First steps in online studying


17 May 2013
First-steps-in-online-studying-88804.jpg First steps in online studying
In the June issue, Chris Paton reveals what it takes to become a professional genealogist. One thing he considers to be particula

In the June issue, Chris Paton reveals what it takes to become a professional genealogist. One thing he considers to be particularly important is continuous professional development and lifelong learning. We’re all familiar with the idea of distance learning, but what about the new breed of online courses that have grown up in recent years? Angela Buckley dipped her techy toes in this ocean of possibilities and undertook her first Pharos online course.

Being fascinated by the Victorian period, I chose to take Liz Carter’s ‘Victorian Families – Your Ancestors in the Census’. It was a five-week course and cost £45.99.

Wed 7 November:

I was very excited about embarking on my first Pharos course, and the content looked fascinating – just my thing! I felt slightly nervous about the structure but when the login messages appeared on my computer screen, I set off to find out more...

My priority was to get to grips with the technology. The website had clear instructions with plenty of help and the forums were much easier than I’d anticipated. I posted a message introducing myself (complete with smiley face!). All that done, I was ready for the first lesson…

Fri 9 November:

When the link to the first lesson popped into my inbox I couldn’t wait to get started. I had an initial problem opening the file but the support team fixed it within minutes and I was set to go.

Lesson 1 focused on the census with detailed background information and useful links. I worked through the exercises and posted them on the forum, which is an excellent way to follow up the work. My next task was the chat and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect…

Fri 16 November:

I signed on for the chat at the appointed time ready to make contact with the other students. The tutor began with the ground rules for the discussion and then asked an open question to start us off. The use of colour-coded names made it easier to follow who was speaking and we soon got chatting. We worked through the lesson, sharing how we’d got on. It was like a group Twitter chat with everyone discussing the same topic, guided occasionally by Liz to stop us wandering ‘off piste’.

We had an informative and enjoyable discussion exchanging experiences, ideas and tips. Afterwards I tried out a suggestion for finding an elusive ancestor and located her within minutes – all thanks to the chat!

Fri 23 November:

The next lesson was about investigating the neighbourhood and I was looking forward to some tips for exploring my ancestors’ surroundings rather than just locating them on the censuses as I usually do.

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There were good pointers about how to make full use of specific records. Some of the website links were challenging to use, especially the online maps, which were slow and difficult to navigate, but it was interesting to chart the changes through the years due to local industry and the development of transport systems.

I particularly enjoyed browsing the historical directories and got quite carried away checking for my own family. This week’s chat included further suggestions for resources, including the tithe apportionment maps – even more records to add to my growing to-do list!

Fri 7 December:

This week’s lesson about life in the Victorian home was my favourite so far. It was packed with fascinating content including fashion, cooking, servants and even toilets. The tasks involved extended research and I had fun looking up unusual dishes suggested by Mrs Beeton.

The topic included a comprehensive list of websites for further reading. I managed to read all the required material for the exercises and some of the supplementary online articles. The additional reading was worthwhile even though it was time consuming.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read any of the recommended books to follow up the lesson but it’s useful to have the links for future reference. Each lesson gives a good overview and you can always ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ useful topics for personal study later.

Wed 12 December:

As the course draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on my experience. The lessons were wide-ranging and I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the course. It challenged me to study the censuses more closely and to examine the lifestyle and environment of my ancestors.

The material was relevant and the exercises helped to reinforce the lesson. The chats were slow at times but worthwhile. The online process was easy to use and the tutor was supportive.

The reading was time-consuming but the recommended 4-5 hours for study per session was realistic, even though I’d have liked to spend longer exploring the extra resources. The course was good value for money and I would definitely recommend taking one. I have my eye on the next one already…



This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue of Family Tree. You can still download the issue in full right now! Family Tree is available as a digital edition – visit, the App StoreGoogle Play or Amazon Appstore. Single issues, back issues and subscriptions are available for PC, Mac, eReaders, smartphones and tablets. A free sample is also available for all devices.