Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS-HSC Lesson 3

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my experience with taking the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course.  In past posts I gave an Overview of the Course, and then wrote about Lesson 1 and Lesson 2.  Here I’ll cover Lesson 3.

Lesson 3 is about communication.  In particular, the lesson’s focus is on the querying side of communication.  That is, asking questions to receive information as opposed to reporting information back to someone.

As genealogists, we are often looking for information that others may have.  As such, it’s important that we are able to clearly and concisely ask for the information that we are seeking.

The first assignment of the lesson is to create an interview plan.  The plan states who the person so be interviewed is, why they should be interviewed, what questions may be asked, and how the interview is to be recorded.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not comfortable interviewing people.  Keep in mind that the goal of this lesson is to create an interview plan.  Actually carrying out the interview, or not, is really up to the student.

In my case, I focused my interview plan around my wife’s aunt.  I chose her as I know that she has an interest in family history, grew up in the area that I was researching, and has done some genealogy work herself.  She also lives near the cemetery where many of her family are buried, so I planned my interview as if I’d be talking to her both in her home, and while taking a walking tour through the cemetery.  I came up with a list of nine interview questions, starting with her memories of childhood, moving onto her memories or stories of her grandparents, then moving outward to other or older branches of the family.  In my interview plan I noted that I would plan on recording the conversation using a digital voice recorder, written notes, and drawings of the cemetery, all to be compiled and put into a digital format after the interview.

The second assignment of the lesson was similar to the first, except that the form of communication was a written letter instead of an oral interview.  Like the first assignment, the goal is to write the letter.  Sending the letter is then up to the student.

For assignment two, I wrote a short formal letter to a family historical society, asking if they might have, somewhere in their archives, information regarding why an ancestor of mine may have moved from Vermont to Ohio.  I provided birth, marriage and death information that I had.  My goal for the letter was to ask a single question that an archivist could answer without needed to do unnecessary research.

My final letter ended up being only a couple of short paragraphs long.  The grader for the assignment commented that my letter was clear and should elicit a positive response from the recipient.

The third and final assignment for this lesson was to write a short genealogical query that could be used in a publication.  The idea behind this assignment was to ask a concise question using very few words.  Most publications have a standard that they use for these sorts of queries.  For my assignment, I chose to use a limitation of 50 characters as specified by the guidelines of the Vermont Genealogical Society.  The query (which I’m actually still looking for an answer to) was as follows:

JENKINS: Seek birth place of Charles Wesley JENKINS, b. circa 1840, Indiana. Married Laura A. DERBY (b. circa 1842, Grafton, VT). Children include Ida JENKINS (b. circa 1867, VT) and Minnie Laura JENKINS (b. 27 Sept 1872, Peru, VT). Elroy Davis, P.O. Box 184, Manchester, VT 05254, e-mail:

I found Lesson 3 very useful.  Though I haven’t interviewed my wife’s aunt (yet), or sent my letter, I did find that the process of creating the questions helped me focus on exactly what information I was looking for.

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