Course Feature: GENE 350: Advanced Genealogical Research

Genealogical Research, Petrie Dish

Genealogical professionals approach and solve difficult identity inquiries by thoroughly dissecting, analyzing, and reassembling complex genealogical problems. In GENE 350: Advanced Genealogical Research, students examine how to apply best practices and strategies to solve identity cases that are similar to the cases professionals would work on. Students work together, discussing ethical considerations, investigating difficult genealogical questions, and practicing peer review. The course prepares students for careers and/or further professional study in the practice of genealogy.

Instructor Melinde Byrne explains, “We discuss current cases and their ethics, like finding birth parents or children, the settlement of Prince’s estate, the government’s use of the 1940 census to send Americans of Japanese descent to concentration camps during World War II, or a woman claiming to be Salvador Dali’s daughter suing the Spanish government for the return of Dali’s paintings.” Students also study a case involving locating Alyce Hall, an African-American “Top Secret Rosie” who created long-range bombing algorithms for the U.S. Army during World War II.

After discussing case studies like these, the students discuss the methods and techniques for solving them, including using syllogism (a logical argument using deductive reasoning), identifying bias, gaps, negative evidence, and applying standards to proof, to solve a case from their own experiences. Students have enjoyed the hands-on learning experience. Jennifer Armstrong Zinck says, “I was able to answer a challenging research question that I had been working on for 15 years. The methodologies taught in the course increased my ability to think outside of the box and solve complex genealogical problems.” Allison Ryall adds, “This course was hands-down the one thing that expanded my mind and analytical skills regarding problem solving and genealogical problems. The assignments are unique and creative and taught me how to look at things in an entirely different way.”

“Students who love a challenge and hope to make a difference with cutting-edge methods embrace this class,” says Byrne. She adds that there is a lot to learn in such a fast-moving field. The area of genealogical research is always growing. Byrne says, “People who have been doing research for years—whether it be identifying missing heirs, naming John or Jane Does, helping to identify relatives of MIA or KIA soldiers for proactive DNA testing, tracking a susceptibility to illness, or finding birth parents or children—all can benefit from using standards and learning from fascinating casework.”

Consider signing up for GENE 350: Advanced Genealogical Research if you would like to learn the strategies and techniques genealogy professionals use to solve complex identity problems.