How Do I Know What I Don’t Know? (Part 3: Genealogy Institutes) 2


Genealogy Institutes (as mentioned in previous posts here and here) are more intense and focused than genealogy conferences and usually last a week or more. The way most institutes work is that you select your course of study and each preselected class you take relates to that course. For example, if you attend the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) and select Intermediate Genealogy Studies as your course of study, you take about 20 classes over the course of the week. Those classes might include Federal Land Records, Onomatology, and Advanced Bibliography. Similar to conferences, expert instructors teach the classes in each specific topic area.

Typical institute classroom size (taken at IGHR 2016) Photo credit: Jenny Lanctot

Typical institute classroom size (taken at IGHR 2016) Photo credit: Jenny Lanctot

Each institute is a little different, but offers multiple courses of study each year. Enrollment is limited to 20 or so people per course, creating a much more intimate setting than a conference. Because of this, most courses fill up quickly at all the institutes. If you’ve made the decision to attend, make sure you know get registered before it sells out.

Unlike conferences, you can attend an institute year after year and not hear the same thing you heard before. You may encounter some of the same instructors, but the class and the presentation will be completely different.

Cost is definitely a factor when considering an institute. Some institutes can cost anywhere from $400 to $600. Once you add in travel, food, and lodging expenses, the institutes can get quite pricey. I won’t lie. It’s a commitment, for sure. If you can find an institute near your home, or at least within driving distance, I would try that one first. After a cursory search, I found genealogy institutes in:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah (SLIG – Jan/Feb)
  • Athens, Georgia (IGHR – June)
  • Baltimore, Maryland (GedFed – July)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (GRIP – June & July)

The biggest benefit (in my opinion) to a genealogy institute is the time you get to spend with fellow genealogists. Maybe you can chip away at a brick wall while having a casual discussion about immigration records over breakfast or lunch with your table-mates. Maybe one of the ancestors you use as an example in your homework is also an ancestor of a classmate. Stranger things have happened. There are typically one or two optional after-hours sessions on topics that may or may not be in your chosen area of study. These are usually free and allow you another opportunity to mingle with other genealogists.

Recently, we’ve seen the addition of “virtual” institutes, which occur in an online format. In my experience, the online institutes – while definitely less expensive – lack some of the qualities I look for in an institute: unfettered access to the instructor during class, meeting other attendees, and the extended instruction. The courses vary and are available year-round. The cost is less than $75 per class, but is only for 6 hours of online instruction. Of course, you could pay extra and receive individual feedback on your assignments and an extra hour of instruction (but if you’re paying for an institute, shouldn’t you already be getting feedback on your assignments?). Obviously, costs are reduced with a virtual conference because it eliminates the expense of travel, food, and lodging.

Materials provided at institute Photo credit: Jenny Lanctot

Materials provided at institute Photo credit: Jenny Lanctot

If you are interested in keeping up with the various educational opportunities available to genealogists, you might check out Angela McGhie’s blog Adventures in Genealogy Education. Angela was the administrator for the ProGen Study Group Program, coordinator for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), and is currently the coordinator for the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR). She knows a thing or two about genealogy education.

In the next post, we’ll go online and talk about webinars and other online learning options.


About Jenny Lanctot

Jenny Lanctot is a paralegal, genealogist, and writer. In addition to her regular column Getting Started in IDG’s digital magazine Going In-Depth, she writes her personal blog Are My Roots Showing? and is a regular contributor to the FGS Voice blog. Her articles have appeared in the Florida State Genealogical Society newsletter Florida Lines and the Chattanooga Delta Genealogy Society quarterly Southern Roots & Shoots.

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