Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS Home Study Course

Last year, in an effort to more formally educate myself in the field of genealogy, I signed up for the National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) Home Study Course (HSC).  After taking their free (to members) basic online courses (more like basic readiness tests), I felt confident that I was ready to start moving onto to the HSC.

I had read a lot about the Home Study Course on various mailing lists and websites.  Before I signed up for the course, I searched blogs, forums and websites for more information.  Almost everything that I read was positive, and almost everyone recommended it as a good beginner course.

In a series of “Tuesday Teachings” posts, I’ll share with you my experience with taking the course.  In this first post, I’ll give a quick overview.

What’s included: 
  • CD: The course is broken down into fourteen lessons, spread out over three CDs.  I ordered the “Graded” version of the first CD.  The graded version of the course means that real, live, actual people will be looking at your work and giving you feedback.  While feedback is sometimes difficult to receive, I think this is the best benefit of the course.  Without feedback, there’s no real way to learn what you’re doing well, and not so well.

  • Paperwork:  There were a few sheets of paper included with the CD.  The most important one included my student number.  The student number is used on all correspondence with the NGS folks who handle the course; so that they know which student they are working with.  There was also an update to one of the lessons, which, unfortunately, I had forgotten by the time I worked on that lesson.

  • Mailing List: Involvement in the course also gives students access to an online mailing list that other students and some of the course graders subscribe to.  In all honesty, I haven’t found the list that useful.  There are no archives of past messages, so you can’t search for the answer to a question before you ask it.  This leads to the same questions being asked over and over again, which leads to members who have been on the list getting frustrated and answering the questions with posts like “This was covered a month ago on this list.”  That makes it difficult for students who haven’t been following the list.  Despite that, there are people on the list who are very open and helpful.

The Process:
 The general process of completing an assignment goes like this:
  1. Read the lesson material on the CD 
  2. Work on the lesson assignments
  3. Submit your work to the NGS HSC administrator
  4. Wait for your work to be reviewed
  5. Receive your work back with either a “Pass” or “Resubmit” grade
  6. Review the grader’s comments
  7. If necessary, fix your work and resubmit it for the grader to look over again.
One nice thing is that you can submit your work in PDF form via email.  In theory it helps with the turn-around time between your submission and your returned grade.  I’ve found the average time of return to be a couple of weeks or more, depending on what’s going on in the genealogical world at the time (National conferences, for instance, will slow things down as graders are usually away).

At the time of this writing, I’m working on lesson six, the last lesson of the first CD.  Overall, I’ve found the course useful in helping me learn to be more disciplined in my research.  I’ve found that some of the lessons need to be updated, as they are not clear, or may be out of date, but the basics are there.  NGS is apparently working to revamp the course, though no details have been released that I know of.  It took me a while to adjust to the idea of doing an assignment without having an instructor available to ask questions of first (in theory that’s what the mailing list is for), but I have found the feedback I’ve received to be very good.  I’ve had a few “resubmit” grades, but mostly for minor issues such as citation format.  These are easily fixed and resubmitted, and that knowledge can be carried on to the next lesson.

For those who may be thinking about taking the course, I’d say go ahead and do it.  I’m glad that I did.  While it does have some flaws, I think the overall lessons are good, and some of the future lessons will take me out of my comfort zone of “Internet Genealogy” and into resources that I’m just beginning to become familiar with.  I look forward to finishing CD 1, purchasing CD 2, and seeing what the HSC folks at NGS come up with in the updated version of the course.

To see more about the NGS Home Study Course, see my other posts:


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I've been debating doing the HSC for a few years. Like you, everything I've seen has been positive, but I don't remember anyone really talking about the process and how it all works for the "graded" course. I look forward your future posts on the subject.

  2. Thanks very much for posting this blog. I plan to take a genealogy course during 2013 and the NGS course is one of my options. I appreciate your overview of the program. I learned a lot from your blog -- that there is a member course you could take to ensure you are prepared. I also have a desire to improve my discipline in the area of genealogy family research.