The Importance of Institutes

It is with sadness that we read that after over 50 years the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) will no longer be held at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, but will be relocated after June 2016. The press release on the IGHR home page states: “The growth in Samford’s academic programming has resulted in demands on necessary resources that exceed the university’s ability to meet both programs’ requirements for a quality experience for all parties, according to Kimmetha Herndon, dean of Samford University’s Library.”

That is wonderful that the University has grown to need its space year-round but what does that do to genealogical education? For over a half-century IGHR has been a standard-bearer and role model to week-long learning and has been associated with cultivating the “right way” to conduct genealogical research and explore in-depth topics that no other experience can give. The University Library staff who run the program have always been friendly, positive, and, when needed, problem-solving professionals within the confines of the University setting. They are to be commended for continuing the Institute all these years and trust that they will find a new home for the program so that it may continue to educate genealogists.

Institutes are important! They serve to not only educate but to become a nest from which we can try our genealogical wings. They incubate ideas, friendships, knowledge, camaraderie and networking, lecturing and teaching skills. Some of the genealogical community’s fondest memories are created at institutes where common meals and social spaces encourage interaction, meeting those new to the field or to ourselves, and catching up with old friends. They are places where anyone can mingle−students and instructors alike.

La Roche College cafeteria salad bar

La Roche College cafeteria salad bar

Last week at the National Genealogical Society conference in the States held in St. Charles, Missouri, GRIP had a booth. In talking with the attendees, the majority did not know what an institute was or the value it might contain. The smorgasbord of information offered at conferences, online, in webinars, etc. is wonderful for the taste-test of what might interest you but only in multi-session courses and institutes can you sit down to the “full meal.” As many people know, if you want to really learn something you need to practice examples and gain feedback under the watchful eye of an instructor. Taking away information is not the same as knowing how to apply that information which then, once adopted and made habitual, becomes real knowledge.

Institutes are not always easy to get to with everyday life’s constraints of the 3Ms: money, mobility, and minutes in the day−but they are well worth the effort. As a young mother I had learned of IGHR but thought I could not attend its June week which was always the last week of school. Wanting to publish a book, I realized that I needed to attend the IGHR Writing course (then taught by Helen F.M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG) and, with my husband’s help, made it happen. He recorded the children’s concerts and events and between vacation days and the neighbors, the children were cared for. To reduce expenses I used frequent flyer points and stayed in a dorm room with a roommate (another great way to meet people of like minds!) It is an experience I am forever grateful for as just weeks later, Helen had a stroke. The following year I attended her Professional Genealogy course at which time she asked if I would take it over. That part of my genealogical growth would probably not have happened if I hadn’t made the concerted effort to attend the first year.

Institutes are indeed more than just acquiring information! They are an inclusive place where friendships and opportunities are built. The benefits outweigh the costs:

  • time and money saved from doing bad research then having to re-do it (who has time to do it over?!)
  • learning efficient new techniques and methods and updating skills
  • meeting that cousin you didn’t know you had who has the family Bible, or a new research buddy
  • being together with others of like-minds who appreciate your genealogical interests

Yes, institutes are important! We hope that you think so also and support these educational opportunities whenever (and wherever) you can.

— Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL
Co-Director, GRIP

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2 Responses to The Importance of Institutes

  1. Nancy Cordell says:

    I hope that as GRIP looks for a new venue for it’s institutes, it will consider location on the West Coast. Many of these sorts of offering are only available on the East Coast or in the Midwest, which adds considerably to the 3Ms mention in the article. If you live on the West coast it costs more money and takes more time to get there (which adds to both the mobility and the minutes in the day portions of the 3Ms).

    • admin says:

      GRIP has considered some West Coast locations. Nothing as affordable as Pittsburgh has been found so far. There are many factors which contribute to a successful institute or conference. Geography, population density, marketing, affordability, etc. are part of it. I see even the conferences are sticking East of the Mississippi for the next few years.

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