Unless you’re a professional genealogist, you’ve probably learned most of what you know about family history research from…well…doing research. Most of us jumped into our family trees when we began our genealogy journey and never looked back, learning the ropes as we went. We never even considered taking a genealogy class.
And the truth is, if you’re a hobby genealogist, you can probably get away without taking an online course. You’ll discover a good deal of what you really need to know as you dig deeper and deeper into the records, ask questions and seek answers.
But just because you don’t absolutely need a course doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take one. A well-structured genealogy class that covers modern research methods can open your eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. Even the savviest family historian stands to learn new research techniques from a knowledgeable teacher and quality materials.
This is especially true if you’re in need of some inspiration, a new perspective in your research, or help on a specific topic. And, truth be told, many of us miss the opportunity to develop really important skills – like how to cite our sources, overcome brick walls, or avoid copying incorrect information – if we don’t seek out guidance from the experts.
Where to Find Paid and Free Genealogy Courses Online
Below are five great options for learning more about family history online. Some of these options are webinar-style, or offered in single or multiple videos, while others are text-based and include hands-on activities, workbooks, quizzes and more.
There’s a reason FamilySearch tops many lists we create here on Family History Daily, they offer the most extensive free genealogy site in the world. Their learning center is no less impressive. With a massive selection of quality courses on nearly every topic and location imaginable, you’re certain to find something of interest here. Many of these courses are offered as a single webinar-style video, or multiple videos, and don’t offer activities or lessons.
Most of us think of Ancestry as a paid resource, but they do offer a variety of helpful freebies, including a vast learning center. Some (but not all) of the webinars and resources place a focus on finding records on Ancestry.com, but are still helpful for general research. Again, these are videos without any associated exercises.
While not free, Family History Daily offers lifetime access to self-paced, online genealogy courses that cover dozens of topics. The courses and lessons were designed by experts for family history hobbyists and are easy to follow, while also including a wide selection of very advanced research methods. Every section includes helpful hands-on activities and quizzes so you can put the techniques to use in your own tree, no matter your research level.
Like Family History Daily, NGS offers online courses that resemble a class you may take in person, with lessons quizzes and activities – but they are not free of charge. They used to offer a basic course for free to members, but this is no longer available. If you’re a member of the NGS you can now take their full courses at a reduced price. The annual fee is $75 for an individual and includes many benefits. The family history classes are priced individually and are in addition to this fee.
From army musters to medieval record research, the UK National Archives has many media offerings for genealogists and they’re all free and easy to access right on their website. Like with FamilySearch, the courses are video based and do not include activities or quizzes.
Boston University is the only one on this list of offer a professional certificate in genealogical studies, as well as a professional-level course in genealogy principles and another in practicum. These courses, while costing a great deal more than the others on this list, are highly respected. However, they are only appropriate for those who have some past experience and who want to invest significant time (up to 20 hours per week) in developing professional research skills.
You might be surprised by how many brilliant online tutorials, courses and quick tips on family history can be found on YouTube. A simple search for “genealogy how-to” offers thousands of results and includes offerings from top experts, genealogy research sites and government repositories–including videos from the US National Archives. So, whether you’re looking for help on conducting German genealogy or are in need of some family history basics, this is a great place to start – especially if you’re looking for free options.
What to Look for When Choosing an Online Genealogy Course
Is it a respected source?
When selecting courses, you will always want to look for ones that are created by well-respected websites, organizations and individuals – whether that’s a favorite site where you regularly find useful articles and guides, or a government or nonprofit organization providing classes to help the public find their ancestors. The courses recommended in this article all come from respected sources so they are a great start.
Are the topics going to help you?
Next, you’ll want to consider the topics being covered. Do they match the level you are at in your research (beginner vs intermediate vs advanced) and do the lessons include topics that are going to help you grow and improve your specific family tree.
You’re not losing anything if you dive into some free videos but, if you decide to pay for courses, you’ll want to be sure you won’t be in over your head. Avoid signing up for a professional-level research course if you’re a hobbyist, for instance, and instead look for courses that are designed to help amateur family historians find more records and build a better tree.
Many genealogy courses offer help with techniques that can be used at any stage of the research journey, and in any time period or location, but some focus on research skills that may not be particularly helpful in your current journey. Getting bogged down in too many lessons that don’t relate to your own research can become overwhelming and make it harder to discover the information you need.
How is the class structured?
Finally, always consider how the course you are considering is structured. Is it fully online? Is it self-paced or are there attendance times you need to consider? If it is self-paced, how long will you have access for when you sign up?
If the course isn’t free, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be getting enough time (based on your own schedule) to complete the activities and make the most of your registration. Many free courses and webinars only offer information, with no activities to help make the most of the techniques presented, so this may be a reason to chose a paid course that has a step-by-step structure you can follow and apply to your research. It’s worth paying for a course if you will get a structured class-like experience, well-researched professional help and skills that will ultimately save you money.
Image: United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration training center, University of Maryland. College Park, Maryland. 1944 Library of Congress