Self-Directed Learning: A confession

Ken Aitken profile

You may note that on the bookshelf behind me in the photo, there are books. Very perceptive of you. Most of them are NOT genealogy books, but books on local history, and books on methodology in local history. Many of my ideas for lectures, workshops and articles come from taking ideas from academic historians and public historians and applying them to genealogy education. So what’s on that shelf? Here are a few titles:

Carol Kammen, On Doing Local History. (Nashville:AASLH, 1986

David Kyvig & Myron Marty, Nearby History.(Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2000)

Fay Metcalf & M.T. Downey, Using Local History in the Classroom. (Nashville: AASLH, 1982

Gerald Danzer, Public Places: Exploring Their History.(Nashville: AASLH, 1987)

J.S. Rikoon & J Austin, Interpreting Local Culture and History. (Boise: Idaho State Historical Society, 1991)

Understanding the context of the lives of our ancestors is extremely important. Most of my personal genealogy is in England. Many of my ancestors were dirt-poor agricultural labourers, others were small scale farmers on 6-20 acre farms. Years ago while in university I read just about every book published in Britain or North America on rural life in 19th and 18th century England. It has paid off handsomely. Of course it led to some weird lectures like.

“Wedding Days, Pregnant Brides, and Marriage Horizons” which focussed on projects for genealogists with large accumulations of dead ancestors begging to be undserstood.

There is nothing that really can replace background research! I took on a project involving a US Civil war veteran who settled in western Canada. It was a a case study for a lecture I was preparing. In a potted biography from a mug book I learned his father was a Minister in a Christian Church and that the subject of my search had attended a particular college in the US affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. From Kory Meyerink’s book, Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998) I identified several histories of the faith and pursued the background of the subject, in this case, his religious upbringing in Tennessee and Southern Ohio. I came away with a clear picture of the man, his family, community, and religious vaues.

You can too. Dig deeper!


One response to “Self-Directed Learning: A confession

  1. Barbara Schenck


    Yes! I totally agree. I’ve got a stack of local history methodology books as well as books about the local history of the areas my families came from.

    For English methodology, may I recommend:
    Riden, Philip. Local History: A Handbook for Beginners. (London, B T Batsford, Ltd), 1983, rev. 1989.

    Dunning, Robert. Local History for Beginners. (Chichester, West Sussex: Phillimore & Co), 1980.

    These are really good starting points and well as being well-written.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s