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Kimberly Powell

Are You Taking Advantage? Free Online Genealogical Education, Part 2

By January 22, 2013

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For all of you looking for a bargain genealogical education, you can't get any better than free! In Free Online Genealogical Education, Part 1 I discussed the wealth of information online in the FamilySearch Learning Center, as well as through a variety of genealogical webinars. Now, in Part 2, we turn to a variety of free self-paced and instructor-led courses, focused both on genealogy, and related fields such as writing, DNA, and history.

Brigham Young University (BYU) offers a number of free family history courses through their nonprofit Independent Study department, including such courses as "Writing Family History," "Helping Children Love Family History," "Huguenot Research," and "Military Records.". The BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy hosts a number of helpful websites and tutorials, including Discovering English Ancestors created by David H. Pratt, PhD, Emeritus Professor of History and A. G. Emeritus;áand Script Tutorials on reading old English, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese handwriting.

Another free online source from which any genealogist will benefit are the Evidence Explained QuickLessons developedáby Elizabeth Shown Mills. In them she presents topics ranging from "What Constitutes Proof?" and "Chasing an Online Record into its Rabbit Hole," to "Plagiarism" and "Family Lore and Indian Princesses." These are individually written lessons or tutorials--not classes or webinars--but are packed with such valuable information that I learn something new with each one.

A number of major universities have joined forces to offer free open courses online -- often referred to as MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). Coursera is one of the largest such providers, and offers a number of courses that may be of interest to genealogists including:

The Coursera courses are instructor-led, and vary in length. Because these are in-person online courses, they start and end at a pre-set time, but most of the learning during that period can be done at times that are convenient to you; the general format includes recorded lectures, assignments, and group discussion. Some courses are graded, with an available certificate or statement of accomplishment. The options for each course vary by instructor and university.

Canvas Network, by Instructure, is another open, online learning network with a variety of free online courses. Of course, many of them are pretty far removed from genealogy (Algebra?), but you can find a few interesting gems such asáWriting History, from the University of Central Florida. New courses are added regularly, so keep this one in your Bookmarks folder.

Have a blog-based website and want to take it further? Another MOOC vendor, Udacity, has a neat Web Development course focused on building your own blog application. Warning - this is a developer-level course geared toward blog application development, not one focused on starting your own blog.

Some individual universities offer their own online open courseware as well. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first, with a huge collection of education materials representing many of its past undergraduate and graduate courses. The math is getting harder (Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations), but again you can find a number of non-technical courses in departments such as History and Languages. OpenCourseWare is self-paced, áallowing you to learn via recorded lectures, handouts, and other course materials -- and complete as much or as little as you like. Yale Open Courses offers free, open access to a variety of introductory courses from Yale University, where you can explore such topics as the American Revolution, Epidemics in Western Society, the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and Modern France. The Open Learning Initiative at my alma-mater Carnegie Mellon offers a few that interest me, such as Logic & Proof (takes me back to my undergrad days in Cognitive Science) and Elementary French (I've taught myself to read basic French, but can't speak it).

You can find even more free university courses online through search engines such as OCWSearch, dedicated to helping you find online OpenCourseWare initiatives. The engine includes courses from universities worldwide, including Universidad PolitÚcnica de Madrid, Delft University of Technology, and the University of Tokyo. Course Buffet lists "more than 500 courses from various MOOC providers, including Saylor.org, OpenCourseWare Consortium, Coursera, Udacity, Venture Lab and edX." Class Central aggregates MOOC options from Coursera, Udacity, edX, Canvas Network and other MOOC providers, categorizing courses as "in progress," "just announced," "self-paced," and "future courses."

There are definitely other great free online learning opportunities. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Happy learning!

Learn more about upcoming genealogical education opportunities (both free and tuition) on Angela McGhie's blog:
Adventures in Genealogical Educationá

Learn More from About.com Distance Learning:
Top Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
The Best OpenCourseWare Collections


January 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm
(1) MikeF says:


Nice couple of posts on free online sources. However you might consider also posting on non-free but relatively cheap sources, i.e. books and journals. Not everything is online, and this is especially true for much of intermediate to advanced material on sources and methodology.

But a relatively small but serviceable library can slowly be built for less than the cost of traveling to one genealogical conference. Besides currently in print books, there are many out of print ones that are highly useful and can be had reasonably if one is patient and keeps looking. And in the meantime, many of those books can be found in libraries.

Plus back issues of top genealogy journals can often be had fairly inexpensively on ebay and the like. Or for digital only, the NGSQ can be downloaded by members as part of their membership benefits.

Regarding all of this self-learning, which is what I have done and still do, I think folks should keep in mind the wise admonition that Elizabeth Shown Mills gave in a mail list posting once (either on the old public APG list or the TransGen list – don’t remember now), which is the pitfall of self-learning can be a lack of a systematic program to insure one gets the proper depth of learning across all the major record groups and research methodologies. So it pays for each individual to carefully devise a personal program that insures general competence, even while giving additional study to one’s own areas of specialization.

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