“Family History Centers Spreading,” Ensign, Feb. 2006, 74–75
With the Internet making research easier than ever, family history is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. Those who have looked for family names online to fulfill curiosity can turn to the Family History Centers of the Church as their interest becomes more serious.
The 4,407 centers around the world are branch facilities of the Family History Library located at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, the largest library of its kind. The satellite Family History Centers provide access to almost all of the microfilms and microfiche in the central library.
Though it is a commandment for Latter-day Saints to research their ancestors, others of different faiths have also caught the family history fever. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population is interested in tracing family history, according to a 2000 poll by Maritz Marketing Research Inc. This is a 15 percent increase from 1995.
“There are today many genealogical and family history societies in the world. I think they all have come into existence subsequent to the visit of Elijah. … Since then, and in more recent years particularly, there has been a tremendous surge of interest in family history. With that surge, the Family History Department of the Church has grown to be able to accommodate it,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley (“The Spirit of Elijah,” Liahona, Nov. 1996, 19).
“[Latter-day Saints] have been commanded to do [family history],” says Mike Provard, North America Operations Supervisor for Family History Centers. “In addition, many others have a deep hunger to find out where we come from in this crazy, busy world we live in. … When people learn what their ancestors have gone through, they can cope better with their own lives.”
Brother Provard says that in many centers the majority of the patrons are not members of the Church. “In the eastern U.S., 90 to 95 percent of the patrons [in some centers] are not members. They are thrilled to have the centers in the area.”
Efforts are now focused on opening Family History Centers in all areas of the world. Some of the busiest Family History Centers worldwide are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Carlingford, Sydney, Australia; and Ashton, England. The center in Ashton is located near a temple, a placement that helps the center benefit from increased activity, Brother Provard says.
Even where a Family History Center may not be nearby, the family history efforts of Latter-day Saints can be felt while doing research worldwide. For example, those who search for Scottish ancestors benefit from the efforts of Latter-day Saints who microfiched about 40 million documents held in the New Register House in Scotland. It was a 30-year task that helped contribute to the Scottish government’s family history Web site at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
Information on this and other projects carried out by members is available in the Church’s library, and much of it can also be found on www.familysearch.org, the Church’s family history Web site. The result of decades of research, the FamilySearch site includes some 957 million names.
With volunteers to help visitors navigate through the Web site and free access to www.ancestry.com, Family History Centers are good places to begin a search.
“Many people who are into family history research are at first concerned about gathering names, dates, and places. But our ancestors are much more than that. … I am a product of all my ancestors. I want to find out about them,” Brother Provard says.
A group on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, the Totem Tracers Genealogical Society, uses the local Family History Center to hold its monthly meetings, during which members compile family names and stories about their ancestors. Loretta Mattson, the secretary of the group, has added 9,795 individuals to her history, which goes back 49 generations. She has found a blacksmith, Quakers who once owned part of Nantucket Island, and a woman who lost four sons to disease in the American Civil War.
“There are millions across the world who are working on family history records. Why? Why are they doing it? I believe it is because they have been touched by the spirit of this work, a thing which we call the spirit of Elijah. It is a turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers,” said President Hinckley (Liahona, Nov. 1996, 20).