Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> Tracing family roots

Leader creative editor

distant relative has been in touch with my paternal grandparents in recent years, providing them with family history he’s researched — such as a pedigree, some legal documents like census records, etc. He’s traced a family line dating to the Revolutionary War.

That is just one line of my family. I found this information interesting and decided to start looking into making my own family tree. I started with an Internet search, but soon learned that researching your family history is not so easy.

Many genealogy websites require a paid subscription, which could get costly seeing as how you can find information on one that you may not find on another.

When I saw a sign outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — located at 6110 T.P. White Drive in Jacksonville — that read “Family History Center,” I jumped at the chance to find out more.

Each Wednesday, volunteer church members are on hand to help guide those seeking to create their own family trees.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Doris Crain, a volunteer, said. “This leading collection of genealogy our church has collected. It’s free to the public.”

The Salt Lake City, Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has subscriptions to many of the genealogy websites — as well as its own site — and provides these free of charge to the public.

Some branches of the church, located across the nation, are designated family history centers like the one in Jacksonville. They are networked with the main church in Utah, giving them access to a collection of thousands of records.

The church has its own website,, and subscriptions to many other premium genealogy sites like and

Church members gather information from history commissions — records like census, Social Security death records, marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc.

Families are also welcome to donate information to the church. Volunteers fact check records too.

“We have checks and balances,” assistant Kelli Scott said. “We have a more than one set of eyes check everything.”

Anyone can walk in off the street with just a name and discover their lineage.

“Quite often, one of the things that happens here is people will walk in with nothing,” Sherry Smith, assistant director of the church’s Family History Center. “They just want to search their family history.”

I chose to work on a line I didn’t know much about, my maternal grandparents. I walked in with my great-grandmother’s name. Within minutes, the volunteers had led me to discovering her parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents.

But, after two visits to the center, I’ve only traced around five generations or so of my family.

“It’s a constant work,” Smith says. “What’s really delightful is when you discover something that hasn’t been found yet.”

The local Family History Center is open from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Use of the computers and record books is free to the public. But it costs 15 cents to print copies.