Monday, April 25, 2011

Review of Family Tree University

This review was written by guest author, Michael Hait. Michael is a professional genealogist living in the Maryland / Delaware area. He can be reached at or

FAMILY TREE UNIVERSITY is a new online-based educational opportunity sponsored by Family Tree Magazine. Family Tree University debuted in 2010, and has since expanded their offering of genealogy educational opportunities. This evaluation uses FTU’s official website as its main source:

As of April 2011, Family Tree University offers several different options for its educational programs:

ONLINE COURSES: The online courses are led by “expert instructors” and last four weeks, “in a virtual classroom.” The courses generally cost $99.99 each, but there is also a “VIP membership” that offers discounted rates. The syllabi for all of these course is available as a PDF download from their website.

o “Advanced Google for Genealogists: Techniques to Take Your Research to the Next Level”
o “Build a Family Website: Make a Site for Your Family in Four Weeks”
o “Cemetery Research 101: Dig Up Your Family History”
o “Civil War Research: Find Your Ancestors in the War Between the States”
o “Computer Boot Camp for Genealogists: Become a Power User in 4 Weeks”
o “Creating a Family History Book: Start-to-Finish Guidance for Assembling and Printing a Family Keepsake”
o “Death Records 101: Find What Your Ancestors Left Behind”
o “Digital Photography Essentials: Techniques to Capture and Preserve Your Family History”
o “Discovering Your Czech and Slovak Roots: Strategies for Searching Over Here and Over There”
o “Discover Your Family Tree: Genealogy for the Absolute Beginner” (only $19.99)
o “Exploring City Directories: How to Trace Your Family in Yesterday’s Yellow Pages”
o “Find Your German Roots: From America to Deutschland”
o “Finding African-American Ancestors in Newspapers: Research Strategies for Success”
o “Finding Ancestors in the US Census: Online and Offline Research Strategies”
o “Finding Your Ancestral Village: Strategies and Tools to Pinpoint Your Family’s Place of Origin”
o “German Genealogy 201: Strategies and Skillbuilding”
o “Google Earth for Genealogists: Plot Your Ancestors’ Lives”
o “Google Master Class: Improve Your Online Search Skills in 8 Weeks” (8-week course, $199.99)
o “Google Tools for Genealogists: Four Resources to Enhance Your Family History”
o “Immigration Master Class: How to Find Immigrants, Ancestral Villages and Foreign Records” (8-week course, $199.99)
o “Land Records 101: Using Deeds, Plats, Patents and More”
o “Mastering Google Search: Secrets to Smarter, Faster Online Research”
o “Newspaper Research 101: Find Your Ancestors in American News Sources”
o “Organize Your Genealogy: Get Your Research in Order (and Keep It That Way)”
o “Organize Your Photos: Preserve Your Family’s Pictorial Legacy”
o “Published Genealogies: How to Use Others’ Research to Grow Your Family Tree”
o “Research in Foreign Records: How to Find Your Family Across the Pond”
o “Reverse Genealogy: Working Forward to Break Down Brick Walls”
o “Source Documentation 101: How to Cite Genealogy Sources Accurately and Effectively”
o “Trace Your Polish Roots: Strategies for Searching in the US and Poland”
o “Tracing Immigrants: How to Research Your Family’s American Arrivals”
o “US Military Records: Trace Your Ancestors’ Service”
o “US Vital Records: Researching Births, Marriages, Deaths and Divorces”
o “Write Your Family History: Create a Captivating Record of Your Family’s Story” (8-week course, $199.99)

INDEPENDENT STUDY COURSES: Many of the online courses listed above also have “Independent Study” options. These independent study courses contain the same material, without the guidance of an instructor. They can be purchased either on CD or as digital downloads. Both delivery methods are currently listed at a $99.99 price, but are discounted to $74.99. It is unknown whether this lower price is time-limited or a permanent sale price.

WEBINARS: The webinars are occasional one-hour presentations by the FTU instructors on various topics. They are presented live and consist of audio and video, using the GoToWebinar software. These webinars cost an average of $39.99. The webinars are also recorded and can be accessed “on demand.” Past and upcoming topics include:
o “Life in Civil War America Free Webinar”
o “South Carolina Genealogy Crash Course: Find Your Palmetto State Ancestors”
o “New York Genealogy Crash Course: Find Your Empire State Ancestors”
o “Georgia Genealogy Crash Course: Find Your Peach State Ancestors”
o “Historical Books on the Web: Millions of Tomes at Your Fingertips”
o “Pennsylvania Crash Course: Find Your Keystone State Ancestors”
o “10 Steps to Discover Your Roots”
o “Your Unofficial Guide to Tips, Hints and Hacks for Finding Your Ancestors”
o “Ellis Island: Finding Your Ancestor in a Sea of Online Records”
o “Brick Wall Busters: Solutions to Real-Life Stumpers”
o “Online Military Records: Document Your Family’s Service”
o “Making the Most of”
o “Photo Sharing 101: How to Organize, Archive and Share Family Memories Online”
o “Search Engine Tips & Tricks: Google Techniques to Boost your Research”
o “Organization Made Easy”
o “Photo Retouching”
o “Brick Wall Strategies”
o “Vital Records”
o “Online Immigration Records”
o “FamilySearch Essentials”
o “Finding Your Family in Old Newspapers”
o “Heirloom Preservation Made Easy”
o “Online Census Secrets”
o “Googling Your Genealogy”
Lisa A. Alzo
James M. Beidler
Charlotte Marie Bocage
Lisa Louise Cooke
Grace Dobush
Midge Frazel
Nancy Hendrickson
Ceil Wendt Jensen
George G. Morgan
Sunny McClellan Morton
Tim Pinnick
Diana Crisman Smith
Allison Stacy
Most of these instructors are either employees or frequent contributors to Family Tree Magazine. A few of the instructors are active members of national organizations such as the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Several of them have relatively high-profile genealogy blogs. Only a few of them identify themselves as professional genealogists. None of the instructors are certified (CG) or accredited (AG) genealogists.


Family Tree Magazine can sometimes contain articles for “intermediate” skill level genealogists, but the majority of its content is aimed at beginners. Family Tree University appears to be focused on the same audience.

The faculty contains several recognizable names, but the skill level of the instructors also comes into question. Though these instructors have often contributed to Family Tree Magazine, they have not, to my knowledge, had case studies published in peer-reviewed genealogy journals. None of them have had their research skills otherwise evaluated by either BCG or ICAPGen.

Considering the focus of the courses, the questionable quality of the instructors, and the , the average cost of the online courses seems particularly high. The webinars are likewise priced extremely high when considering that most genealogy webinars by other companies are offered between $0 and $10.

These courses may be useful for beginners and intermediate genealogists, but would probably offer very little for advanced genealogists.


  1. Thank you. I was just considering registering for one of the courses, looked at the course outline, thought it seemed a little "basic," so decided to do a little more research first about this "university" before putting out that kind of money. I'm glad I did.