British Ancestry

The Correspondence Course in Genealogy, is suitable for students of all ages, for both beginners and for reasonably experienced genealogists. It is also designed to prepare students for professional genealogical practice through to acknowledged qualifications. As such it covers the full range of genealogically useful sources to considerable depth. This also makes it the best available course for those simply tracing their own families as a hobby, ensuring that they have the best knowledge base for that their research to be as good as it can be. The Correspondence Course in Genealogy is both challenging and demanding, but the principal qualifications for embarking upon it are enthusiasm and dedication.

Aims of the course

*To provide the opportunity for students from a range of backgrounds to gain the necessary resources and skills to develop and write-up their own research interests in selected aspects of family and community history in a systematic and contextualised form.

*To develop students' interests onwards from individual-based, ideographic or antiquarian study towards an appreciation of social scientific and historical debates, resources, skills and insights.

*To encourage students to extend, and critically reflect on, the research skills and aims they have been developing in their project work.

*To facilitate the above by some introduction to substantive study relevant to research in the areas of family and community history and related contextual topics, such as migration, demography, family structures, occupations, religious and cultural affiliation.

*To act both as a terminal course in its own right and as preparation for related post-graduate research in the same area.

*Where appropriate, to encourage co-operative work and/or collaboration with relevant external organisations.

Course Structure

The Course comprises 24 lecture modules, which may be delivered either as paper copies, or downloaded from our dedicated website as Adobe Acrobat PDF files. These lecture modules will enable the student to cover in full the syllabus required for the Institute's Higher Certificate in Genealogy.

The Lectures

Each lecture module contains, along with the lecture itself, copies of relevant documents, an introductory sheet summarising the topic to be covered and the reasoning behind the set assignments, and a select bibliography, around which a programme of supplementary reading can be built. We do not recommend that the student should buy or even attempt to read every book listed, but we would encourage each student to read around the subject as much as possible.

Because genealogy is essentially a practical endeavour, each lecture is accompanied by two or more assignments designed to give the student knowledge and experience of record sources and repositories. It will be appropriate for some assignments to be submitted in the form of an essay, whilst others may suit a tabular presentation.

Completed assignments should be returned to The Tutorial Supervisor either by post or by email. Receipt of assignments should trigger the despatch of the next module. You will be allocated a personal tutor, who would normally assess your assignments and return them to you within a few weeks.

Course Content

Introduction The objects and value of family history research. The literature of genealogy: students' aids, calendars and classified catalogues of printed and manuscript pedigrees and genealogies, indexes, directories, records and collections, laying out a pedigree.

Family Records Preliminary steps, home sources, writing to relatives, oral and written history. Analysis of problems and evidence.

General Registration The registration of births, deaths and marriages.

Census Census returns as a link between civil & parochial records.

Parish Registers Parish registers, banns and bishops' transcripts.

Parish Chest The records of parish administration, the vestry.

Wills & Probate wills, administrations, inventories, inheritance, settlements and trusts.

Palæogaphy Reading and deciphering documents, writing, dating, formulæ, Latin abbreviations and clauses.

Armed Services Military and naval and air-force personnel.

Education & Occupations records of schools, universities and apprenticeships, professional men, artisans and labourers, guilds, livery companies and trade unions.

Nonconformity Nonconformist records and archives.

Names The history, meaning and distribution of surnames, naming patterns and aliases.

Emigration/Immigration Town, village, country migration, immigration and emigration, social and economic mobility.

Census Substitutes poll books, taxation assessments and subsidy lists, protestation returns etc.

Miscellany newspapers and magazines. Demography: family origins, social framework, class distinction, family and community studies. Monumental inscriptions, cemeteries and churchyards. Quarter Sessions. Criminal records, justices of the peace and magistrates, licensing.

Manorial Records manorial courts and their records.

Land Records maps and terrain. Estates: private muniments, title deeds, leases, mortgages, recoveries etc.

The National Archives local and central government, taxes, legal records, the courts of equity, records of chancery and exchequer.

Heraldry language, armories and ordinaries, the College of Arms, Heralds' Visitations, value in genealogy.

Scottish & Welsh Records comparison with English records.

Irish & Other British Records including Channel Islands; comparison with English records.

Ecclesiastical Records Ecclesiastical archives, courts, and visitations, marriage licences, bonds and allegations.

Professional Genealogy research methods, professional standards.

ENROLMENT Students may enrol by completing the Enrolment Form available from and paying the full fee or first instalment.

COMMUNICATION Apart from reportss fromTutors, approximately monthly, Correspondence Course students enjoy the benefits of a popular web-based Student Forum, which allows them to discuss the course and also to contact their Tutors. A number of relevant textbooks are also supplied free at particular stages of the course. All students receive a complimentary 2-year subscription to the Institute's in-house academic journal FAMILY HISTORY and are entitled to reduced fees for attending Institute courses and seminars. Students are encouraged to attend the regular Tutorial Days and residential Tutorial weekends.

Course Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have:

*acquired an appropriate range of investigative, historical and social science skills and understanding so as to develop and write up aspects of their own research interests in selected aspects of community and family history in a systematic and contextualised form.

*built on their own research interests in personal life histories and/or their own family or community, to put these in context through understanding and investigating some of the wider patterns and comparative studies with which these personal instances are linked.

*made effective use of appropriate documentary & oral, material and field-based sources to conduct enquiries into selected social scientific and historical questions related to their own research interests.

*gained some general understanding of relevant sources, findings, theories, debates and methods in selected areas, together with the ability to use these critically and constructively and relate them to their own research.

*become aware of the social and ethical implications of their research.

*been equipped to give informed assistance to others undertaking similar

*worked at a level appropriate to an Honours Degree, not just in terms of acquiring the relevant factual and descriptive knowledge, but also of practising the critical analysis of sources and theories, successfully carrying through substantial independent work, relating this to wider debates and presenting a unique synthesis of this work.


The pace of instruction will be determined by the time available to the individual student. There is no set time limit, but it is perceived that the student is unlikely to gain full benefit from the course if it is completed in less than three years. It is recommended, however, that every student sets aside at least two hours every week for work on the course.


A student may withdraw from the course before submitting any assignments, in which case a refund of fees paid will be made, less the Registration Fee and a nominal sum for administration. Once the first assignments have been submitted, the student is deemed to have commenced the course and no refunds can be made in the case of withdrawal from the course.


The Correspondence Course in Genealogy prepares candidates for examination at the level of Higher Certificate in Genealogy. Students who wish to proceed to professional qualifications must first obtain the Higher Certificate in Genealogy. Progress through practical assignments and academic study leads to the Diploma in Genealogy which is an internationally recognised professional qualification. Further practical experience and the submission of a thesis or dissertation can lead to the Licentiateship of the Institute.


Cecil R. Humphery-Smith and The Trustees of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies reserve strict copyright in the material supplied and the content of the lectures.

CONTACT THE REGISTRAR The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies 79-82 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1BA, England Tel: +44 (0)1227 768664 - Fax: +44 (0)1227 765617 - Contact us
13 December 2005

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