Now I know that title may sound a bit snobbish, but please bear with me here. This week marks my third year in attendance at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I'm a both a student in German: Advanced Tools and Methods and a co-coordinator for the Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum, as well as an instructor in the Internet Genealogy course. While I'm honored and excited to be here, it was only a few years ago that I paid little attention to genealogical institutes. I'm primarily a self-educated genealogist, as most of us are. I taught myself how to research my family history by reading books, such as Helen Leary's treasure North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History (the 1980 edition), writing letters, scrolling through microfilm, and asking a lot of questions (probably too many!) at various archives, libraries, and court houses. As I'm now reviewing some of my research from back then (way back then!), I'm proud to see that even without a fancy genealogical education, I was a good genealogist. My research was fairly thorough, although there were still many record types with which I still wasn't familiar. My connections between generations still hold up, although I am now having to go back and write up my genealogical conclusions. Yes, my source citations were a bit lacking (e.g. "1880 census, NC" or "story from Mama"), but I also have yet to find someone on my family tree who doesn't belong there. Even then I understood the value of land and probate records, although I only looked at the ones which related directly to my family. Yes, my family tree from 20 years ago is a bit ragged around the edges, but darn it...I was a good genealogist!
Things changed for me, however, while sitting in a classroom listening to Elizabeth Shown Mills during the summer of 2010. I was attending my very first institute course--Course 4: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis at Samford's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research--and it is in that class, I think on day 4, that the light bulb finally clicked on in my head. I learned not only how to research, but also how to analyze, to correlate, to challenge, to think... I took the leap from being a good genealogist, to being an educated genealogist, and have never looked back.
Whether you've been researching for two years or twenty, there is always more to learn. To be the best genealogist you can, it is imperative that you keep up with the latest methodology, standards and available records. Plus, there's the benefit of being continually challenged by discussions and interaction with your instructors and fellow genealogists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a good genealogist. But, I can promise you that it is much more fun and rewarding after you take the leap to becoming an educated genealogist. It's not just about where the comma goes in a particular citation, or when to use an "em dash" or "en dash" in your genealogical writing. It's about being the best genealogist you can be.
As interest in genealogy increases, a number of degree and certificate options have become available, both online and off. When you also include individual course offerings and genealogical institutes, it's amazing how many quality genealogy education programs are available these days for individuals looking to further their education and experience. Even for those who can't afford to take a class, there are hundreds of genealogical case studies, podcasts and video presentations available for ongoing free genealogy education. Registration for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford opens next week and many courses will fill within minutes - so mark your calendars!
Of course, while genealogical research is rewarding in itself, it is always nice to receive a little financial support for your endeavors. To this end, a number of genealogical scholarships, awards, grants and fellowships are available to help applicants hoping to attend a genealogical conference or institute, to honor excellence in genealogical writing or research, or to support research projects of benefit to the genealogical community. Here are a few genealogy competitions and scholarships to get you started!