[Editor's Note: The early bird registration deadline for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) is fast approaching. We sat down with Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL*, one of the GRIP founders to discuss current issues in the field of genealogy education.]
Lately we have noticed an upswing in educational offerings in the genealogy field. Is this a new phenomenon or has education always been an important component in genealogy and we’re just seeing new iterations, new formats appear?
Researchers have always wanted to find better and more efficient ways to do their genealogy and education is a large part of that. What has changed is the ability to use the Internet to learn about records, techniques, skills, or to connect with distant cousins – all on your lunch hour. Just as quickly as researchers find information they become confused by what it means or why they can’t find their particular family among the millions of records. Educational opportunities have responded to these needs through availability of videos, virtual lectures, webinars, articles, blogs, and e-zines. However the “human touch” that we all need still makes it desirable to sit in classrooms or socialize with others over learning opportunities such as conferences or society meetings. Genealogy can be a solitary pursuit and sharing our passion and the experience with others can be very rewarding in connections made and new cousins found.
Many readers want to know how a genealogy institute is different than a genealogy conference. Are the education offerings different? The environment? Are there the same opportunities to network with other genealogists?
A genealogical conference typically has multiple speakers each hour on various topics – a great way to dabble lightly in a lot of topics. The attendees choose which lectures to attend and create their own unique experience. In an institute attendees choose the course among several offered but then stay in that course the entire length of time with the same classmates. This allows for greater in-depth knowledge of the chosen topic and for getting to know both the instructors and fellow students better. While conferences let you get your “feet wet” in a topic, an institute will let you do whole immersion so that you get a better mastery of it. Typically institutes also have homework or practical exercises built in so that learning is experienced through seeing, hearing, and doing. Discussions with classmates and instructors also clarify concepts and examples. Conferences typically don’t provide time over a few clarifying questions for discussion opportunities with lecturers.
Networking is the unexpected “plus” for in-person events. You just don’t know who will turn out to be a cousin with the family Bible or a knowledgeable person in your research locale. Conferences allow you to network over lunch and in the hallways. Institutes also have these opportunities as well as naturally seeing people where you stay (dorm or hotel).
Those of us who’ve been involved with genealogy for some time know that “it isn’t all free” including learning opportunities. You’ve said “Genealogy education doesn’t cost – it pays.” How so?
As we learn more about how to be efficient researchers or how to better understand a particular record we can save ourselves time and money in spinning our wheels on “brick walls” that we create for ourselves by our inexperience. Researchers will often tell me about their 20-year brick wall problem only to realize the mistakes they made early on with an assumption or misunderstanding. They spent all that time, energy, and money sending for records or traveling to research locales when better education on their part would have solved the problem. So education doesn’t really cost in tuition but pays you to not waste other, probably greater, expenses in pursuing your research.
Tell us about GRIP – the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. What does it offer in the way of genealogy education?
GRIP offers four courses in 2012 that will run concurrently from Monday through Friday, July 23-27. Students arriving on Sunday, July 22, will also be able to register, have dinner, and socialize. Each course begins on Monday at 8:30 am and has four 75-minute sessions each day except Friday which has two sessions in the morning, freeing attendees for travel or area research. These eighteen lectures are detailed in the course descriptions at www.gripitt.org/?page_id=7. The Advanced Methodology course is sold out and has a waiting list. The German Research course is good for those wishing to “jump the pond” but needing to understand the script, geography, and history in order to find their place of origin and read the records both in the United States and abroad. Church records and Pennsylvania Germans are some of the topics covered.
“Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper” and “Beneath the Home Page: Problem-Solving with Online Repositories” both have openings and are new courses not offered anywhere else. The Intermediate course will offer time at the end of the day to brainstorm some student “brick wall” problems. This is a great course for those who want to make sure they are utilizing all types of records and techniques for genealogy discovery and problem solving. Beneath the Home Page is a great way to do hands-on Internet research with the familiarity of your own laptop under the guidance of an expert researcher. It will help students discover the hidden gems offered through archive and library websites which could help solve genealogical puzzles. This “back door to the Internet” approach is important to understand as more and more original material and indexes are placed online by repositories.
Q: Who are the GRIP instructors for 2012?
We have an internationally-recognized team of course coordinators and instructors. Their biographies and photos can be found at http://www.gripitt.org/?page_id=9. Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA has been in the education field all his life. In his retirement he specializes in genealogical education and is the National Genealogical Society Quarterly co-editor. His courses sell out quickly wherever he teaches. GRIP is no exception, selling out his classroom slots in about 5 minutes. Teaching in the Advanced Methods course are also Richard Sayre, CG, and Claire Bettag, CG, CGL who are both well-respected and inspirational lecturers.
John Humphrey, CG, has given genealogical lectures in Germany and all over the United States. His specialty is Pennsylvania Germans for whom he has written and published book compilations of southeastern Pennsylvania church records by county. Living in Washington, D.C., he is well-acquainted with records there.
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMS, FUGA, and D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS, are coordinators of the Intermediate and Internet courses, respectively. They will teach in each other’s courses to bring a broader perspective to the students. Paula is a popular genealogical educator and researcher. She writes a blog “Paula’s Genealogical Ecletica” which gives readers tips and tidbits. Joshua is the former Director of Education of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and now is with brightsolid. He has had his “fifteen minutes of fame” several times on the NBC-TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” working on camera with such celebrities as Rob Lowe, Ashley Judd, Reba McIntire, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Do you know already who will be at GRIP in terms of attendees? Is it just East Coast researchers or are they from different parts of the country?
In the four courses we have over 100 students already registered. There is room for just a couple more in each of the three open courses at this time. Attendees come from all walks of life and various geographies, but as in most genealogical endeavors, the majority are women. About one-fifth of the attendees will be flying, a couple of people will take the train, and the rest will drive. Twenty-eight different states are represented with only 15% saying they have no ancestry in Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania and Ohio are heavily represented, the next states from which multiple registrants hale are Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, California, New Jersey, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, Michigan, and Maine. There is even one registrant with an address in Italy.
For GRIP, why July and why Pittsburgh? What sets GRIP apart from other institutes in the genealogy field?
GRIP is a concept that has been growing for years between the co-directors, Debbie Lichtner Deal and Elissa Scalise Powell. It was an idea looking for a place. That place was found at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The College is very enthusiastic about a genealogy institute using their otherwise empty summertime class and dorm spaces. It is extremely convenient to have the air-conditioned dorms within steps of the classroom building which also houses the cafeteria. The beautiful campus has a garden and some quiet retreat areas that foster relaxation and gatherings. Yet the campus is in the heart of the suburban Pittsburgh North Hills shopping area and convenient to major highways.
GRIP offers another opportunity to attend an institute that may better fit some people’s schedules or geographic constraints. GRIP is popular among school teachers or young parents who cannot take a week to attend an institute during the school year. It is also a good opportunity to “tack on” a research trip to ancestral locales in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. Pennsylvania in general, and Pittsburgh in particular, were “Gateways to the West” with many people’s ancestors passing through on the National Road and the Ohio River.
Pittsburgh is centrally located within a driving radius of Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA; Rochester, NY; Toronto, Ontario; Detroit, MI; Ft. Wayne, IN; Cincinnati, OH; and Charleston, WV. It has a good airport and about one-fifth of our attendees are flying in this year. Pittsburgh is an affordable city and the savings can be passed on to the attendees through reasonably priced tuition and dorm space. Currently five nights and fifteen meals is $245 per person in a shared dorm room and $280 in a private room.
GRIP will have social “meet and greets” Sunday and Monday evenings as well as at lunch times. Our GRIP community will also have a social lounge in the dormitory for hanging out and talking with new friends.
Evening lectures are being sponsored by the following societies: Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP), the Western PA Genealogical Society (WPGS), the North Hills Genealogists [of Pittsburgh] (NHG), and the Great Lakes Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Each will have an information table and possibly publications for sale. We do want to thank the societies for making these educational opportunities available.
Maia’s Books will have a wide variety of genealogical, historical, and cultural books for sale during lunchtimes and the evening lectures. Students may contact Maia’s if they are interested in seeing a book (with no obligation to purchase).
There’s a registration deadline coming up soon right? What do folks need to do to be a part of GRIP?
First decide which course you would like to take. The lecture titles and schedule are listed at www.gripitt.org/?page_id=7. The Advanced Research Methods does have a lengthy waiting list but there are still a few slots in the three other courses. Next register for the course and dorm housing, if needed. A brief questionnaire asks about your research interests and how you heard of GRIP (this article!). Once finished with the process print a copy of the confirmation email to mail with your check. In order to keep costs down, GRIP is accepting only checks this year. The $380 Early Bird Course Discount can be sent if postmarked by May 31, 2012, after which time tuition is $400. Dorm pricing remains the same.
Can you tell us a bit about the format, the details and what prospective attendees can expect at GRIP?
Sunday, July 22, beginning at 3 pm will be a registration period in which attendees may arrive and get their registration materials and dorm keys. Dinner is set at 5 pm with a introductory program at 6:30 pm. Breakfast is served each day beginning at 7:30 am in the all-you-can-eat cafeteria and classes begin at 8:30 am most days (check your course schedule for variations). Lunch is from 11:30 am to 1 pm. For those not staying in the dorm, meals may be purchased for a nominal fee (breakfast, $5; lunch, $6; dinner, $7).
Afternoon classes will have a snack break between them, and end at 4 pm. Some courses will have special activities from 4 to 4:30 pm, ending in time for dinner at 5 pm. Evening activities begin at 6:30 pm for the students with a social scheduled on Monday and a Q and A panel discussion on Thursday. Evening lectures on those days begin at 7:30 pm. Students will receive a certificate of achievement at the end of the course. A student recognition ceremony, door prizes, and closing remarks will be on Friday at 11:45 am after which lunch will be served before individual departures.
Planning for July 2013 is currently underway. We hope to be able to offer an entirely new set of courses. We hope that those who experience GRIP this year will consider coming back and those whose schedules did not permit it will plan for July 22-26, 2013 in Pittsburgh.
* CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are Service Marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluations by the Board and the board name is a trademark registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee