Another thing I've taken to this winter is studying local history. Who says that all history is made in cities or in the East or West? Even here in Michigan where pretty much nothing happens besides car manufacturing, cold cereal and chemicals, our very backyards are rich with history.
Here's how you can literally study the history of your backyard. This method should work for anywhere in the US.
1. Go to Zillow and type in your address. The description will tell you when your house was built, or at least give you a general idea.
2. Go to Historicalmapworks.com. Use their search feature to pick your home state, and then your county/township/parish/other local area. When I did my search, there was several plat book years to choose from; 1896, 1915, 1930, 1940, etc. Pick the year closest to when your house was built.
3. When you've found the correct map, find your residence and see who owned the property at that time.
4. Google search the owner's name. This may bring up birth and death dates, obituaries or any other notable information. If the search comes up dry, a good website to use is Familysearch.org. This site will bring up US Census info, birth, death and marriage records if they are available.
Find Your Home's Story
Now that you've got the who, what, where, and when, it's time to figure out the why. This is the fun part; finding your house's personal story and reading about its former inhabitants.
5. Look up any old/free books about your county/township/parish's early history. I got lucky- Michigan has a relatively short history, with the very first settlers coming from New York in the 1830s. I found two history books online published around 1900 with many individual stories about the people who settled in my community, right down to school attendance records and how much money was in the church fund. By reading the chapter about my township thoroughly, I was able to familiarize myself with names of the most prominent citizens.
By cross-referencing the history book with the plat book, you can connect people with places. I discovered that my property owner was an widowed daughter of the farmer across the road. When she was 34, she married a 64-year-old widowed doctor/reverend (who immigrated from England as a boy) and bore him two daughters. When they were 5 and 6, the old man died and she moved back home, across the road from her parents' place, presumably to raise her daughters.
In addition to this information, I found out that the farmer across the road had bought the property from one of the original settlers and found native american burial mounds in his field. Pretty cool, I think!
Using this method, you can literally take a historical tour of your own neighborhood. Start with your own property, then look up other properties nearby that are of interest. Then go down to the local cemetery and see if you can find any notable people. It's a fun way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. :)