You would think this #socialdistancing thing wouldn't be so bad for a genealogist, right? I mean, genealogists enjoy researching, and the new normal gives many of us plenty of time to do just that. However, #coronavirus also means libraries and archives are closed, lectures and conferences are cancelled, money might be tighter, and children need to be entertained.
In these unprecedented times, all of our activities are going to look quite different. Whether you're new to genealogy and need a new hobby to keep you occupied or are a professional genealogist who wants to expand your skillset, here are 10 ideas to pursue genealogy (and maintain your sanity).
1. Start building your tree or refresh a preexisting one. Have you been meaning to work on your family tree, but never seem to have the time? Now is your opportunity! If you're new to building family trees, consider which platform you would like to use. I prefer building online trees on Ancestry, but perhaps MyHeritage, FamilySearch, or WikiTree are more to your liking (or all of the above). Rather keep your tree offline? Look into family tree software like Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and Legacy Tree Maker. Can't decide? All for-pay platforms have free trials, so give each a spin until you land on a good fit.
And even if you're a family tree pro, now is a great time to go back through your research and consider restarting or fine-tuning with a new perspective. Read about why this might be a good idea here.
2. Call your relatives. Keeping in touch with family is as important as ever. Many of our older relatives may be taking additional steps to self-isolate and would appreciate the phone call. Use the opportunity to ask questions, reminisce about family, and maintain your connections. When I called my 90-year-old first cousin once removed recently, I was able to uncover more about my family history.
3. Take a DNA test. Whether DNA kickstarts your interest in genealogy or helps expand your tree, now is the time to take a test! I highly recommend starting out with Ancestry because it has the largest database and the ability to download your raw DNA and upload it elsewhere. If you've already taken a test, why not buckle down and go through your matches? See how you might be able to grow your tree, uncover a secret, or solve a mystery.
4. Read, read, read! Social distancing has definitely given me more time to read. Currently, I'm reading chapters from Advanced Genetic Genealogy Techniques and Case Studies and perusing issues of National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ). I also enjoy reading blog posts from some of my favorite genetic genealogists like Dr. Blaine Bettinger, Roberta Estes, and Dr. Leah Larkin. Whether you have an interest in a specific region, want tips for your genealogical research, or gain a better understanding of your DNA, there are plenty of resources out there.
5. Write, write, write! I find that writing brings me clarity and the opportunity to share my passion with a larger audience. Interested in finally writing that family memoir? Creating a business plan to turn your hobby into career? Launching a blog about your family history? Now might be a good time to write it all down. We are all living in historic times, so perhaps consider journaling your experiences. Your family will appreciate the firsthand account of what will someday be a distant memory.
6. Take a stroll at the local cemetery and fulfill Find-A-Grave requests. This one is my personal favorite. There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding this pandemic. Add in the need to social distance while caring for three young children, I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed. Today was a beautiful day, so I went for a walk around my local cemeteries. While baby-wearing my newborn, I enjoyed the serenity, but also photographed some graves and uploaded them to Find-A-Grave. Find-A-Grave is a volunteer-run website where people request images of graves, so you're doing a real mitzvah when you fulfill requests. Check it out!
7. Take an online class. It's no secret that I'm a major proponent of always learning, and coronavirus is providing the perfect opportunity to engage in some professional development. Check out some great genealogy classes from National Genealogical Society, National Institute for Genealogical Research, and FutureLearn.
8. Watch a webinar or listen to a podcast. Perhaps you would rather learn specific genealogy topics in an online lecture format. There are plenty FREE options through the FamilySearch Learning Center that cover a variety of topics. Legacy Family Tree is also a popular site that has around 1,000 available webinars from top genealogists for an annual subscription of $49.95. Several webinars are also free there, so check them out.
And as of writing this, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society is offering several free webinars that are definitely worth looking into.
If you're more of an auditory learning, there are several podcasts from which to choose. Cyndi's List provides some popular options.
9. Organize old photographs. Do you have a pile of photographs just sitting in a closet? What a great opportunity to go through them, especially with your family present to answer any questions they may have. And now is also a great time to digitize those photos, so that you can ensure they stand the test of time as well as share them with more distant branches of your family who would definitely appreciate them (and perhaps trade some mementos from their collection, too).
10. Engage with the genealogy community on social media. There are a lot of us. A lot. I started my genealogy journey in Facebook groups dedicated to Jewish genealogy and genetic genealogy. I look forward to Friday night #genchat on Twitter, and I occasionally participate in #genealogyphotoaday on Instagram. I use all of these platforms to promote My Family Genie and share genealogy, both personal and professional (and make sure to follow me on all these platforms-links below!). If you're finding yourself spending extra time in front of the screen, consider making it more purposeful by joining a genealogy group on you social media platform of choice.
I hope that these genealogy ideas provide you with some direction and new opportunities as we weather this storm together. If you have any questions about how to further your genealogical pursuits, please reach out. Happy family hunting!
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