Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Discovering Your Roots

Discovering Your Roots:  An Introduction To Genealogy, by Professor John Philip Colletta

As someone who greatly enjoys listening to cds in my car from the Great Courses collection [1], and who has a strong interest in genealogy and family history [2], this course was obviously one that I enjoyed a great deal and would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with the same interests.  It is clear and obvious why this particular instructor, even with a somewhat irritating voice, received the chance to teach this course.  This is a demanding course, and will challenge anyone who takes it seriously.  Rather than being a peaceful and tranquil introduction to genealogy, this professor has much higher ambitions of his students, namely the hopes that they will become very serious writers of family history.  If this is a mission you are willing to accept, this is a course that you will find to be both stimulating and quite daunting.  Even those budding family historians who have already done a fair amount of research will find much to challenge them here–this is a world-class introduction into the techniques of archival research and writing family histories from someone who has clearly gone above and beyond and become a serious expert in the field.

Coming in at 15 lectures of 30 minutes apiece, this is not a great course that will take too long to listen to, but its assignments will take a long time to complete for those who are willing to undertake the task.  Every single one of these lectures requires some demanding work, like mastering some of the language where a relative came from, planning and writing a family history, looking up records from county courthouses and state and federal records, and so on.  The fifteen lectures begin closest to home with notes on interviewing and mining home sources, using online sources, going to the library, examining military service and homesteading records, building historical context, examining ship passenger lists, finding ancestors in naturalization records, living up to the genealogical proof standard, taking a trip to the county courthouse, finding relatives in state records, writing biographies, knowing the dos and don’ts of writing history, searching in ancestor’s backyards, assembling accounts of family discoveries, and extending a search for one’s family tree overseas.  To do what the professor of this course instructs will require the listener to spend months or even years of effort in seeking to better understand their family history, but if someone is already on this quest, then the guidance and information provided here will be of immense practical use.

One of the factors that elevates this course into such a useful one, and makes this of such lasting value is the way that the author gives a great deal of personal information that builds a sense of intimacy with the person listening.  He talks about his quirky ancestors and their doings, his own mistakes such as writing about starlings in Mississippi anachronistically, and comments on his own struggles with the sources of his own family history and with their successes and failures, their struggles and their achievements.  He shows a great deal of praise for the seriousness of the Mormons in understanding family history for their own religious purposes, despite his clear identity as a Roman Catholic priest, and even ends the course on a bit of a cliffhanger when he talks about a record he found of a family marriage that was marked as being with a woman and her sposo clandestine (secret husband), which sounds like the title of an awesome telenovela.  This is a course well worth taking and taking seriously.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Discovering Your Roots

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