional materials are up-to-date, clear, well-cited and appropriate to each lesson topic, whatever medium is used; this applies as well to take-home handouts and bibliographies.
  • Presentation (the delivery mode) needs variety and stimulation to encourage student enthusiasm and participation.

What is the goal of the course? To have students learn the basics? To teach a specific subject like census or court records? First, you need to make a description of the course stating its objective. That will include the “expectation” of student results, e.g. the students will learn practical information about the main sources used by family historians (specify the records here) in (insert county, region, country) and develop some basic skills in genealogical research procedures. A course or program will also normally be geared to the target age group.

Scheduling: Evening or daytime classes? One hour, two hour or three hour lessons/sessions at a time? Adult education classes seem to be more popular in the evenings, unless you are contemplating a Saturday, or targeting a seniors/retiree market. Summer may be the least popular time of year because so many people plan vacations then. The length of the entire program (weeks or months?) and the allotted time for each lesson (hours) may be dictated by the sponsor, if you have one.

How much will you charge as a registration fee? Outlining a proper business plan with your expected costs (as well as your own time) is the professional way to arrive at a figure that allows you some profit over and above your costs. How much of your time away from the classroom will be spent on preparation between sessions, and reading/marking assignments?

What will you name your course and how will it be publicized? Your finalized brief description will be circulated to attract registration and should be very clear that you are teaching, for example, “the five fundamental sources for starting your family tree” or “American courthouse research” (and therefore by elimination, not German sources or adoption techniques!).

Lesson planning follows, according to how many total hours you will have. Find a logical sequence for the subject matter. Fill in the structural details for each lesson—the points you want to emphasize, the charts you will use, how and where students can locate material, choose sample illustrations, consider handouts, field trips, guest speakers. A case study of one family can be an effective learning tool. Plan certain areas where students can participate in discussions (don’t forget that word “interactive”!). You may suggest extra reading material for at-home time, or Internet investigation.

Collect all the bits and pieces you need from wherever you need to obtain them. Sort all your related notes and materials into a folder or binder for each teaching time segment. Include advance reminders for any special equipment for audio-visual aids, and who will provide it. Decide if breaks are appropriate and when to have them. Your delivery of each lesson should be varied and even entertaining at times. You must have notes to follow, although avoid the two extremes of reading from a script and a totally spontaneous, unrehearsed discourse.

Decide if you will have an occasional guest to add interest to one lesson. Another popular feature is a field trip for the students to experience a hands-on encounter with a records center, a cemetery, courthouse, or other appropriate locations.

Student Performance[edit | edit source]

How will you judge whether your teaching methods have been effective? Assignments and/or tests require prudent preparation once the lesson plans are in order. When and where will you fit such student submissions into the course design? How much or how little in the way of questions is adequate for testing them in the interval between lessons? How will you judge or grade submissions, allowing for your own time in doing so? Some of this may be done during the classroom time. Student input during discussion times will give you a feel for how much they are learning. Setting aside occasional classroom time for brief question-and-answer quizzes or written assignments is an option, although most prefer to send the students home with assignments.

However you choose to take a learning measurement is another important aspect of planning to be designed in advance—the questions, the answers and the grading. Your sponsor or host may have specific requirements in this regard, especially if it is an educational facility. If you alone are responsible for the course, evaluating for success may be as simple as “well done” or “needs improvement.” It is still equally valid to develop your own measuring criteria.

Another method of evaluation is a questionnaire for the students, critiquing the teacher’s effectiveness, for the course itself and the presentation. Once again, you will have to create this evaluation form yourself.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.