17 October 2011

NGS Home Study Course -- A Participant's Perspective -- Part 1

Susan Yockey, the National Genealogical Society Course Administrator, recently completed the NGS Home Study Course.  Over several posts, Susan will share with us her perspective on taking the course – her joys and frustrations – her trials and tribulations – her successes and what she learned about her ancestors and herself along the way.


Part 1

I enrolled in NGS’ Home Study Course in August 2009.  I’d always been interested in genealogy since I was a child.  However, it wasn’t until I had moved to the DC metro area in 1991 that I actually began my genealogical research.   The main focus of my research was my paternal grandmother, Virginia WOMBLE BLICKENSDERFER and her line.  She had always been a bit of a mysterious figure to me while I was growing up, because she had died when I was very young.  Shortly after her death, my grandfather remarried.  Out of respect to my grandfather’s new wife, my parents didn’t want me to talk about my grandmother in front of my step-grandmother.  

By the time that I began taking the course, I had accumulated a significant amount of documents and information on my grandmother’s family.  I had hit all of the genealogical facilities in the DC area and even gone on a couple of research trips where I visited courthouses, churches, cemeteries, and state archives.

What I noticed about the course is the gradual progression of difficulty in the lesson assignments.  The student can complete most of the early lessons without leaving their home.  By lesson 4, you are then required to leave your comfort zone and venture out into the world in order to complete the other lesson assignments.  For me, this is the purpose of genealogical research.  It’s impossible to perform an accurate and through research without visiting and researching an unfamiliar locale or time period.

I was able to breeze through Lesson 1’s first assignment, which requires you to fill out a pedigree chart.  When working on the second assignment’s family group sheet, I chose Virginia’s, father’s family because it was the one that I had done the most research on.  Also, the assignment asks that you include a source(s) for every item of information.  I could easily meet this requirement thanks to the amount of documents that I had accumulated over the years.

The assignments for lesson 2 were easy for me because I had already researched an oral tradition and because I had communicated my interest in the history of my paternal grandmother, my uncle gave me a number of memorabilia and papers of hers and her family’s.

Joseph Womble
The oral tradition I wrote about was the story of my great uncle Joseph WOMBLE’s untimely death in 1927 when he was in his mid-twenties.  At the time of researching the events leading up to his death, my father had told me that I wouldn’t find anything.  I proved him wrong by locating Joseph’s death certificate, a front-page newspaper article, which described the accident, and the coroner’s inquest.

Newspaper Article about Joseph Womble's Death
Lesson 3’s assignments were again fairly easy for me to complete.  I wrote up interview questions where I interviewed one of my uncles.  I had, of course, already written letters to some of Virginia’s relatives before, so this was easily composed.  I hadn’t written a query to a genealogical publication before, so this was new to me.  For that assignment, I closely followed the example given in the lesson and the example given in the assignment.

Here is where I’m forced out of my comfort zone.  I will confess here as to be someone who, unless the instant benefit of performing some task can be readily visualized by me, I have zero interest in doing it.  Coupled with the fact that I’ve spent half my life living up north, I find living in the DC metro area can be a little trying at times as I attempt to rationalize the history of the area.  Lesson 4’s assignment involves visiting a library nearby and finding out what historical and genealogical resources are available there.  It is mentioned in the instructions that your first choice should be a public library.

I chose to visit the Central Library where I live in Arlington, VA.   I already knew that the library had a Virginia Room, which I had visited a long time ago when I was researching my grandmother’s family.  Honestly, the Virginia Room held little interest for me because of my belief that I’m not going to find anything there that will further my research because none of the people I’m researching ever lived in this area.  I wanted to complete this lesson, so I went to the Virginia Room again.  My thinking was also that I might learn a little bit more about Arlington, which might be interesting.  I talked to the librarian there, which was great.  The assignment provides you with a list of items to look for at the library, and I went through it systematically as I explored the room. 

While I was working on my assignment, I happened to see a familiar book title.  I was shocked to find it in a library collection that purported to only focus on Virginia and Arlington County.  The book was Paul Heinegg’s Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina: from the colonial period to about 1820.  I knew this book from a visit I made to the Library of Congress.   I had found my 3rd great grandfather listed in this book.  I consider that to be a pretty big and surprising find for a white person.

After completing my survey of the library I felt that I’d gotten my feet wet by stepping out into the world of genealogical research and was able to look forward to tackling Lesson 5’s subject—Census Records.

Editor’s Note: You can learn more about the Home Study Course via the course syllabus or watch the video.

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