Monday, January 18, 2010

Before You Enroll in the National Institute of Genealogical Studies (Some Practical Information for Prospective Students)

I have already completed one course at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. In summarizing the helpful information I have learned, both about NIGS in general and about genealogy, I found that it would be best to split this information into two posts. In the future, I will be able to spread my posts out over the course of completing a class.

In this first post, I will describe some information that will be helpful to prospective students of the Institute, including some of the practical considerations that need to be addressed before a student can start his or her studies.

First, a few notes about taking courses via the NIGS website: the Institute's website is relatively simple to navigate. The designers seem to have chosen a simple, no-frills design for the website in order to cater to students who may be less Internet-savvy, as there are some students who had previously taken only correspondence courses with the Institute. Instructions for submitting assignments and communicating with professors are clearly provided with course material. I would strongly suggest visiting the Help section of the website in order to become familiar with their registration process, class schedule and procedures.

After you are comfortable with how NIGS works, it is important for you, as a potential student, to know your goals in taking genealogy classes. Are you looking to perfect a specific skill? Are you just seeking some general knowledge about genealogy, for your personal research? Or do you want to obtain a certificate in Genealogical Studies in order to begin or enhance a career in genealogy? The programs at NIGS can cater to any of these goals, but you need define what you want out of studying at NIGS before you can know what classes to take.

If you are looking to perfect a specific skill, the Institute offers many classes that can serve as “stand-alones” for this purpose. Some helpful classes to take for any researcher are “Electronic Resources: Using The Internet,” “Research at Family History Centers,” and the beginning Methodology courses, which contain very helpful information about the basics of research planning, organization, and general good practices. For more experienced researchers, courses are available in genetics, copyright, and paleography as they relate to genealogy. There are also several basic research courses in the country-specific electives; if you just need to brush up on your German, or you need to learn more about where to obtain vital records in Ireland, this is the course list you want.

If you'd like to take a few basic courses about genealogy in order to begin or organize your own research, the package of five basic courses is the way to go (under Courses- Packages- "All Countries - Basic Level-5 Courses"). This includes two methodology courses. These teach vital skills for planning, executing, and organizing your research; skills which will save you a great deal of time and frustration down the road. It also includes the electronic resources and Family History Center courses, as well as an analysis and mentoring program. The “All Countries” (general skills courses) are also available in intermediate and advanced packages if you wish to continue to enhance these skills.

If you want to obtain a genealogy certificate, you'll need to take at least all of the classes listed above (the “All Countries” courses, basic, intermediate and advanced) in order to receive a General Methodology certificate. This is a total of 14 six-week courses. You may take as many courses as you wish at one time. To obtain a country-specific certificate, you must complete 40 courses, including the 14 from the General Methodology certificate. Many of these courses (usually around 11) are electives of your choice. The country-specific certificates available are American, Canadian, English, German, Irish and Scottish Records.

For those in library professions who are responsible for genealogical collections, a Librarianship certificate is available. There are 10 courses in Librarianship to complete for this certificate, as well as 2 elective course. These courses do not include the courses in the General Methodology and country-specific certificates.

Now for what may be many students' most important consideration in this difficult time – how much does it cost? Currently, each course offered through NIGS costs $89 (US). Required course material can also be purchased, but it is available online for students to print out after the start date of a course. Course materials that are optional can be purchased through the Institute's online store. While it is completely up to you whether to purchase these materials, they are often very helpful, and if the last books you had to buy for school were as a college student (like me), you'll probably be surprised at how little most of those materials cost.

Please note that you do not have to purchase these courses individually. You can save some money by purchasing several classes in a package. You do not have to take all the courses in the package at one time; you may register for classes you have paid for at your own pace. There are many packages available; most relate to required courses for certificates, but there are also some “pick your own” packages available.

In my own studies, I will be obtaining a General Methodology certificate first, then a certificate in German records. Hopefully, when I am finished with the General Methodology certificate, I can become certified by BCG and start my career. Therefore, I think that I can provide some helpful information about the courses at NIGS, no matter what your ultimate goal is as a student.

I apologize for the length of this post – I just kept thinking of things that would have been helpful for me to know before I started at NIGS. I hope that this provides useful info for those of you thinking about studying at NIGS – please let me know if there is any other general info I can provide.

In my next post, I will describe my personal experiences and growth as a student during my first class at NIGS: Methodology Part 1: Getting Started.


  1. Thanks for sharing, I have been thinking about additional training.

  2. Thanks Amy - I'm mostly taking basic courses at this point, but there are a lot of valuable professional development courses available.