Posted by Tully Taylor on 2011-06-23

Aspiring genealogists from across the country congregated at Samford University for the annual Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research [IGHR] June 12-17. A debut German Genealogical Research course was wildly popular, filling up in nine minutes on registration day back in January.

        Sharon Clouse, an IGHR student from New Jersey, said there is a dire need for German-centric courses.

        “I try to find lectures or anything else on Germany and it’s just not as prevalent when you’re going to conferences and things like that,” said Clouse. “You can see from the nine-minute sellout there are a ton of Germans out there who want to learn more about their family history.”

        John T. Humphrey, an authority on German genealogy from Washington, D.C., taught the sought- after course. He said he had numerous emails from people hoping to get into the booked class.

Amateur genealogists have always had an interest in researching German heritage, but there are a number of barriers making it difficult, Humphrey said.

        “Language, handwriting, and names are the three most difficult aspects in German research,” he said.

         German immigrants who came to America spoke different German dialects. Census workers took down names phonetically, which created as many as 40 variations for one name. Handwriting is also an issue. When immigrants did write their names it was in the Gothic alphabet. Individuals in German still have issues deciphering the old handwriting today, according to Humphrey.

        Another issue is the absence of knowledge regarding German history, said Humphrey, who has been to IGHR once before.

        “We have a bias in this country towards Great Britain,” he said. “More people came from the German-speaking areas of central Europe to the United States than any part of Great Britain.”

Clouse came to IGHR to continue educating herself and hoping to learn how to trace different records back to her German heritage.

        “I’m not sure how to look at the town records or what I’m seeing. And that’s what I was hoping to learn,” Clouse said.

        The German course began with creating a solid foundation, according to IGHR student Christina Humphreys, from Seattle, Wash. The first few days were dedicated to German history and learning the German script. Instructor Humphrey then discussed church records, maps, Internet resources, and more.

        Humphreys praised the instructor’s “skill and experience” in teaching the course.  “It’s summer camp for genealogists,” Humphreys said. “It has been a really great experience. It’s very inspiring because you learn these new things and you’re ready to go home and put them to use.”

        Samford’s IGHR enrolled 276 students from 39 states in 10 different genealogy courses.  The nationally-known institute is cosponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Washington, D.C.

        The German Genealogical Research course had students from across the country, including Oregon, Texas, California, Maryland, Ohio, Colorado and more. They heard about 25 hours of lecture during the week.

        Clouse, who visited IGHR for the sixth time, agreed and said she was going to “immediately start practicing her handwriting.”

        Humphrey, Clouse, and Humphreys agreed Samford University’s IGHR, which began in the 1960s, is a premier event for genealogists.

        “There is nothing like this in the United States in terms of getting people together and getting genealogists together to learn for a solid week in an environment like this,” Clouse said. “This is the only one.”

        The IGHR students appreciate the Samford community’s hospitality and efficiency managing the yearly institute.

        “The whole program is really well run,” Humphreys said. “Everyone we encounter is very friendly and helpful. So it makes coming to this particular campus a lot of fun.”


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.