Watch Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy

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Genealogy is a journey of self-discovery that can teach you as much about yourself as about those who came before you. But what holds many of us back from unearthing our family history is uncertainty about how to go about it. Discover which resources you should use and trust, how you should make your way through tangles of public records, and so much more.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 14 Episodes
April 4, 2014
Cast: John Philip Colletta
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Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy Full Episode Guide

  • Conclude the course with a peek at how to research records outside the United States. Focusing on his experiences in Europe, Dr. Colletta reveals what essential facts you need to know about your immigrant ancestors, and how to overcome six major challenges to accessing and using historical materials in foreign countries.

  • You've learned how to build context and write an engaging narrative. Now, examine the best ways to organize your material and assemble a lasting account of your unique heritage. What are the fundamental questions you'll need to answer before writing? What are the five elements essential to any multigenerational account?

  • At some point during your detective work, you'll have to actually visit where your ancestors lived. In this helpful lecture, discover how to use key local resources you'll need to rely on for success in your research: cemeteries, records of churches and synagogues, city directories, local libraries, and historical societies.

  • Writing about the past is fraught with snares. Find out how to sidestep them with Dr. Colletta's dos and don'ts for writing historical narratives. These include using period vocabulary; evoking the senses through sounds, textures, and aromas; and avoiding the danger of viewing the past through the lens of the present.

  • Explore the process of writing about your ancestors in a way that's memorable - but that always adheres to the truth. Learn how to compose timelines; how to build historical context around life events; how to search for (and find) a life's central theme; how to select the right literary format; and more.

  • Discover how to work your way through the courthouse records of the county where your ancestors resided. Using the two most common types of courts (circuit and chancery), you'll examine how to read courthouse materials, including probate packets, vital records, tax rolls, and even colonial-era records such as indentures and apprenticeships.

  • Strengthen your skills as a family history detective with this in-depth look at the Genealogical Proof Standard, the five-step process that certified genealogists use for proving ancestral identities, relationships, life events, and other biographical details. Then, wrap up the lecture with a fascinating look at the nature of evidence.

  • Learn how to make sense of passenger arrival records: the single most precious document for reconstructing your ancestors' voyage to North America. Using several key guideposts and sources (including colonial land records and immigrant directories), you can uncover facts about arrivals from colonial days through the 1950s.

  • Step away from research and explore how to use historical content to transform your facts into engaging life stories. Dr. Colletta reveals seven steps for building effective historical context, including examining your sources in light of local history, and using history to test a hypothesis about how an event transpired.

  • Holding a document your ancestor once held is a thrilling experience; and this intimate link to your forebears is more readily accessible than ever. Train yourself to navigate through both military records (including service and pension records) and homestead files (which encompass 33 public domain states from 1863 to the 1970s).

  • Learn how to tap into the wealth of library material to get solid answers to the "why" behind events in the past. You'll tour genealogies and family histories; histories of states, counties, cities, and towns; the Periodical Source Index (PERSI); and several types of maps (which help ground events in the physical world).

  • One of the foundations of genealogy (and one of its most enjoyable aspects): interviewing relatives. Here, Dr. Colletta introduces you to several strategies and 10 vital tips to help you get the most out of sitting down with family members and transforming pleasant conversations into solid foundations for future detective work.

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