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Free Online Classes Help People Climb Their Family Tree

Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, and new online classes from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make it easier than ever to search for your ancestors from the comfort of your own home.

Through the nonprofit FamilySearch organization, the Church provides records and resources to help people with their family history. This effort stems from the Latter-day Saint belief that families can be together after this life, but the Church provides access to genealogical information to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. These offerings now include a growing collection of free online classes that anyone can access on the Internet at their convenience. These classes help people get started in genealogy, learn how to use different types of records or research in a specific area.

FamilySearch instructional designer Candace Turpin says there are currently about 140 classes available on the website, and that number is growing every month. The variety of classes offers something for everyone, from experienced family historians to curious novices.

“The goal of the initiative is to educate more people worldwide about how to find their ancestors,” Turpin said. “We do it by filming the experts teaching a particular class of interest and then offering free access to that presentation online — complete with the PowerPoint used and any electronic handouts that the user can download or print for future reference.”

FamilySearch uses viewing software that splits the viewing screen (sort of like the picture-in-picture features on some smart televisions) so the user can watch the video of the presenter while also seeing the PowerPoint presentation. Most courses are 30 minutes in length. Unlike live classes, viewers can fast forward through the online course or pause or stop and finish watching it later.

One woman who took an online class in German research gave this feedback: “This video was beyond outstanding! I learned SO much and I'm walking away with 10 pages of notes. Both sides of my family come from different countries and most have passed on, making my search difficult and very frustrating. After watching this video I am energized and enthusiastic about continuing with my research. I'm so excited!”

Many of the classes are taught by experts at the world-famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but Turpin says an important part of the program is to partner with other libraries, genealogical societies and individual genealogists.

“We realize that FamilySearch does not have expertise in every area, nor do we have the bandwidth to create all the training that is needed,” Turpin said. “There are many individuals and organizations that have already created excellent training but may not have the resources to record and publish their classes. So, working together is the perfect solution.”

Currently, there are classes on family history research in England, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and Russia. Most of the classes are available only in English, but there are three classes available in Spanish. There are also topic-specific classes, such as U.S. courthouse research, military records and using maps in genealogy.

Not all of the classes are exclusive to genealogy. For example, there is one class that talks about symbolism and art in cemeteries. There are also courses that help students understand different languages, such as Spanish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and even Scandinavian Gothic.

Some of the offerings coming in the next couple of months include interactive beginning research classes for Germany and the U.S. Midwest, as well as a new videocast called “5-Minute Genealogy” that offers quick tips on learning about your ancestors.  

In addition to these online resources, FamilySearch continues to offer in-person help through classes at the Family History Library and at local family history centers  around the world.

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