Introduction to Instructional Matters
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|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
- Two things are required from every specialized treatise; it should clarify its subject and, in the second place, but actually more important, it should tell us how and by what methods we can attain it and make it ours.
- -Longinus (ca. 213373), On the Sublime
It is unlikely that Longinus had genealogy in mind when he stated the requirements of a functional essay. Yet the application is evident: his words provide a measure by which instructional material may be evaluated and offer guidance to any would-be author.
The complexity of genealogical research, the skills and knowledge it demands, and the need for critical evaluation of evidence require a family historian to become familiar with instructional materials. This instructional material must provide, according to Longinus’s premise, techniques to understand and perform genealogical research.
Many types of instructional material meet this criterion. They include general guides or how-to manuals, textbooks, course work designed for home study, and curricula and lesson plans for use by teachers of genealogy. They may also include filmstrips, cassettes, games, and instructional visual aids.
The publication of such materials has proliferated over the past two decades. Gilbert Doane, in the 1960 edition of his Searching for Your Ancestors, noted that in 1937 there was scarcely a handbook of genealogical research in print or available even in the second-hand book stores” (93). In 1960, he was able to list a dozen. Two decades later, in the 1980 edition, Doane selected twenty-eight titles of handbooks and guides (1980, 22527) for his bibliography, only six of which were published before 1970.
Doane’s co-author, James B. Bell, in completing the 1992 edition, may have needed weeks to evaluate the available handbooks before selecting eighty for his bibliography (with only twenty-one from the 1970s and three from the 1960s). The majority have been published since 1980 (eight were published in 1990 or later). An examination of American and British Genealogy and Heraldry, edited by P. William Filby, 3rd ed.; Genealogical and Local History Books in Print: General References and World Resources Volume, edited by Marian Hoffman; and Books in Print, Subject Guide, suggests the number of professionally produced handbooks and nonprint aids has surpassed three hundred. Privately published works bring the count to more than four hundred. Not all of these titles appear in this chapter or the chapter bibliography. However, most that do appear carry an annotation, and all are fully cited.
Types of Materials
With the increase in the amount of instructional material has come specialization in content and audience. Instructional material may be categorized as follows: how-to guides and manuals suitable for adult readers; guides for young people; skills and technologies associated with genealogy; and materials designed for formal instructional settings (that is, classroom or home-study guides). In addition, a multitude of articles in periodicals may be classified as tutorial. An analysis of each category follows, along with suggestions for locating instructional materials and articles and evaluating them for personal use or as enrichment aids in classrooms.
Identifying and Evaluating Instructional Materials
Identifying and locating instructional materials is not always easy. Evaluating these materials is even more difficult, especially for newcomers to the field. Which guide was written for a quick sell and which will withstand the test of time, aging as gracefully as a well-researched and properly prepared family history? Annotated bibliographies can help researchers assess the value of instructional works.