Like many around the world, Olivia Jewell has felt the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak. A young mother of four now homeschooling her children, she wondered how she could help others who were feeling the psychological demands of the pandemic.
A few weeks ago, Jewell’s husband, Eric, encouraged her to take a break and go to her mother’s home. “That night, having that break,” she said, “I sat up in the morning and I was like, ‘21-day challenge. That’s the answer.’”
Several years ago, Jewell completed a 21-day experiment spending more time in temple and family history work — an invitation Sister Wendy Nelson extended during the 2015 BYU Women’s Conference.
“What I learned from that 21-day experience is family history is so much more than genealogy, names, dates, charts, things like that,” said Jewell, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in Payson, Utah. “That changed me.”
Over the last two weeks, Jewell — along with a team of family history experts, social media influencers, a psychologist and others — created the “21 Day Family Connections Experiment: A Family History Project” to help people strengthen family bonds and boost their emotional and mental well-being during COVID-19.
“It has blown up,” Jewell said of the number of people willing to get involved. “There is no question to me that the Lord is behind it. … For me, it’s been this amazing experience of the right people being brought in at the right time.”
The experiment will run from May 1-21 and is designed for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation or family situation.
Upon joining the experiment, participants will take a brief survey to gauge their current mood. They can choose from a variety of pre-made family history plans or build their own. Plans include daily prompts for 5- to 10-minute activities. At the end of the 21-day period, participants will take a follow-up survey to measure how their mood has changed.
Russell Seigenberg, a licensed psychologist since 1985 who lives in Providence, Utah, has been helping frame the survey questions for the experiment. To him, the experiment is about the emphasis on connection — especially during a time of isolation due to COVID-19.
“It’s the idea of connecting to your present family members and your relatives and ancestors,” he said. “Human beings are social creatures.”
Family history is one of the best “mood enhancers,” he said, as it gives people something to focus on and allows them to feel the Spirit — even if they don’t realize it. “When people have the Spirit, they do better with their emotions.”
Amy Ward and her 18-year-old daughter Kaitlyn, members of the Church who live in Poway, California, are passionate about family stories and are thrilled to be part of the project.
“It’s a 21-day experiment exploring the benefits of daily connections with family,” said Amy Ward. An “accidental genealogist,” she has seen the power of sharing her parents and grandparents’ stories with her children and hopes others will see that in their families, too.
Amy Ward’s daughter, Kaitlyn Ward, 18, has been helping with marketing for the experiment and getting youth involved.
“I’m pretty excited to be working and helping so many youth realize this tool that they have to overcome the difficulties they face,” said Kaitlyn Ward, who spoke at RootsTech Family Discovery Day in 2018 with her great-grandparents, President Dallin H. Oaks and Sister Kristen Oaks.
When Kaitlyn was 13 years old, she lost one of her friends to suicide. She struggled to cope with her emotions and felt confused about who she was and her purpose in life. That’s when a Young Women leader reached out and taught her how to do family history.
“I wasn’t super into it at first because I thought all my family history had been done by my grandparents and great-grandparents,” she said. “But as I started to create a connection with this Young Women’s leader and create connections with some of my ancestors, we ended up having a blast, and we started laughing over hilarious family names, or some of the crazy stories that we’ve found.”
That was the moment Kaitlyn Ward realized that family history creates connections. “And it’s through those connections that you’re able to overcome the difficult things and the difficult trials that you’re going through,” she said.
Jewell said the goal of the experiment is to reach people who aren’t already doing family history. While Latter-day Saints know of the promised blessings, others do not.
“What we want to do is show them that there’s way more to it than just being interesting,” she said of family history. “But that it has emotional power and support and strength for their lives that they can draw from in hard times, specifically right now with COVID-19 happening and the stress.”
The "21 Day Family Connections Experiment" is free and non-promotional. None of the individuals or entities involved will be making profit. Learn more about the experiment by visiting connections-experiment.com, join the Facebook group or follow on Instagram.