By LORI FAYBIK
---- — OTTUMWA – Tracing your family tree is becoming easier than ever before with the digitization of more and more genealogical records.
A growing collection of birth, death, marriage, church, military and census records are available to explore from the comfort of your own home on websites such as ancestry.com, rootsweb.com and familysearch.org.
The Ottumwa Family History Center located inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 301 W. Rochester St. provides a work space with computers for searches as well as microfilm and microfiche readers for record inquiries that have not yet been converted to a digital format.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints holds the largest collection of genealogical records in the world with over 3.5 billion records safeguarded in the Granite Mountain Records Vault near Salt Lake City, Utah.
However, researchers don’t have to travel all the way to Utah to access these records.
“Almost everything that is available in Salt Lake City is potentially available here,” Ottumwa Family History Center Director Maureen Goering said.
Many records that cannot yet be found in a digital format are stored in the Salt Lake City Center in book or microfilm format. Most of those records can be borrowed by the local center for three-month periods of time. Genealogical records from throughout the United States are available as well as international sources.
All the services at the Ottumwa center are offered for free, including use of the center’s subscription to ancestry.com. However, when borrowing records from the Salt Lake City center, patrons will be expected to pay for shipping, which is around $7.50 for microfilm.
The Ottumwa center recently received a large donation of books and microfilms from an anonymous patron who got started with his research there many years ago.
“I feel really pleased by that; these books here are very useful,” Goering said.
Those just starting a hobby in genealogy can find a series of tutorials online at familysearch.org to learn where to begin. The Ottumwa center also offers a 10-week class on Sundays for beginners.
A team of about seven volunteers and two missionaries are available at the Ottumwa Family History Center to help with any genealogical query.
Goering notes the importance of tracing ones roots, saying that in the Bible, Malachi 4:6 says “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents …"
“Family history can bind families together by learning the sacrifices of their forefathers and how they overcame the problems that they faced. That is the beautiful thing about family history, it will expand the appreciation of the heritage we have," she said
For local records, Goering suggests checking at the Wapello County Genealogical Society and at the Ottumwa Public Library.
The latest technological advancements have even led many genealogists to look at their genetic code for ancestors with DNA testing. This service is offered at a cost through sites such as ancestry.com.
The Ottumwa Family History Center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It may open at additional times by appointment. Homebound genealogists can request further assistance from the comfort of their home. Goering can be reached at 641-937-5451 or at the church at 641-682-1622.