Genealogy education

dreamstimefree_6456266_320x240No matter how long you’ve been tracing your family history there is always more work to do. Similarly, no matter how much you think you know about how to trace your family history, there is always more to learn. Things are changing all the time as new records and indexes become available, as the internet is used more, and as your research progresses and your interests change.

You may find that a family you are tracing came from Scotland and so you need to find out about Scottish research. Or the family moved to Queensland and you need to find out where to find Queensland death certificates and probate. Or you find that an ancestor became a farmer and you need to find out about land records. Or you can’t decipher some old handwriting, or understand the terms used in an old will.

So how do you learn more?

The obvious way is to buy books, and that is a topic for another time. I’d like to cover some other places to learn that you may not have thought of.

The Internet

It is amazing how much information there is available on the internet. I’m not talking here about doing a search for the name of your ancestor and finding that someone has done all the work and put it on the web; I’m talking about research guides to individual geographic areas or types of documents.

Many websites have guides to research in different geographical areas or subject areas:

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone.  What this means in practice is that if anyone puts something suspect in there someone else will come along and update or remove the offending material. There are many more specialised lists of terms around but Wikipedia is a good first option to look for the name of a place or the meaning of a legal or medical term. Where it gives sources it can be useful as a pointer to more specialised works.

The Encyclopedia of Genealogy works the same way as Wikipedia but is more specialised. It is run by Dick Eastman, the writer of a well-known genealogy blog. Material is being added every day.

Society of Australian Genealogists has some excellent research guides under their Helping You menu, written by highly experienced staff and volunteers.

State Records NSW have many indispensible guides to the records they hold available online. Archives in Brief are fact sheets about specific topics such as Convicts and Passenger Lists and can be downloaded and printed, or collected from the reading rooms.

GenUKI is the best place to find out what is available for UK research. Most counties are managed by a volunteer who keeps the site up to date. What is available and where, which parish is where, what is being indexed and whether it is available online.

Familysearch has a large number of research guides for many countries of the world and States of the USA under their main Research Guidance menu. Australia and New Zealand are not included.

Courses and lectures

I’ve talked about these before. Here is a brief list:

  • State Records NSW hold free seminars on a regular basis on the records available in their archives and how they can help you with your research.
  • The NSW and ACT Family History Societies Annual Conference will be held this year in Dubbo from 12-14th September 2008.
  • Many family history societies have their own annual fairs or conferences.

Internet forums

No matter what your area or preference, there is almost certainly a forum or a mailing list that can tell you more. You can read what other people ask and the answers they receive, and you can ask your own questions and get answers. Most people are very helpful and courteous in these forums.

Rootsweb host a great many mailing lists and message boards for family historians all over the world, including many regions and societies in Australia. Many genealogical societies host their own forums and restrict access to members, but most are open to everyone.


Podcasts are relatively new to the world of genealogy, and the world in general, but are a marvellous way of listening to lectures on many topics from all around the world.

A podcast is a sound or video recording that has been made available on the internet. The ABC, for example, makes many of its radio and television shows available at

You can download individual episodes or you can subscribe to a feed. A feed requires a podcast reader such as iTunes or Juice which you run on your computer. I use the one that came with my MP3 player, called Zencast. You can then listen to them at your leisure on your computer or download them to your MP3 player or mobile phone to listen to when you are out and about. I listen to podcasts on the train and at the gym.

The National Archives in England records many of its lectures on history and family history as podcasts. I must admit to these being my favourites, even the ones about Oliver Cromwell and Henry the Eighth, neither of whom I’m related to (as far as I know!).

Genealogical Society of Victoria has started recording lectures and making them available to their members on their website. This is a trend that I hope other societies will follow.

The ABC’s Radio National has a weekly program on social history called Hindsight which can give you a broader picture of a place or time or person in history.

There are many more, especially in the United States. So many that I think they should be the topic of a future post.

Who Do You Think You Are and other news

Who Do You Think You Are?

The big news for family history fans is the SBS premier of Who Do You Think You Are this Sunday, 2nd December. Starting with some selected episodes from the first three UK series they will then show the six episodes of the Australian series on Sunday 13th January 2008. The first three UK series have been shown on cable TV, (or perhaps just the 2nd and 3rd), and have been very enjoyable and inspiring.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have teams of researchers going ahead of you and digging up everything you need to find out about your ancestors! Genealogists and social historians local historians and all the rest. I would love it! Alas, most of us have to do it ourselves, and this show won’t help you to do that. I would say that Who Do You Think You Are is more inspirational than informative, and of course it is very entertaining watching people we feel we know find out the thrilling or disturbing secrets of their ancestry. It’s interesting to watch their attitudes change as their ancestors become real people.
The BBC has a comprehensive website that covers UK family history research in some detail at  They are currently showing series four in the UK. Also check out the SBS website for the series at  The Australian series should be of great interest to us here in Australia, with Cathy Freeman, Kate Ceberano, Jack Thompson, Geoffrey Robertson and others.
National Burial Index of England and Wales now on FindMyPast

FindMyPast has released the National Burial Index of England and Wales (NBI). The National Burial Index is an ongoing project run by the Federation of Family History Societies and currently contains approximately 10 million records collected from individual family history societies of England and Wales. There have been two releases on CD and these are available at many libraries and family history societies, but the convenience of searching from home, as well as taking advantage of continuous updates, makes the FindMyPast option exciting news.

FindMyPast is a pay-per-view site run in association with The National Archives. Searching is free on, as is building an online family tree with our innovative Family Tree Explorer software. “To view the records you will need to purchase credits, either by buying pay-per-view units or one of three subscription options.”

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