I am finishing up the genealogical research certificate program at Boston University this week and I’ve had several people both online and offline ask me what I thought about the program now that I’ve just got 2 days left to go. I thought I’d post it here for other people who’ve wondered the same thing. Nothing I’m saying here will be a surprise to BU’s instructors or program directors because we fill out a survey after each module and then one at the course completion so any “issue” I may talk about here, I’ve written about to them as well.
If you’ve done years of genealogy research, not just clicking the waving leaf on Ancestry but true research, then you’ll probably do really well. This class was not the basics and I’d highly recommend that you have some decent experience under your belt when you enroll but by no means do you need to be a pro. (I mean, that’s what you’re there learning for!) It wasn’t particularly hard, but it was definitely more than the projected 20 hours a week of work. EVERY single day, I was doing some research or writing. It was just weeks of papers, citations and more citations! I didn’t think it was particularly difficult stuff but I’ve been doing this awhile now. Some people did say they struggled but I’m not sure what their experience was coming into the course. However much I thought I knew already, there were surprisingly some new things I learned along the way.
I wasn’t really strong with looking at immigration records and searching passenger manifests so that lesson was extremely helpful since a good portion of my family immigrated from Ireland, England, Germany and France at some point. Now I can go back with fresh eyes and look for those missing documents to fill in parts of their stories. I also received a great lesson in land deeds. It was easy to follow Revolutionary War land grants post-war when most of my family headed West to the Ohio Valley but I didn’t realize how in-depth these deed records can go by describing neighbors and physical landmarks. It was so fascinating to examine these records using new techniques to trace them back several generations and watch the land transfer hands multiple times. I never had an appreciation for the information contained in them before and this just opened my eyes to how much I’d have missed by ignoring those records. They’re not tantalizing by any means, but they certainly are interesting once you get into them.
I did NOT enjoy the majority of the forensic module. The one part of our module was looking at femur measurements and garment material descriptions in a Jane Doe case. To me, that seems like something an anthropologist or pathologist should be doing. Like someone at the FBI is probably a specialist in “high heeled wedge sandals from the 1970s” so why am I looking at it as a genealogist? I was born in 1974 so I really couldn’t add much to the discussion either about if Wonder Bras were sold in the USA during the 70’s. But to me, that kind of work is something a very specialized/trained person would do. The cops aren’t going to find a dead person and go “Well, someone call the genealogist! We got a mystery on our hands!” You know what I mean? I know there have been cases where genealogist HAVE solved cold cases but I have to wonder, what was the training they had prior? Were they medical, law enforcement, lawyers? I don’t feel like the average hobby genealogist is breaking any cases wide open. That’s just my feelings on that. *shrug*
I did enjoy the forensic portion where we looked at an old photograph and had to identify the family members and such. I found that to be quite relevant and informative. By looking at their dress, the surroundings (like a 48 star flag to help date the event) and such… it was something I hadn’t done before so it was pretty fascinating to be able to identify multiple people out of a photograph of about 15. That portion of the module I found completely appropriate to what most genealogists can/should do. How many of us have a photo laying around we have no date for?
I was most disappointed we did not touch on DNA. Having just had my DNA run on both Ancestry and 23andMe, I want to understand those results beyond my 9% Irish ethnicity. I had someone reach out to me about comparing my DNA to him and his mother, which I did, but I really didn’t understand what he was talking about when he told me we matched on certain segments and such. As DNA is becoming so widely used and accepted, I’d have like for that to have been addressed in this course but sadly, it was not. I know it’s still an emerging technology, but the basics would have been nice even.
The instructors were very nice, knowledgeable, helpful and provided good feedback on assignments. They gave good advice when asked and didn’t really interfere with student discussions but gently guided us to examine things more or point us in a different direction where we’d find more information. I didn’t find them haughty or “know-it-all” nor disinterested in the students. (I had a bad, bad professor at SUNY who didn’t even reply to ONE post, nor any email that any of us students sent. Horrible experience.) They all seem to really enjoy their job and it carried over into the classrooms. I did find one particularly heavy handed in grading but I was glad to find I wasn’t alone in that opinion.
I did not get to attend but ONE live classroom event as the times were ever changing from module to module and the one was at 3pm EST in the middle of the work week. Like, what?! Granted, they did record them but if you had questions, you had to email them instead. I just would have liked to have seen more realistic times for live sessions. I did really enjoy the modules that had recorded videos to accompany the lessons. They were little snippets with infographics and the instructor explaining a bit more in detail. Those were super helpful and one of the best bits in my opinion.
All in all, this course was worth it and I’m glad I did it. I learned more than I thought, it gave me more confidence in what skills I already had and I added a bunch of new techniques to my toolbox! I feel comfortable enough now in my skills to actually take on my first “client”, albeit not a paying one. For me, the next step is the ProGen study group and then taking my certification. This course really helped pave the way and I’m very excited for what’s next.
It really is worth your while. If you’ve ever wondered what the program was like, this is my honest and open opinion. If you have more questions, I’d be happy to answer them!