Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tackling that First Step
on the Learning Curve

If you guessed that the first hurdle on this night owl's learning curve is getting up early in the morning, you are correct. But there is so much more to fielding the world of genealogical information coming at me, full speed at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. And SLIG—this year or any year—is the place to practice learning fast.

Just think of it: a week-long opportunity to focus on one specific area of family history research. The ins and outs of the subject, the insider secrets, the nitty gritty: call it what you may, there is a lot of information to absorb in those (nearly) thirty hours of class time. For instance, in my selected course on Virginia research from the Colonial Period to the Civil War, the first day's sessions covered the state's geography, settlement and migration issues, plus an overview of the state's vital records, military records, and various court records.


With a start like that, I'm torn. I realize I need to stick to my seat to hear the rest of the day's information, but in my mind, I'm simultaneously wanting to be down the street, already searching for copies of the kind of records we've been discussing in class. Those mental cogs can't help but start churning through all the research plan options. That's the energizing sort of talk that makes me want to jump up and take action. I'm beginning to see light at the end of these dark research tunnels.

Today's sessions will take the class a step deeper into the details. We talked about the state's geography yesterday; today we'll start discussing land records. We had an overview of court records yesterday; today, we'll examine just how the court system ran, prior to 1850.

And that's a good thing. Rumor has it that my most-wanted Virginia ancestor just happened to be a scoundrel escaping from bad debts left behind in Virginia when he—suddenly, apparently—immigrated to Tennessee. Imagine the paper trail he must have left behind.

One of the most valuable aspects of the SLIG class format, as opposed to conference sessions, is that, given the small class size and more ample time frame, instructors are readily available to address specific questions. I may not have much in this life, but I certainly have questions.

I particularly appreciated Barbara Vines Little's approach at the beginning of class, of taking a brief survey of class members' individual goals for being in class. When I brought up the one candidate among my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors, that renegade debtor from Nansemond County, her response about the research challenges I was up against—now non-existent county plus "badly burned" county—not only confirmed what I had already found, but also helps focus the delivery of class content for the upcoming sessions.

The nitty-gritty of learning the details—the survey of "what's out there"—is not all there is to SLIG. One of the most valuable aspects of the week, in my opinion, is the Plenary Session at the close of the first day. This is the session where, last year, LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson gave that masterful presentation which so deftly coincided with a turning point in my own research as I pursued the family tradition recalling the unnamed but long-remembered enslaved woman connected to my McClellan line and got to learn the story of her son, King Stockton.

This year's general session, in keeping with SLIG's silver anniversary, featured FamilySearch's Chief Genealogical Officer David Rencher. While his presentation was slated to be "A Look at Genealogy's Past, Present, and Future"—a topic on which he would be eminently qualified to speak—you can be sure he delivered so much more than just an overview, but cast the vision for what could be possible in our future. With a day starting me spinning my wheels in anticipation of peeling out and getting to work on the minutiae of my own research, it's quite gratifying to close that same day with such an inspiring outlook.

Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.


  1. I'm very envious of your week at SLIG. Maybe next year for me!

    1. Oh, Linda, I hope you'll join me! The lineup for next January will be posted after our Friday night banquet, so be sure to take a look then.

  2. I'm so jealous reading everyone's posts on Facebook, wishing I was there. I enjoy reading your take on your class.

    1. Wish you were here, too, Lisa...and apparently, so do some others I've spoken with, too. Maybe next year???

  3. Replies
    1. Oh, there's a lot of good stuff here, Far Side. But right now, after almost five straight days of learning, my brain is feeling a bit like a python after a too-big lunch.


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