Self-directed Learning: A Confession to Tom Jones

Ken front1.jpg

Dear Tom,

There are very few people in Saskatchewan interested in advanced genealogy so the only classes in the community seem to be geared to beginners or intermediate genealogists and focus on records. Sounds just like the situation in Oklahoma,Shropshire, Montana, Midlothian and Manitoba and . Might even be a universal problem. But I digress.

I needed a class. There was nothing suitable, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was reviewing my collection of NGS and FGS conference syllabuses and found in the 2002 NGS Conference Syllabus the material for your lecture, “Proved? Five Ways to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was (Some Reliable and others Not Reliable)” I remember it as a very impressive lecture, but you know I am a fan.

In the lecture you talk about (among other things) Combining and Correlating Evidence, then continue with guidence in Resolving Conflicting Evidence. But to top it off you inserted an oportunity for me to learn on my own what you were talking about. You included two lists:

  1. Articles Illustrating Combining and Correlating Evidence and
  2. Articles Illustrating Resolving Conflicting Evidence.

So I figured I could track down three articles from each set, make copies and read them through. I picked from the first group,

Jones, Thomas “Howerton to Overton: Documenting a Name Change” NGSQ 78 (Sep 1990) 169-181

Jones, Thomas, “The Children of Calvin Snell:Primary versus Secondary Evidence” NGSQ 83 (March 1995) 17-31

Mills, Elizabeth Shown, “The Search for Margaret Ball: Building Steps Over a Brick-wall Research Problem” NGSQ 77 (July 1996) 137-144

And for the second group I picked,

Jones, Thomas, “Merging Identities Properly: Jonathan Tucker Demonstrates the Technique”, NGSQ 88 (Jun 2000) 111-121

Leary, Helen F.M., “Resolving Conflicts in Direct Evidence: Identity and Vital Dates of Mary Kittrell” NGSQ 87 (Sep 1999) 199-205

Lenzen, Connie, “Heritage Books and Family Lore: A Jackson Test in Missouri and Idaho” NGSQ 86 (Mar 1998) 19-36

I needed to arrange with the interlibrary loans desk at my library to obtain a couple as our library doesn’t have a long run of the NGSQ.

My plan was this, each week I would read an article. They were tough sledding at times and I had to read some four five and even six times to follow the logic, but it got better. I found for example if I wrote down all the questions I had upon the first and second reading, I could answer them by the fourth or fifth reading. After reading the three for part one, I started on those for part 2. There were a few Eureka! moments with each article, but I worked hard to obtain those breakthroughs.

I was curious about the sources cited in the articles, and always checked out one or two.

It took me seven weeks of heavy slogging through these articles, but, wow, were my eyes opened. It was worth every minute. Now I look forward to every new issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and read those case studies the same way, four or five times to extract all the “goodness” out of them. My teachers never spoke aloud, but they were wonderful, and patient as I read through their articles.

So thanks, Tom, for planting the idea. Self-directed learning is fun. Hard work– but fun

Warm regards



5 responses to “Self-directed Learning: A Confession to Tom Jones

  1. Not a bad idea for a discussion group, too. So I purchased the audio tape of this lecture. And listened to it very carefully about three or four times, taking notes. From this I created five forty-minute lectures to introduce 5 of the articles. Then set up a series that went like this over ten weeks
    Weeks 1,3, 5, 7, 9 I did my introductory lecture to introduce the concept and the article. The students were assigned to read the article and answer the accompanying study questions(which I had to create) . In weeks 2,4,6,8,10 we met to discuss the articles. It was a long series but was well received, though the numbers were sometimes low.

  2. Ken,

    Excellent points. I will start reading the NGSQ articles more than once! I do marvel at the skill of others in solving the problems they write about.

    I do recommend NGSQ especially to my research group, but I haven’t tried to use one of the articles in the group. One thing I’ve tried to do this year is have a 20 minute lesson (one page handout) on a general research topic – I’ve done information/sources/evidence, the research cycle, census search tips, and record types/best resources so far. They like taking the paper with them – something tangible to review and use. We’re in our third year, and we have 5 to 10 people who have improved their analysis and critical thinking skills significantly – to the point that they can make good research suggestions and help beginners.

    Your 10 week program would be challenging for my group, but I think 2 or 3 would succeed at it.

    Cheers — Randy

  3. Sharon Henderson

    i am interested in obtaining an education for a certificate or degree in Genealogy.could anyone direct me to an on-line service that would offer this course? thank you

  4. Sharon, I’m working on my Advanced certificate from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto (I live in Florida — I love telling people I’m studying at the University of Toronto, through which these classes are offered). This is a non-degree program. They have several “packages” available; mine is in American Records. The curriculum includes both required and elective courses.

    Their website is It’s certainly worth a look.

  5. Barbara Schenck

    Thanks for the list. I have the CD-ROM of the 1-85 vols of the NGSQ, but those after that and before I began to subscribe have been tricky to get. So when I was at IGHR two weeks ago, I spent one afternoon in the library making copies of four of the articles on your list! And since I had an unscheduled 3 1/2 hour layover in Tupelo, MS on the way home, I got all of them read once. Now I’m going back and re-reading and making notes.

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