The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has a number of classes for genealogists to take. Their Home Study Course (now called American Genealogical Studies) I took about a year ago and highly recommend. It is a wonderful course for people just starting to get more serious about their genealogy and wishing to take it beyond the internet.

Because of how much I enjoyed that course, I wanted to dive into a few more. The NGS has Continuing Genealogical Studies classes that include researching for Revolutionary War ancestors, Civil War research, and genetic genealogy. They just recently added a course called Genetic Genealogy, Autosomal DNA, which caught my eye, but I decided to take their Genetic Genealogy, the Basics first, since I figured it may help in the autosomal course. Plus, the last time I took a course on genetics was in college in 2001. So, it’s been a while and a refresher sounded like a good idea!

By Jerome Walker,Dennis Myts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jerome Walker,Dennis Myts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Goals and Cost of the Course

The course is for beginner and intermediate level students and is designed to teach:

  • the DNA molecule
  • chromosome basics
  • DNA markers (SNP and STR)
  • Y DNA and surname projects (basic information)
  • mitochondrial DNA and mtDNA testing

The course contains 6 modules, each ending with a short quiz of about 5-10 questions. You have 6 months to complete the course on your own time with a one-time 3 month extension possible if need be. It is all online and done through the NGS Canvas system (it uses this for other online courses as well).

The course has been created by Thomas H. Shawker, MD. He is a physician who has served on the NGS Genetic Genealogy Committee as a chairman, is a prominent speaker, and is the author of the book Unlocking Your Genetic History.

There are two prices for this course as with all NGS courses – one for members and one for non-members. For non-members the cost is $70 and for members it is $45.

Pros

  • The course starts from the basics: the human cell and where DNA lives inside of it, and explains from there
  • The course gives a good foundation on where genetic genealogy looks when it comes to DNA testing for genealogy
  • It explains many of the terms found in genetic genealogy
  • It is chock full of information to get anyone going on a Y DNA surname project or mtDNA testing

Cons

  • Some small items are left out or not explained well. For clarification, I sought out the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki for clarification.
    • For example, I did not realize (forgotten over the years really) that humans share 99.9% the same genome as other humans. There are small mutations (like SNPs which are discussed in the course) which causes each person to look different from another. I was lost because 1) I thought our genome was MUCH different than everyone else’s and was confused on how genetic scientists knew where to look and 2) I couldn’t understand how the human genome could have been mapped if we all looked so different (assuming again that our genomes were vastly different from each other). Knowing that small fact that all humans share 99.9% the same genome made it all make sense to me.
    • Another example: the mtDNA test – for some reason I had thought this was the X chromosome we all get from our mother. But then I was confused because well, which x chromosome are we getting? And how do we know it’s always from the maternal line? I didn’t realize that mtDNA is NOT the X chromosome and had to look at the ISOGG wiki for that clarification. I feel silly stating all of that as I’m sure most people know that, but for those of you who didn’t, I was right there with you!
  • The quizzes. You have 5-10 questions and you can retake them up to 3 times. The problem is that after you take it once, the quiz shows you your score ALONG WITH THE ANSWERS (no matter if you got it right or wrong). So you can just retake it and get everything right as the questions don’t change when you retake the quiz. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I felt that made the quizzes irrelevant.
  • This is a short course. You can probably finish the course in a day if you felt so inclined. I did mine over a few days and spent maybe an hour or two on the course each day. For the cost, especially as a non-member, I felt this was a downfall. I expected more.

Overall

Overall, I learned a LOT coming out of this course. I feel much better about my understanding of the two DNA tests that it focused on – Y DNA and mtDNA. I know I still have more to learn but the basics did give me a good foundation to start on and I feel much more knowledgeable about the terms and have found reading about DNA easier to understand now. I do recommend the course, although I wish it was less expensive. And I recommend taking the course ALONG with reading the terms on the ISOGG Wiki. It helps for clarification and gives a better understanding. Not to mention the ISOGG Wiki is a website you’ll want to bookmark to return to in the future.

For the cost, as I said, I did expect more. However, I realize that I may be alone in this. There are hundreds of courses out there all at varying prices. This is probably one of the cheapest  ways of learning more if you prefer the structure of a class, like I do. Of course, I encourage you to seek more information from books and online resources, but this can be a great way to get started in your genetic genealogy education.

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