Shake your family tree and you never know who might fall out.
For Lois Addington, the experience was almost miraculous. She went to the Walla Walla Family History Center at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and worked with Betty England, who has worked there for almost 20 years.
“She pulled down a book that showed all the states, towns and county seats of the United States,” Addington said. “Her finger stopped at Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington.”
That was where Addington was born and adopted. She was referred to Confidential Intermediary Karen King in the Renton area, who had helped reunite other adopted children. Addington hired King and within six weeks she had information about three sisters who live in Texas. Her birth mother had died in 1997 and a brother had died in 1994.
“No one in the family knew about me so I was a shock to them,” Addington said. “However they are the most beautiful women I have ever known.”
Addington just returned from a trip to Texas to meet her newfound family.
“We walked where our mama walked,” she said. Addington is also using resources at the Center to continue researching her biological family. “What a blessing in my life.”
The Family History Centers were established in 1830 when the church was established, said Jan Gorman, the center’s assistant director. The church encouraged each person keeping their own history in journals and diaries.
Gorman said the Walla Walla church was built in the 1970s and the Family History Center was part of the original building. It has progressed as the times have progressed. Computers and the Internet have become a prime asset for genealogists.
“It used to be entirely books, microfilm and microfiche,” Gorman said. “It involved a lot of traveling, phone calls and letter writing.”
The Center’s volunteers also offer genealogy research classes and resources free to the community. Gorman said the center can share websites such as ancestry.com and military records site fold3.com, which are expensive on your own but free if used at the center.
If you have an ancestor who was in the Revolutionary War, you can apply to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and have access to several more historical data bases.
“Most people have no clue where to start so we start them with bare bones basics,” Gorman said.
Gorman said the first step is to start learning how to diagram your family tree with a pedigree chart. Also to learn about newspaper archives and websites. Remember that decades ago front page news used to be of a more social, familial nature — such as a local resident received out-of-town guests — those types of articles are full of family stories.
“I teach Boy Scouts how to do this,” Gorman she said.
“Start with one person you know better than anyone else — that’s yourself. Start a timeline or a journal and write your own personal history. Then gather whatever information you have laying around: newspaper clippings or booklets from funerals. Go through it, sort it out (by) mother’s family and father’s family,” she instructed, describing the pedigree chart.
Then ask questions of your family, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“Start filling in the blanks and accumulate information,” Gorman said. “You could do a video interview of the family member. You won’t have the distraction of taking notes and it leaves you with a treasure to leave to your family.”
Another outline to fill in the blanks is the family group chart, which lists couples and all of their children. These are the branches and the leaves on the branches. Start with oldest first and work to the youngest.
“You could say the pedigree chart is (like) a road map of the direct route to Orlando, but the family groups list of the indirect descendants is a city map to Disneyworld,” she said.
“Fill in the blanks,” she said, but do it in pencil because you may have to do a lot of erasing.
Because of local interest in the hobby, the Center is thinking of the future while recording the past.
“We are expanding the knowledge base of the volunteers that work here,” Gorman said. “With experience they are getting more comfortable being teachers.”
Ultimately, she said, people tracing their family trees will lead to common discovery: That we are all relatives, one big family.
Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Classes are held 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesdays, resuming Jan. 15, at the Walla Walla Family History Center at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1821 S. Second Ave. On April 20 the Center will hold a seminar from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., including a free lunch for participants. Classes explore genealogical websites and programs, online searches and indexing, the inputting of information by volunteers around the world who look at microfilmed drafts of census records. For details call the center at 509-529-9211.