Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS-HSC Lesson 1

A couple of weeks ago I gave a quick overview of the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course, which I’ve been working on for the last year or so.  As I mentioned in that post, there are both good and bad points to the course.  Lesson 1 is an example.

The lesson itself is pretty straight-forward.  The goal is to introduce the field of genealogy, including standards for recording and communicating information.  The assignments are fairly simple.  First, fill out and document a pedigree chart.  Second, fill out and document a family group sheet.  Easy right?

It would seem easy, but this lesson, which unfortunately is an introduction to the course, causes a lot of confusion for many people.  The confusion is not so much within the lesson, or the goals of the lesson, but more in what, exactly, a student should send in when they submit their completed assignments.

The confusion, I think, lies in this statement in the instructions for the assignment:

“Be sure to include the source or sources for every item of information, using correct citation form as described, with examples, in Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills or as described in The Chicago Manual of Style.”[1]

Reading through my copy of Evidence! Citation & analysis for the Family Historian, also by Elizabeth Shown Mills, it was clear to me that a source was a physical thing that I was obtaining evidence from.  Books, manuscripts, microfilms, people, etc., are sources.  A citation was a recorded note describing what source I had used.

This is where I, and other students apparently, became confused.  The lesson assignment clearly states “…include the source or sources for every item of information…”  When I submitted my assignment, I also included cited copies of the documents that I used as sources.  When the lesson was returned, the grader noted that it was not necessary to send copies of the documents, only citations of the documents were required.

When the question of what to include came up on the course mailing list, one subscriber responded with something along the lines of “just follow the instructions!”  My response to that was, “I did.”

It was at this point that I realized that I, and others, had read the assignment too literally.  We included sources, when the assignment had really meant source citations.

This is one example of where the course could be improved with a couple of wording changes.  If the instructions clearly said citations, the number of questions to the course’s mailing list would drop, and the number of people doing more work than necessary would decrease.  As I mentioned in the other post, the course’s mailing list is not archived, so the answer to the question “Should I include copies of all of my sources when I submit my assignment?” keeps being asked, and answered, over and over again.

On a positive note, I did receive good feedback from the grader about my citations, and I passed the assignment with a single resubmit.

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

[1] Lesson 1, Written Assignments, American Genealogy: Home Study Course, National Genealogical Society, CD-ROM (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2009)


  1. So, what do you gain from completing this course? Is it just teaching you how to do research? Or is it certifying you in some way?

  2. This course is mostly to learn research, records, and proper formats. I've heard that it is a good place to start for those who may be thinking about trying for certification in the future though. For me, it's helping solidify some of my self-taught methods, and forcing me to pay attention to details that I may have ignored in the past, such as citation formats.

  3. Thank you for writing about the NGS Home Study Course. I am an NGS member and have been thinking of doing the Home Study Course. By googling it, I found you!

    I noticed you have an ancestor who may or may not have been born in Indiana. I live in Indiana. Any idea what county he may have been born in?

  4. Unfortunately I don't have any information to lead me to a county. I have a couple of records that show his birth date as Indiana, but, based on the rest of his family, I think it's more likely that he was born in Vermont. If I find more information, I'll keep you in mind though. :)

  5. I googled for some information on the NGS HSC and found your site and I'm curious, how long did it take for you to get a response on your assignments? I'm working through the course too and have e-mailed my last two assignments but I'm anxiously waiting for a response before I turn in more. I'm glad you wrote about the lessons while taking them! I will come to your site when I'm in need of more clarification :)

  6. The return time of lessons varies wildly. My first lesson I think took about a month to be returned. There was a genealogy conference happening at the same time, so many of the volunteer graders were away. Generally the turn-around time for lessons has been a couple of weeks. I turned in Assignment #6 in June (two month ago) but still have not received feedback. I emailed the course administrator, who replied that my lesson had been received and is queue to be graded. The grading process of the course is one area that I believe could use improvement. Feedback sometimes take a long time to reach you, and the graders are anonymous, so if you have questions, you must funnel them back through the course administrator. It would be nice to be able to interact with the graders directly, just as you would an instructor in a classroom.