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5 Ways to Educate Yourself to Break Down Brick Walls on a Budget

Genealogy research often begins with a simple curiosity about our family's past and, at least at first, it is fairly easy to uncover the stories of our ancestors. However, as we delve further into our research, we encounter challenges that may require a deeper understanding of genealogical methods and resources. In this guide, we'll explore how to enrich our genealogical education while being mindful of our budget, empowering ourselves to overcome obstacles and break down genealogy brick walls.

The Value of Education in Genealogy
Genealogy is more than just tracing names and dates; it's about understanding the lives and experiences of our ancestors. Education plays a crucial role in this pursuit. We can equip ourselves with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate complex research questions and uncover those hidden family secrets. Whether we're just starting our genealogical journey or seeking to refine our research skills, investing in education can significantly enhance our ability to unravel the mysteries of the past.

Breaking Down Brick Walls Through Education
Education not only enhances our research skills but also empowers us to tackle genealogy brick walls with confidence and creativity. By acquiring a deeper understanding of genealogical methodologies, record types, and historical contexts, we can approach challenging research problems with a strategic mindset and increase our chances of success.

Try this 2-step (& frugal) strategy for education
1) Think about and decide what you want to learn. Write that down like this: “I want to learn about how the enumerators were instructed to take the censuses” or “I need to learn how to conduct collateral relative research.” Or maybe you saw a class or institute you’d like to attend. Because those have course descriptions that are published before registration opens with a list of what will be taught along with who is teaching, that is written out for you (just print out the list they publish). No matter what it is you want to learn, write it out and that becomes a checklist of education for you.

2) Start searching for those same topics being taught elsewhere for free or at lower costs by the speakers and instructors you want. The strategy here is to find less expensive but just as good substitutes. Then, start attending these one-off lectures and seminars to begin checking things off that checklist you made. Before long, you will educate yourself WELL about the very thing that appeared to be out of reach due to the cost of attending.

Why does this strategy work?
If it is a topic you want (like “how to search census records” or “advanced methods for using collateral relative research,”) you can find many, many places where that same topic will be taught - maybe by different people.

But if it is a specific class that you want to attend with a specific instructor… you’re in luck there, too. No one instructor knows EVERYTHING. They tend to specialize. They know a LOT about their area of expertise. And that knowledge base is what they pull from to create an institute lecture or a webinar for a local society. Most specialize in a few topics and they reuse their knowledge over and over. They repackage the same information for different audiences. They can give a one-hour presentation or a five-day course on the same topic. (Now, this is a good thing. If they tried to teach us about a lot of different topics, we would not learn as much. You’ve heard the expression “he knows a little about at lot of things…. well, in genealogy, we really need to learn from someone who has deep knowledge… they know a LOT about the specific topic or two they specialize in.)

What this means for us is that we can strategically choose alternatives to expensive classes and (eventually) get the same info.

Here are some typical ways to find items on your education wish list.

Genealogy Calendars

Utilize Free Online Resources
The internet is a treasure trove of genealogical resources, with many websites offering free educational materials. Did you know that platforms like FamilySearch, Ancestry, and MyHeritage provide access to tutorials, webinars, and online courses? Plus, YouTube is also a free resource that many genealogy speakers, societies, and institutions utilize to share educational videos. All these sources cover a wide range of topics, from basic research techniques to advanced methodologies. Take advantage of these resources to build a solid foundation of genealogical knowledge without spending a dime.

Attend Local Genealogy Society Meetings
Local genealogy societies are invaluable resources for both novice and experienced researchers. Many societies host regular meetings featuring guest speakers who share their expertise on specific genealogical topics. These events provide an excellent opportunity to learn from experienced researchers. Many live webinars are provided for free to anyone who wants to attend. And to access the archives of past webinars, membership fees are often nominal, making it an affordable option for budget-conscious genealogists.

Explore Public Libraries and Archives
Public libraries and archives are rich repositories of genealogical records and resources. From historical newspapers to local history books, these institutions offer a wealth of information that can educate you on any genealogy topic you seek. Additionally, many archives offer free workshops and lectures on genealogy-related topics, providing further opportunities for education at little to no cost.

Seek Out Regional Conferences and Workshops
While national genealogy conferences and institutes offer unparalleled opportunities for education and networking, they can also come with a hefty price tag. Instead, consider attending regional conferences and workshops, which often provide quality education at a fraction of the cost. These smaller-scale events feature knowledgeable speakers and hands-on learning experiences tailored to local research interests, making them an affordable alternative for budget-conscious genealogists.

Find Inexpensive Alternatives to Formal Education
Is there an expensive national institute class you’d like to take but can’t justify the expenditure? There is another way to get the same education for a fraction of the cost. Now, it will take an investment of time and effort, but you’ll save hundreds in tuition and thousands in travel. Using the same 2-step strategy mentioned at the top of the article, you can use the course descriptions that are published before registration opens as a checklist of the topis and speakers you want.

Before long, you will educate yourself well about the same institute course material you previously assumed was out of reach due to the cost of attending. Truthfully, it is also wise to execute this type of education plan because an institute can be a bit overwhelming since it is so much info in a short time. By picking up the knowledge a little along, you give your brain the opportunity to process it more slowly and thoroughly.

In the world of genealogy, education is key to unlocking new discoveries and overcoming research challenges. By adopting frugal strategies for education and leveraging inexpensive alternatives to formal programs, we can empower ourselves to become more knowledgeable and skilled researchers without straining our budgets. Remember, the pursuit of genealogical knowledge is a lifelong journey, and every opportunity to learn and grow brings us closer to unraveling the mysteries of the past. With dedication, resourcefulness, and a commitment to lifelong learning, we can break down genealogy brick walls and uncover the stories of our ancestors with confidence and efficiency.


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Thanks for the shout out Kim! I love using the Google calendar, as it overlays onto anyone's Google calendar and you can easily see all the events for any given day.

Replying to

It's extremely useful and practical! Love it! Thank you for doing it!

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