Many of us find ourselves staying home doing our part to flatten the coronavirus COVID-19 curve. Staying home means staying safe. Unfortunately, the side-effects of self-isolating at home can be boredom and loneliness. And that’s no small matter.

Hobbies like puzzles and cooking can keep us busy, but what about loneliness? According to former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness has been found to be associated with a reduction in life span worse than obesity and “similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” 

Human beings are simply wired for connection. So how do you connect during this time of social distancing? You might just find an answer in your past.

Genealogy is a hobby all about connecting with your family (past and present), yourself, your community, and the world. It’s ranked the second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, according to Time and ABC News.

For baby-boomers, there are powerful mental, emotional, and physical benefits. And you can do it from home! So, if you are going stir-crazy and starting to climb your walls, try climbing your family tree instead. Here are 5 easy steps for getting started in genealogy.

Gather What You Know

Before you start digging for your roots online, dig around your house first. Family history starts at home, and it starts with you. Write down what you know about your family and work backwards.

Pull out those boxes of photographs and scrapbooks. Gather any previous research, family bibles, diaries, letters, vital records, address books, yearbooks, and obituaries. You’ve probably been meaning to organize this stuff for years anyway. Now’s your chance.

Record what you know on pedigree charts and family group sheets. Call and interview your relatives to fill in any missing information. This is a perfect time to connect with those cousins you haven’t spoken to in years.

Tip: While everything is out, take the time to identify and scan your documents and photos to preserve them.

What Do You Want to Know? (Set Research Goals)

Sit back and look at your family tree and decide where you want to focus your research. Growing an entire tree at once can be overwhelming. Instead, break it down into smaller research projects.

Start with one particular branch, family unit, or a family mystery as your research goal before moving onto the next project.

Tip: Don’t get lost in your tree. Write down your research goals and focus on them one at a time to prevent confusion and errors.

Online Sleuthing

With your research goal as your guide, it’s time to get online. The big four genealogy websites are Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com. All have extensive record collections and powerful family tree-building tools.

Check them all out to see which one fits you and your research goals best. (While most are subscription-based, look for free trials or access them for free through your local library.)

Start by tracing your ancestors in the census records to establish a timeline. Next, move onto examining birth records, marriage records, and death records. Are there immigrants in your family tree? Immigration and naturalization records could reveal their country and city of origin.

Play detective and lawyer when reading documents. Make sure dates and names correlate with known facts. I’ve seen many family trees showing women getting married and giving birth years after their deaths.

Want to dig a little deeper into your family history? Discover your family’s military service records on Fold3.com.

Find obituaries, wedding announcements, and stories you never knew about your ancestors on Newspapers.com. And even though you might be stuck inside, you can take a virtual cemetery visit to see an ancestor’s final resting place on FindaGrave.com and BillionofGraves.com.

Tip: Be careful when accepting hints and information from other family trees. Consider these suggestions and scrutinize their sources carefully. Don’t infect your tree with their mistakes.

Connecting with Others

You are never alone in your research journey. There are lots of places to connect online with other family historians and genealogists.

Consider joining your local genealogical society or a genealogy Facebook group and ask questions. Download a podcast. Take a webinar or online course to learn new skills. Many are being offered for free right now.

Sharing Your History

Research is thrilling, but sharing is caring. Here are a few simple ways to share and preserve your family history from quarantine:

Family Trees

Share your family tree online. Or, design a beautiful chart to frame and hang on your wall using FamilyChartMasters.com.

Family History Photo Books

Create family history photo books with websites like Shutterfly and Snapfish and ship copies directly to your relatives.

Social Media

Write short profiles of interesting ancestors and share them on Facebook or Instagram. Connect with your grandkids by posting photos of them with look-a-like ancestors in the same pose or around the same age.

Write Your Family History

Start with a particular ancestor, event, or mystery and tell your family story. A lasting legacy for future generations.

What would you like to know about your family history? Have you made any surprising discoveries? Do you have a family mystery? Please share what you know with our community!

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