Coronavirus has turned everyday life upside down.


People around the UK are getting a small taste of what our ancestors may have experienced as they lived through crises such as the Spanish and Russian flu pandemics and the First and Second World Wars.

It’s clear that many of us will be largely working and living at home for the foreseeable future. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions need to protect their health, while others must avoid unnecessary social contact to help slow the spread of the pandemic.

In these challenging times, it’s hugely important that we find fun and stimulating ways to pass the time and stay in contact with others from our homes.

Luckily, as family historians we’re in the perfect position to do so!

Although family history events and services are closing, there’s lots you can do to discover your ancestry from your home computer.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced family historian, why not try these top tips…

1. Write your memoirs

How many of us have considered writing up our own memories but haven’t been able to find the time?

Why not make the most of this opportunity and write an account of your life for future generations to enjoy. You may think you have led too ordinary a life to be worth writing up, but this is not true. Things from the past, that we take for granted, will be fascinating to future generations.

Alternatively, if writing isn’t your thing, have a look at putting together a photo book. There are many websites that provide pre-designed templates that make it easy to produce a book of family photographs that can be shared. Some companies, such as BonusPrint and Snapfish have got templates specifically for family historians.
2. Record family memories

We may be separated physically from family members but technology can keep us connected. If you’re talking to relatives by phone or Skype, why not ask if they want to share memories as an enjoyable way to pass the time. Memories are an important starting place for identifying who’s who in your family tree as well as adding details and colour that no archive can provide. Skype to Skype calls can be recorded and preserved for the future and there are apps, especially for Android phones, that let you record conversations.

Don’t forget about the younger generation either. If your children are staying home from school, sharing some family stories and photographs with them makes a fun home history lesson. If you have grandchildren or other children in the family, you can share your family history over Skype.
3. Start your research online

The growth of the internet has changed family history. We’re lucky to live in a time when millions of original records are available to search online.

Leading family history websites Ancestry, Findmypast, TheGenealogist and MyHeritage all offer free trials. Why not try them out and see if you can find your relatives in their records?

If you want to take it further, take a look at some of our Family History Websites to Watch in 2020 to discover the exciting new records being released this year.

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How many people in your family history photographs can you name? (Credit: WDYTYA? Magazine) Credit: WDYTYA? Magazine

How many people in your family history photographs can you name? (Credit: WDYTYA? Magazine)

4. Review your research

If you’ve already started your family tree, now’s the time to double-check and tidy your research. Are you sure you have a source for every birth, marriage and death? Are your records and research notes in order? Have you backed up all your online files? If you have a collection of family photographs, can you go over them and see how many people you can name?

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5. Connect with other genealogists

All of us involved in family history know how lucky we are to have such a supportive community. People will often go out of their way to help a stranger solve a family history brick wall, and the internet means we can communicate with each other from all over the world.

If it’s getting lonely in your house, you can connect with fellow genealogy enthusiasts in our Facebook group and by following the #AncestryHour discussions on Twitter, which take place every Tuesday at 7pm GMT.

The Family History Federation also wants to hear from family historians, posting on Facebook: "HOW can the Family History Federation HELP YOU not just survive, but even THRIVE in 2020?"

“We already have some ideas, but we need more. Think not just in terms of your Society or Group, but also how we can help Individuals.

“Then having thought, please email your BRIGHT IDEAS, no matter how OUTLANDISH to:”
6. Help transcribe records

One great way you can give back to other family historians is volunteering to transcribe records.

This year, four projects took part in our Transcription Tuesday event – FamilySearch, the Ancestry World Archives Project, Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea and the Internment Research Centre.

All four projects are still running, so if you didn’t have a chance to get involved then, maybe now is the perfect time to be a family history hero.
7. Start an online course

If you want to take your research further, you can register for an online course to learn new genealogy skills.

The University of Strathclyde has a free six-week online course, ‘Researching Your Family Tree’, available until 3 May.

Pharos Tutors also offers a range of online courses that will keep you occupied and improve your family history knowledge.
8. Subscribe for just £5!

Enjoy twelve weeks (three issues) of family history inspiration through your letterbox from reader stories to expert advice that will help you grow your family tree for just £5! Or why not treat a friend or family member? (

If you want to get your inspiration straight away, you can enjoy the same fantastic deal as a digital magazine. Just click on the link above, select the digital tab, choose your subscription and then download our app on iOS or Android tablets.


Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine