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Welcome to the course

Welcome to ‘Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree’ - a six-week online course being run by the Centre for Lifelong Learning’s Postgraduate Programme in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

Tahitia McCabe, Knowledge Exchange Fellow in Genealogical Studies at Strathclyde, will be leading us through the six weeks. Graham Holton, Principal Tutor in Genealogical Studies at Strathclyde will also be teaching on the course.

If you use social media you can follow us on Twitter @FLgenealogy and use the hashtag #FLgenealogy to follow the conversations.

We’d also be grateful if you could complete the pre-course survey to help us understand more about who’s taking the course and what we can do to improve it.

In Week 6, we provide a downloadable list of the linked resources (websites, blogs, etc.) mentioned on the entire course.

Throughout the course we will be following the development of a beginning family history researcher called Chris. So unlike some other FutureLearn courses, we open the course a week at a time to enable us to reflect on the progress she has made and also to give you time to digest the material. We also don’t want to spoil research discoveries made in Chris’ story by giving too much away too soon.

However, here is a week by week overview of what will be covered on the course:

Week 1 Analysing Documents

We will start our course by considering the different types of records that genealogists use, major issues that impact on what they contain and how much a researcher can rely on the information within them. We also provide a short guide on how to begin research for the complete beginner. After completing this week, you should begin to be familiar with:

  • The importance of basing your research on documented data rather than hearsay.
  • The differences between primary, secondary and derived primary sources and why knowing this can help your research process.
  • The importance of knowing who made the documents you are using, why and how they were created and why this can be useful to know.
  • What transcriptions, abstracts and indexes are and how they are created.

Week 2 Effective Searching Techniques

You begin to think about how to define what you are actually searching for and we’ll introduce some key ways to think laterally about searching for your family information. Topics to be covered are:

  • How to create a research plan and what an effective search looks like.
  • Different ways to approach research: FAN/cluster techniques and mind mapping
  • Getting to grips with spelling and name change issues
  • What primary source databases are and how get the best out of searching them, including wildcards.

Week 3 Using Major Source Types

We’ll introduce the main source types used by genealogists including civil, church, census and military records. While some country specific sources will be detailed, primarily we’ll give a sense of the typical type of data these records contain and how to use them in your research. We will also ‘visit’ a local archive and explore what they (and other archives) have to offer. A review of major international and some more local and specialised databases will be shared and we’ll consider how to evaluate databases.

Week 4 Genealogical Proof and DNA Testing

Genealogists need to be sure they have found the ‘right’ person and we will cover some of the techniques used to decide on the best match. Also important is how to know when you’ve done enough research to come to a reasonable decision on a match. We’ll also introduce the use of DNA testing in genealogical research. Topics to be covered are:

  • The principles of the Genealogical Proof Standard
  • How to establish proof
  • How to evaluate evidence
  • An introduction to genetic genealogy with some case studies on using it to break down brick walls.

Week 5 Putting your Research into Context

Week 5 sees the focus shift to sources that put the flesh on the bones of the family skeleton. It’s the historical and social context coming from using secondary and other sources that bring an ancestor to life. This week explores the sources that help genealogists provide this context; considers their quality and how to find them. Topics to be covered are:

  • Useful types of secondary sources: local histories, ‘regular’ books on history, historical magazines, film, etc.
  • Other sources of context: newspapers, maps, images
  • How to assess the quality of these types of sources
  • Finding these sources; useful online databases.

Week 6 Documenting and Communicating your Research Results and Sources

Week 6 introduces the main types of tools used by genealogists to store, track and analyse data along with an overview as to why such tools are useful. Paper based resources, genealogical software of various types and online tools will all be explored. We will explore what types of reports and charts are commonly used, different approaches to writing a family history and some specialist tools. Ways to protect your physical records and digital data will also be explored.

Genealogists need to provide evidence that the statements and assertions they make are based on documents and other types of resources so the use of referencing in genealogical reports and charts will be explained and we’ll discuss various systems of genealogical referencing.

We’re very happy to welcome all of you and hope that exciting discussions are generated throughout the course.

Prove what you’ve learned with a certificate

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement to prove what you’ve learned on this course.

This personalised certificate and transcript details the syllabus and learning outcomes, plus your average test score, making it ideal evidence of your interest in and understanding of this subject. The Certificate comes in both printed and digital formats, so you can easily add it to your portfolio, CV or LinkedIn profile.

To be eligible, you must mark at least 90% of the steps in this course as complete.

Alternatively, you can buy a Statement of Participation as a memento of taking part.

The money from the sale of Certificates and Statements supports the development of FutureLearn and free online courses.

Statement of Participation

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This article is from the free online course:

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

University of Strathclyde

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