I get a lot of email from beginning genealogists. They often wonder how to get started on a limited budget. They want to know what’s worth the cost for a beginner.
Here’s what I think: One of the best ways you can spend your money as a beginner is on a National Genealogical Society (NGS) membership. I know that’s not very edgy of me, but you know what? It’s $60. You’re going to get your money’s worth. Here’s why:
- The NGS Quarterly. If you want to know how people who know what they’re doing do genealogical research, this is the thing to read. How-to books are great, but case studies are where you you see all of that how-to stuff applied to actual dead people. You’ll also see how source citations work in real life. The NGSQ is worth the membership fee all by itself (and if you’re a member, you have access to years and years worth of back issues for free).
- The NGS Magazine. This comes out quarterly too, but it’s less scholarly than the NGSQ. To be honest, the magazine used to suck (or at least, it went through a period of suckage in the mid-2000s). I stopped reading it then, and I let the issues pile up. Lately I’ve been working through a backlog dating back to 2007 (no kidding, TWO THOUSAND SEVEN). I don’t know what the back story is, but somebody un-sucked it, and now it’s really good. There’s stuff in there for people from beginner to expert, by authors who know what they’re doing (including some you may recognize from the genealogy blog scene; Harold Henderson had a great piece in the most recent issue).
- The educational stuff. Can’t afford to go to a conference? Me neither. NGS has all kinds of classes you can take, and they’re not for cream puffs. I’m doing the NGS Home Study Course right now (well, if we define “doing” as “I’ve bought it and I’ve completed lesson one and now it’s been sitting on my desk for months waiting for me to have time to continue.”) I thought it would be easy and I could just breeze through it while watching Dinosaur Train with my kids. Nope. I’ve been doing research a long time, and there’s definitely plenty there to challenge me. You get a discount on it if you’re a member, and NGS has other stand-alone courses too (and those are offered online, unlike the NGS Home Study Course, which is still on the little retro thingies called CDs, which…ugh). Their educational offerings have improved a lot in the past few years.
- The Discounts. They have ‘em. In fact, I didn’t realize this until I went to write this post and looked, but they offer discounts on Footnote.com subscriptions. I probably would have known if I hadn’t been letting the NGS Magazines pile up since 2007. You can get a discount on other stuff too, including the Boston University certificate program, which I plan to do when my youngest kid starts school. If you ever DO get to an NGS conference, members get a discount on registration. There’s also a member discount at the NGS bookstore too, which has the excellent (and cheap) Research in the States series.
- The Videos. Here’s a confession: I’m a total Helen Leary fangirl. When NGS started making these nice videos featuring various members of the genealogy glitterati, I was mildly interested…but when they came out with the Helen Leary ones, I was glued to the screen (because I am a huge dork). They’ve added to the video series since then, and there are all kinds of good ones now. The one released today, featuring Pamela Boyer Sayre…well, if you can watch that without needing a box of Kleenex, you’re probably not human, and you’re definitely not a genealogist (and it really speaks to a point I’ve been periodically trying to make for some time, which is the idea that genealogy is good for people with screwed-up families). I think some of the videos are available to anyone, but they’re released to members first. Once you get your membership, check ‘em out.
That’s a lot of stuff for $60. Join. It’s totally worth it.
DISCLAIMER: Nobody paid me or asked me to say any of this. I have no connection to NGS except as a member. In fact, by posting this I’m probably disappointing the person who described me last week as “anti-establishment.” Sorry dude.
Photo by peasap