about me
blog author
Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

Read These Posts First

Posts contain affiliate links. See my disclosures page for details.


Studying Genealogy Periodicals

An often underutilized source of self-education is the genealogical journal. Genealogical journals are one of the only ways to learn how to do quality genealogy by studying quality genealogy.

Studying Genealogy Periodicals | The Occasional Genealogist

Studying Genealogy Periodicals: Journals, Newsletters, and Magazines

What is a Genealogy Journal?

A journal is not the same as a newsletter or magazine. Genealogy journals don't normally provide "how-to" articles, they publish case studies written by researchers who have solved a difficult genealogical problem. There is usually some other material published in a journal such as book reviews and maybe relevant genealogical news but the body is one or more case studies.

Note that it is possible a "journal" has changed overtime without chaning its name. The availability of online records as well as online help information, and the changing membership of local socities, might mean a publication is still called a "Journal" but resembles a newsletter.

Also, some publications (no matter the name) might focus on publishing family histories for the focus of their group. This might mean the article isn't about solving a difficult problem. If your goal is to improve your skills, make sure you checkout some of the big name journals for your country. The journals mentioned in this post are U.S. based.

Journals vs. Family History Newsletters or Magazines

A journal's offerings, and usually its purpose, is different than a newsletter which focuses on news, records, or other topics. Some newsletters may also contain case studies.

Magazines may be similar to a newsletter, containing news and usually how-to articles instead of case studies.

Getting Genealogy Education

Reading all three types of publications is beneficial, particularly reading periodicals relevant to your specific research, whether a location, ethnicity, or other topic. You may even find abstracted records in periodicals that are available nowhere else!

Seek out niche periodicals to learn about your specific topics of interest. Also seek out quality journals, regardless of topic.

Case studies can seem intimidating or dry to some genealogists. So while they may read newsletters and magazines, they may avoid journals. The main excuse for not reading genealogy journals is usually, "the topic of the case study isn't relevant to my research." 

The purpose of journals is different than magazines and newsletters. Magazines and newsletters give you information on specific topics.

The purpose of case studies is not to see the specific sources used for a problem. The purpose is to see how a difficult problem was solved. You want to notice the general type of sources (deeds, church books, probate records, etc.) and the techniques used (what kind of correlation and analysis was used and how the analysis was written up).

Reading niche case studies is helpful but should not be your sole focus.

How to Read a Genealogy Case Study

Reading a genealogical case study is not necessarily the most natural thing to do.

Simply reading straight through the text isn't enough. A major part of reading a case study is studying the sources as well as the text.

Because this is rather awkward for most people, there are some articles to help you learn a methodology for reading quality journal articles. "Eight Tips for Deconstructing an NGSQ Case Study" is available from the NGS Monthly.

Bill Litchman wrote an article about teaching difficult research techniques. Many study groups use this article as a framework for directing their group.

If you are not participating in a study group, the most relevant part of his article, for an individual, is the paragraph underneath the list of articles. Reading the full article will give you more background and understanding of why you'd want to read case studies, though.

Variety Expands Your Knowledge

Reading case studies from a variety of locations and time periods is the most helpful.

Your research problem may be difficult because it defies all the normal research avenues for the time and location you are working in.

The National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) is popular because it contains articles from all different states and time periods. Similarly, there is "The American Genealogist" and "The Genealogist." Although location specific, "The Register" published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, is one of the most commonly read journals.

Many state genealogy societies publish a journal although some publish a newsletter.

Selecting Genealogy Journal Articles to Study

You don't need to focus on current journal articles. Reading old articles is also helpful and can have advantages. Current articles can help you understand how to appropriately use online sources or DNA. Reading articles from the 1970s-1990s can help you understand what kinds of sources exist, meaning sources beyond what is online.

Older articles can also be helpful but realize before photocopying was available, the standards for genealogy were different and you will see this the most in small journals. Today we can sit at home and get an image of many records. Much genealogy was done by mail in the past and before photocopies, that means you got a handwritten abstract, which might have only a few details. If you don't have the skills to recognize the difference in quality due to the time-frame the article was written in, this can lead you astray.

The advantage of older articles, particularly those published in major journals of the time, is the standard might have been using records you could personally access (or received photocopies of, once that was an option). I LOVE reading older articles and seeing totally different types of records being used. This can give you general ideas for types of records or show you specific records existed for a niche topic you are interested in.


  • Before photocopying was available, smaller publications might have articles that were high-quality at the time but don't meet today's standards. This can lead you astray if you don't have the skills to tell the difference, yet. Start with major publications.
  • If you find a publication or article for your niche topic(s) of interest, read it. It can teach you about relevant sources even if it doesn't teach you about analysis that meets today's standards.
  • "Quality" for the time also applies to DNA articles. These standards are changing fast so if you want to learn about using DNA, focus on current articles. DNA, like photocopying, is a technology issue and technology changes mean changes in standards.

Where to Find Genealogy Journals

It is worthwhile to check your local genealogy reference collection to see what type of periodicals they have. You may have to use a "genealogy room" at your local library which usually means you can't check the periodical out (and possibly can't even use it in another part of the library). You may find the most recent periodicals in the periodicals section.

Check if any genealogy journals are available bound (for example, an entire decade) and available for checkout.

If you have access to a university library, don't forget to check there, as well. The average university library won't have a "genealogy room" but may have select genealogy items in their regular collection. It depends on the curriculum they offer!

If your only option, aside from subscribing to more journals than you can afford, is reading them in the local genealogy room, remember, they're articles, not books. You can easily read one during your visit. Set aside a bit of time and make this a habit.

When you join a large genealogy society, like the National Genealogical Society (U.S.) you often get online access to past digitized journals. Small societies may not be able to afford to digitized past issues but if you want to expand you genealogy knowledge through reading journal articles, and especially if you need to stick with online options, see if access to a digitized archive is a benefit of membership.

Don't forget to check for periodicals that are no longer published.

Even if you don't identify case studies in periodicals for your specific area of interest, you may find a newsletter or journal that published abstracted records you need. Some defunct journals are part of online genealogy subscriptions for this reason. You will need to use something like the site's card catalog to identify these.

You can also check-out academic resources like JSTOR. You may have access to online academic article sites through you public library or through an affiliation with a university (some universities/colleges offer benefits to local library patrons or to alumni so you never know what you can access for free from home until you check).

There are multiple reasons to join a genealogy group that publishes a genealogy journal. Getting the journal delivered to your home is a big one, though. As you're considering how journals fit in your budget, consider if a membership/subscription offers access to back issues (online) as well as mailing or emailing the current issue.

(FYI, mailing a newsletter or journal is one of the biggest expenses for a genealogy society, and possibly the biggest headache. Many societies have had to switch to emailed publications or charging extra for mailed copies. This is a major issue that's been going on for decades now. Don't get mad if you have to pay extra for a mailed copy, the expense is real. Instead, support you selected genealogy societies or groups and encourage your genealogy friends to do the same. Maybe you could even volunteer to help with the newsletter/journal or in another capacity to free up a volunteer to help with publications.)

I'm a member of the National Genealogical Society for several reasons. One perk is the archive of the NGSQ. I can search for articles I learn about in other sources, search authors I know specialize in an area of interest, or search titles for a location. This allows me to focus on areas of interest by utilizing the archive while getting variety from current articles.

Getting lots of genealogy periodicals at home can be expensive. Consider more than just the current issues you'll receive when narrowing down your options. Also consider any others features of a membership. This can include online databases, discounts on education or for online subscriptions or for genealogy products, and possibly research help of one type or another. It varies greatly by the group.

Join or Start a Genealogy Journal Study Group

[This post was originally published before COVID. As the world returns to in-person meetings, I'm leaving this here. However, you may need to search for virtual groups, which actually increases your chances of finding a group.]

Joining a genealogical journal study group is extremely beneficial.

There are online study groups (try googling "NGSQ Study Group") and in-person study groups.

Check if your local genealogical society offers Special Interest Groups (SIGs) or study groups. SIGs often don't study journals but might. It's also a way to meet others with similar interest so you can start your own study group.

It's beneficial to have a more experienced genealogist in your study group but it's not necessary. Better to have a study group than not if a "mentor" is all you lack. You can use the article by Bill Litchman mentioned above to help guide you.

Seek out opportunities through your local genealogical society, at a local repository, or just the local library. There may also be genealogy interest groups at a local church, senior center, or retirement community. Some lineage societies may have sufficient genealogical interest to provide study group participants.

Learn from Genealogy Periodicals

Hopefully you now see how genealogy journals and the case studies they provide can help you. If you are only reading newsletters and magazines, branch out! If you aren't reading any of them, get started.

Genealogy periodicals used to be the lifeblood of genealogy education before we had so many online options. They are still extremely important. What you can learn from a case study is similar to taking an intense week-long in-person course (yes, you do need to read multiple case studies to get the same variety as a course, though).

I've been to many lectures that were based on a case study. This is like the difference in the movie version of a book versus the actual book. You just can't fit everything a case study provides (educationally) into a one-hour lecture.

In other words, case studies are the best deal as far as cost and time. Newsletters and magazines can offer something different. Make all three part of your genealogy education plan!

What's your favorite genealogy periodical and why? Leave a comment!

I am a U.S. researcher so I only mentioned U.S. journals. If you are outside the U.S., I'd love if you'd leave a comment with your favorite non-U.S. journal.

Think case studies sound dry and unrelated to your genealogy research? Genealogy journal articles can improve your genealogy education and newsletters might contain some unique records you won't find without a trip to the source. Learn why you need to study genealogy periodicals in this post. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory #frugal