Great learning opportunities to come

UTP logoThere are some great opportunities to learn more about family history research in the next few months, and I will be taking advantage of them.

The Unlock The Past Expos are being held in four Australian States this year, starting with the NSW Expo in Coffs Harbour this weekend, on 3-4 June 2011.  There will be an exhibition hall with exhibitors from around the area and across the State; a great program in two streams, with something for everyone; and lots of prizes and special offers totalling thousands of dollars.

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a range of events in regional centres like this has been tried, and I hope that many people take advantage of it.

History, Genealogy and Heritage Events

3-4 Jun 2011 – Unlock the Past New South Wales Expo (Coffs Harbour) – Coffs Harbour
24-25 Jun 2011 – Unlock the Past Queensland Expo (Cairns) – Cairns
2-3 Sep 2011 – Unlock the Past Victorian Expo (Geelong) – North Geelong

I will be speaking on Social Media and Family History at all of these events, as well as giving demonstrations on a range of family history sites such as Find My Past and Scotlands People, and generally trying to be useful, so please come and say hello.

I will also be at the 2nd Annual New Zealand Family History Fair in Hamilton on 26-27 August, which promises to be even bigger and better than the first Fair last year. I will be speaking on Social Media and Family History and Google, helping out at the Australian Research stand, and generally trying to take in as much as possible.

I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can and meeting as many of you as can make it. Please come if you can!

NZFHF logo

140 Free Online Genealogy Research Courses

Here is part of an announcement from FamilySearch about their growing list of free online research courses, some of which are specifically about Australian records:

Maybe you’d like to learn more about how to do your family history research but don’t think you can afford to take a class. Thousands of individuals are now satisfying many of those needs through FamilySearch’s growing collection of free online genealogy courses.

In just one year, the number of free FamilySearch courses has grown to over 140—and new courses are added monthly. Most recently, over 25 courses were added for Australia, England, Germany, and the U.S. Additional courses were added that focus on basic tools and techniques for anyone just getting started in family history research, as well as courses for intermediate and advanced researchers.

“The goal of the initiative is to educate more people worldwide about how to find their ancestors. We do it by filming the experts teaching a particular class of interest and then offering free access to that presentation online—complete with the PowerPoint used and anyelectronic handouts that the user can download or print for future reference,” said Candace Turpan, FamilySearch instructional designer.

Turpan’s team films presentations made by its staff from the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as special guests (the library is frequented by accredited researchers from all over the world). They also travel to industry conferences or other venues where record and research specialists gather. There they film specialists’ presentations and make them available online.

FamilySearch uses viewing software that splits the viewing screen (sort of like the picture-in-picture features on some televisions) so the user can watch the video of the presenter while also seeing the PowerPoint presentation. Most courses are 30 minutes in length. You can also fast forward through the presentation or presentation slides or stop and pick up later where you left off—a luxury you don’t get in the live presentation.

I’ve used this software to view presentations and I’m very impressed. It works easily and looks great.

Highlights from the latest course additions:


  • Australia BDM Civil Registration Index
  • New South Wales Early Church Records 1788–1886
  • Using the New South Wales Birth, Death, Marriage Index


  • Getting the Most from the National Archives Website
  • Researching in the British Isles
  • What Is Britain?

Research Principles and Tools

  • Cemetery Art
  • Finding Your Way: Locating and Using Maps in Your Research
  • How to Find More at a Genealogy Library
  • If I’d Only Known: Beginner Genealogy Mistakes
  • Managing Your Family Records on the Internet
You can see the full list of courses at

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer–driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at or through over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in SaltLake City, Utah.

Learning to be a professional

Recently I was asked about how to gain the experience required to work as a professional genealogist. This is a slightly edited version of my answer.

I think the best way to learn is by volunteering as a researcher or library assistant with a family history society and by reading. The book that I found the most helpful is called Professional Genealogy edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, published by the Genealogical Publishing Company, last reprinted in 2004.

There is an online study group that grew out of the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list called ProGen Study that goes through this book over 18 months – they do assignments and have discussions every month. I took part in the first of these groups that ended last Christmas. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a way of improving your genealogical research skills and for the business aspects as well. They now have a website. They are based in the States but there are a few members from other countries, including Australia.

The biggest differences I have found between researching for myself and for other people are

  • planning the research to complete it in the most efficient manner;
  • writing the report as I go – making sure I have the correct source citation before I put the microfilm or file away;
  • entering the results into the report as I go or as soon as possible when I get home.

When you are wandering around Ancestry for yourself you can take all night, but when you are searching for someone else who is paying you by the hour you have to be focussed and get everything you need first go. You want to avoid having to go back because you missed something the first time.

You might try practising. Think of a question you want to answer in your own research, and then tackle it as though you were doing it for someone else. Analyse what you already know and how reliable it is, write a research plan, carry out the research, and write a report of the results and suggested next steps. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes. And the report will be invaluable when you next come to look at this part of your research.

You can also apply to do the Certificate of Genealogical Research with the Society of Australian Genealogists. Applications for the first intake close on the 31st March 2010 and the course will take 18 months, with assignments due every two months. YOu don’t have to be in Sydney to do this course, all tasks are assigned and submitted by email.

In the short term, you can start with record retrievals. Whether you charge for this service or you perform Acts of Genealogical Kindness, make sure you cite the copies that you’ve found correctly, and specify all the records or indexes that you searched, whether you found anything or not. Negative searches are also useful information.

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