Real Advanced Family History

Moving from genealogy and family history to the history of the family is the focus of an interesting course offered by the Open University in Britain and available on-line. Its called Writing Family History but do not be deceived by the title, the course involves some meaty work.

Several years ago the Open University published some interesting books I think genealogy educators ought to study. Continue reading


Intermediate Resources: A Conversation with Brenda


Dear Colleagues:

The hardest part about climbing mountains is getting out of the rut. Your many private responses have revealed there is little or nothing being done at the intermediate level in genealogy classes across the continent to teach the average genealogists to distinguish between sources, ideas, and evidences. Nor are these people being taught the genealogy proof standard.

There is a huge need for teaching and guided learning in these areas at the intermediate level. All falling in my book if I ever get it done. There will be useful instructions on how to teach and learn these things. Thank you so much for your insights.


Dear Ken,

When you say little or nothing is being done to teach the distinctions between sources, information and evidence .. and people are not being taught the GPS .. are you including or excluding the National Institute’s 6-part Methodology courses, and the 3-part Analysis & Skills Mentoring program? Both sets are compulsory for certificate students.

I know you’re very aware of what’s involved in the A&S program, because your part in it is so important (I have even *more* respect for you–if that’s possible–now that I’ve had a couple of scholarly article chats!). But I don’t know if you are aware that the Methodology series includes exactly that which you are (rightfully) promoting. Information-sources-evidence are introduced in Meth-1 and Meth-2. By the time they get to Meth-6 they are being tested on case studies.

Your message today (16 December) mentioned that [evidence and analysis] skills should be introduced in “the first 20 weeks of instruction.” It’s hard to relate that to our kind of online instruction which does not go on
for 20+ weeks.

I hear your disappointment that most current teaching apparently does not deal with the GPS and evidence analysis early on. This is something that I’ve worked on since I began with the Institute and while it sometimes takes a frustratingly long time to get the changes & additions into the online course material, I plug away at it.

I’m curious enough to ask the question above (1st paragraph) because I’d like to know from you how the Institute rates in this regard. Or yourregard. I know there’s much more we can do, but so few hands for so many tasks.


Dear Brenda and Colleagues:

The challenge of introducing more complex concepts in genealogy research like the GPS and evidence analysis over 6 to 8 weeks of instruction, is to realize that you can only introduce increments. You build that increments like a spiral, so each new level builds on the old level, so ideas can be introduced,.planted, reinforced, applied and build on, but not necessary instantaneously. For example, I heard Helen Leary demonstrated how to teach sources information and evidence concepts as if it were in the first three hours of instruction, simply by using the students’ own documents, from their wallet or purse.

Would they have a perfect knowledge? Of course not, but the terms would be introduced and bit by bit could be planted, etc., as the ideas revisited in the later instructions. This is sometimes called spiral approach to curriculum development.

Many of the core courses taught by the national institute for genealogical studies: Brigham Young University; National Genealogical Society correspondence courses use this approach at least in part in many classes. However, most genealogists who pick up two or three classes in their local colleges rarely benefit from such thought out instructions, so that is where my comments to you, Brenda.

Evaluating Genealogy Textbooks

I found the most useful discussion on evaluating potential genealogical textbooks was a chapter in Kory Meyerink’s book, Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998). Chapter 2, written by my colleague Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, entitled “Instructional Materials” pages 68-92. There is a large table comparing the contents of beginning genealogy texts, and interesting section on how to evaluate and genealogy how-to book, and bibliographies and more bibliographies. Continue reading

Creating and teaching a course, simplified.

Years ago a professor of mine told me about creating a course for a group of English language teachers in Italy on a shoe string. It was simple, but creative. There were about a dozen in the group and they met monthly. Sounds like a small genealogy society, doesn’t it. They had one copy of a good book and built the course around the book. Thats sort of backward, but it worked. Here’s what it might look like for a genealogy class. Continue reading

Teaching Genealogy in Bed

  picture-009.jpg  As many of you know, my health keeps me anchored to a hospital bed. About 7:45 this morning, after the vampire has left with my blood samples, a pleasant lady shows up and introduces herself as the Director of Nursing.  She checks my ID bracelet and says, “Mr. Aitken, I understand you are well-known genealogist.  I have just started this fall in doing genealogy…”

So begins a new teaching adventure with people and places that can help me and I wonder if I can replace my ugly male nurses with more of my beautiful female nurses.

We discuss her present software needs and how to use 3 new websites.  Next time we’ll talk about online genealogy instruction.

So this continues….

More News from Room 337

Dear Friends and Readers,

The newest of my demise is greatly exaggerated.  The initial diagnoses of ALS is in doubt, though I remain a neurological enigma, like a beached whale.  I have new hopes of some positive changes over times, meanwhile I struggle with my apprentice/assistance to put together a book of case studies for use with discussion groups.  This keeps me from flirting with every nurse, but there is too much waste in times between work sessions, so I lie in my bed counting my blessings strange as it may seem.  I’ve a lot of blessings.  Your kind comments have been most supportive, thank you.

I still teach Genealogy 101.  I have 2 students, Allan and John.  They read me an article from NGSQ, and we discuss how the ideas and concepts applied to their researches.  If you drop in to room SP 337-2 some morning at Penticton Regional Hospital, we can do the same thing.  Of course, finding Penticton maybe a challenge, it’s a long way from Yellow Bayou, Mississippi, but head north and a little west into snow country in B.C.  I’ll be delighted to see you, and have you join me for an hour or so.  I could still use another helper with this book project.  Keep learning and keep teaching.

The Genealogy Clinic

I spotted a notice in a British genealogical publication that some noted professional genealogist was holding a surgery at a certain time or place. I smiled. My English cousins speak as peculiar a language as my American nieces and nephews, just not the same language. A surgery is an event where you can visit a specialist and discuss a problem or issue. In North American English we often use the term “clinic” the same way.

So what is a Genealogy Clinic and how could it be used? Continue reading

More News from the Third Floor

Word from my mother is that Ken is busy cracking jokes with the nurses and doctors and kidding around with the other patients in his room.  Sounds about right.  The addition of his motorized wheelchair lets him take his show to other rooms.

He says he is thankful for all the good care the doctors and nurcses have provided.  He’s currently in the Penticton Regional Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit right now, but as soon as the doctors think his condition has stabilized, he will be moving into a long term care home which better designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Be prepared to see him online again soon.  The doctors have approved his request and he should be able to be online as soon as next week.  So expect to see more posts from him and more email.   We’re exploring various options to make his efforts easier — voice-to-text software might be one option.  Given he’s always been a 3 finger typist, you might not notice too much difference in speed!  He looks forward to working on his current book project and will provide his own updates in the future.

My father (and the rest of the family) appreciate all the emails and comments you have sent.  Thank you for all your support and prayers.

The Hermit Poet

Where is Ken?

Ken has gone into the hospital for further treatment and testing for ALS, the effects of which he has been dealing with for the last 8 months.  More information about ALS can be found here.
Although he will no longer be posting entries, your comments are always most welcome.

The Hermit Poet

Blogs in Marketing Your Gen Ed Business


I use WordPress for this blog. Many have asked how to learn more about it. There is a little video talking about why you should use for your blog. Take a look. You can see it here.