"Although I have been active in genealogy for a number of years, I was surprised at how much I learned"
(John, England)

"Your courses are just what us family historians are looking for"
(Kim, Scotland)

"I learned a great deal of new stuff about using websites I have been using for years, was pointed in directions I hadn’t thought of going and the whole thing was presented in a very friendly manner"
(Mary, England)

"I have taken other online courses and I found yours to be the most supportive because you are taking each person where he or she is and helping them focus on how to research using topics they need to pursue"
(Barbara, USA)

"Even though I am not very computer literate, I still managed to keep up"
(Helen, Northern Ireland)




How Courses Work

What is an online course?
How do you select a course?
How Do You Join a Course?
How long is a course?
How much time will you spend on a course each week?
What do you do in the forum?
Do you have to attend the chats?
Are you going to find your lost ancestors?
Does is matter where you live?
Do the course numbers mean anything?
Does someone check your work?
Still puzzled?
Where do Pharos instructors spend their time online?

What is an online course?

An online course is a course that is taught over the Internet. All you need is an email account and a connection to the Internet and you can take an online course from anywhere in the world. The courses are self-study, so you work in your own time from lesson material that comes to you as a document by email. The courses are also led by a tutor and you get to 'meet' the tutor and your follow students in a secure online chat room and on the course forum (also called a message-board). You will be sent instructions for finding the chat room and forum a few days before your course begins.

How do you select a course?

We recommend you consider your interests and knowledge and look at course content. We provide more information on selecting courses in our free lesson, Learning Genealogy Online which is available in the Pharos Shop

You can find descriptive summaries and brief outlines of the contents of all courses at the Course Descriptions page. In addition, we number our courses to help you select courses in a logical sequence. You can read more about course numbers here. We also suggest you read the biographical note about the instructor of any course of interest.

Choose a course now

How Do You Join a Course?

First, complete the payment and register for your Student Account. When you click on the Buy Now button for any course you are prompted through the easy-to-follow steps.

The course instructor receives the names of all registered students about a week before the course is scheduled to begin and sends out a welcome message to everyone in the class. You will also receive emails from Pharos Admin telling you that the forum and chat room are ready for you to visit. The course forum is the online notice board for the class. The chat room is where you interact with your instructor and other students at the same time using your keyboard. You will access the forum and chatroom using your Student Area.

On or before the start date of the course the first lesson comes to you by e-mail. It is a PDF file (you probably have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer) that you can save and/or print out. Remaining lessons will come to you once each week.

The forum is open from the time you hear from your instructor so you have an opportunity to check it out and get some experience posting to it before the course is underway. This is a good time to try out the direct link to the chat room. We are ready to help if you have any difficulties.

Registering for your Student Account, joining the forum, and finding the chat room are the steps involved in joining a course. You are then ready to receive course materials and participate in course activities and discussions..

How long is a course?

Most Pharos courses last from two to six weeks. We recommend you mark this period on your calendar and try to keep some time open for participation in lesson exercises, forum discussion and chats.

How Much Time Will You Spend on a Course Each Week?

We recommend you allow from 4 to 5 hours per week. Some of you will work a little faster and others may require longer. This estimate does not include the time you spend researching your own ancestors because something in a lesson sidetracked you back to your own research. Generally it takes between two to three hours to go through a lesson taking time to visit any websites mentioned and to do the exercises. Allow about 30 minutes each week for visiting the forum and making your own contributions to class interaction. Attending a class chat will add another hour.  Those taking the FHSS Certificate courses will need to allow for extra time to complete the assignments. 

What Do You Do in the Forum?

You will receive clear directions for joining the class forum. The forum is private to Pharos and only those in your class read posts and contribute. You can read what others say any time of day. The instructor keeps an eye on discussion, adds new topics, answer questions, and generally keep the activity going.

You can reply to posts and create a new topic. In addition, you can edit your own remarks even after you have posted them but you cannot edit those of anyone else. It is also simple to upload files and pictures to a post in the forum.

Members of the class drop in at their own convenience, read what’s going on and post messages perhaps to introduce their own research interests or to respond to a question in a lesson, or to request advice, or to engage in a discussion about a shared interest with another student.

When your class is over we hope you will join in discussions in our Open Forum anytime, found under the section heading “for Everyone” at the top of the list of forums. It is a good place to request advice and find information posted by others in our Pharos community. If you are already a member of the open forum, then joining a course forum will be easy and familiar. You will need to be registered for a Student Account to visit the forum; but you do not have to buy a course.  Further information on getting registered is available here.

Do You Have to Attend Chats?

You are not required to attend the chats, unless you are being assessed as part of the FHSS Certificate course programme. For all other courses your tutor will encourage you to attend because the discussion supports what you are learning in the lessons. Sometimes the chat session is used for “hands-on” activity at useful websites.

Chat times and days will vary from course to course and every effort is made to accommodate preferences. If you want to check the time difference between where you live and UK time, go to www.timeanddate.com. The start date of a course does not imply that chats are on that day of the week.

After a chat is over, the text is saved and sent round to all students in the class or made available in the class forum. There is no need to take notes during discussion.

The instructor acts as a moderator and guides the chat. There is time for questions and free discussion. The exchange of “chat” is all by typed text – type a sentence or two or three, hit the OK button on the screen or your Enter key and your text appears for all to read. We hope you will contribute to the discussion – chats are fun and make you feel part of a class group.

Are you going to find your lost ancestors?

Much as we would like to promise that you will, there is no guarantee. We can promise that you will discover new ideas for searching online and off, and that you will find out fascinating things about records that you did not know before. We are all experienced researchers and teachers, and we share our tips and strategies. We can help you search more effectively and to accomplish more in less time. Most of all, we are enthusiasts, and do our best to help you have fun and increase your research success.

Does It Matter Where You Live?

It makes no difference where you live. You work on the lessons at your convenience. The forum can be visited at any time. Only chats are scheduled and all instructors will do their best to ensure everyone takes part in at least one or two of them.

Do the Course Numbers Mean Anything?

The course numbers are assigned with a progression in mind. This may be useful as you consider what courses to take.

001 to 099 series courses are for beginners. No prior knowledge is needed or assumed. 
100 series courses are about sources and methods and are designed with a broad range of knowledge and experience in mind. Whether the subject is new to you, or you are returning for review, you will find course content filled with new information, practical advice and interesting background.
200 series courses are for those who have some research experience, roughly equivalent to what is covered in the 100 series courses and who wish to expand on that.
300 series courses take students onward from the content in 100 and 200 series courses. Usually they also involve working in an earlier time period, or with more complex and difficult to understand records.  Look at the course descriptions of any 100 or 200 series courses that seem related to the 300 level course of interest before registering.
400 series courses are for students working at an advanced level
500 series courses are advanced level courses about topics of greater difficulty
series numbers are reserved for courses on regional, local and social history
series courses are specialist topics
800 series courses are general interest courses, but will shortly be changing numbers to fit into the 200 level
900 series courses are those developed in conjunction with family history societies

Does someone check your work?

That is up to you. There are exercises with most lessons, and instructors encourage you to put something from your work on the exercises into the forum. It creates discussion and gives the instructor an opportunity to help you. There are, however, no requirements to turn in exercises to instructors. Pharos courses are assisted self-study, so you are able to work at your pace and your chosen level of involvement.

Still puzzled?

Why not find your way to our Forums now and read what has been going on in our open forum. In addition, go to the Pharos Shop and download our free lesson Learning Genealogy Online?

Choose a course now

Where do Pharos instructors spend their time online?

We have been keeping track of the websites we use all the time when researching our own families or when helping others. Here is a list of websites we use on a regular basis and which meet most of our own research needs or provide links to help us find other sites we use only occasionally.
There are several types of websites – portals to more information, archives, libraries, free databases and commercial ones requiring payment.

This list is arranged by country, with a general list at the end

Websites We Use


  • British History Online takes you to some less well known resources as well as to any volumes of the Victoria County History series that are online.
  • Ancestry, 1841 to 1901 census returns, civil registration indexes, church record indexes, local histories, gazetteers are just a few of the items in this huge collection of data
  • FreeUKGen, the main page from which to access FreeBMD, FreeCen and FreeReg, which are volunteer indexing projects
  • FindMyPast, also offers census and civil registration records, outbound ship passenger lists, Death Duty Registers indexes and many other resources


  • National Archives of Scotland now has the catalogue of its collections online and offers lots of useful research information
  • National Library of Scotland, two great resources are the online maps and the interactive timeline of Scottish history
  • FreeCen, lots of Scotland’s counties are represented in the indexing projects here
  • ScotlandsPeople, the site for access to civil registration indexes, all available census returns, and Scottish testaments
  • Ancestry offers indexes and transcriptions to census returns 1841 to 1901 and a variety of other databases
  • Scottish Archives Network is a portal site to information about Scottish genealogy


  • National Library of Wales has a large website, a family history section, a few databases and helpful information
  • Wales on the Web is a great portal to things Welsh
  • FreeUKGen, the main page from which to access FreeBMD, FreeCen and FreeReg, which are volunteer indexing projects
  • Ancestry for Wales has census, civil registration and various other family and local history databases
  • FindMyPast is another place to search census and civil registration records, and has indexes to Death Duty Registers



  • Genuki, a huge resource and well worth taking time to explore at many levels
  • Really Useful Sources, a selective portal website and therefore not so overwhelming as Genuki  
  • Ireland and UK GenWeb, a third option for finding information about all parts of the British Isles and Ireland, arranged by country and county
  • FamilySearch, not only useful for the International Genealogical Index and the 1881 census, but for the FHLC and resource information
  • The National Archives, records of the national government, exhibits, guidance, databases, and useful resources to take you to other archives and their collections
  • UKBMD, a portal site to vital records and census returns online, both free and commercial sites
  • Lost Cousins links together people who have common ancestors in the 1881 census

    Lost Cousins

  • Ancestral Atlas – a great way to record and plot your family history all over the world.

    Plot your family history and connect it to the world.