“Everybody waits to start their genealogy until everybody that knows anything about their family is gone or has dementia,” says Jim Riley, Santa Clara County Historical & Genealogical Society research consultant and volunteer at Santa Clara’s Central Park Library. The good news is that you don’t have to wait that long because digging up your past has never been easier.
You don’t have to go to Salt Lake City or San Francisco to begin research. Santa Clara’s Central Park Library on Homestead Road is the headquarters of the Santa Clara County Historical & Genealogical Society. All the free resources you need are in the library’s second-floor Heritage Pavilion—or just down the road at the Santa Clara Family History Center, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The library, home to one of the best genealogy collections in northern California, and the Family History Center each have extensive collections of books, maps, microfilm, and microfiche. Knowledgeable volunteers will help you get started and work with you when you reach an inevitable, premature dead end. Some volunteers can help with foreign translations. News is posted about seminars and programs where you can meet like-minded sleuths.
“A little curiosity leads you into it. Then you get sucked in. It makes history personal when you’re doing your own family,” says Lu Anne Behringer, a retired history teacher who consults with Riley in her search for her German ancestors.
“My dad and my aunt disagreed about where they were from. It was quite a quest, but research settled the debate,” she says.
More and more historical records are being digitized, and, unlike years ago, are now available online and can be accessed from home for free at sites such as www.familysearch.org, or by subscription to the popular www.ancestry.com. Computer access to subscription sites is free at the library and the Family History Center. “How to” videos are also online.
The Family History Center (875 Quince Avenue off Homestead between Lawrence Expressway and Kiely) is a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Library in Salt Lake City, which is the largest repository of genealogy film in the world and draws researchers from all over the world. The centers are open to all, regardless of religious beliefs.
“Genealogy research is a way of having a family reunion and meeting people from different generations,” says volunteer Barbara Livacich at the Family History Center. “You learn about the people who make you a whole; it helps complete your story.”
“It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” adds volunteer Helen Gubler.
“Members of our church have the strong Biblically-based belief that living persons can act as proxies for deceased family members. We identify our ancestors so we can be baptized in Christ for their sake. That is why we do the genealogy research and make it available to everybody,” says Family History Center Director Gary Jespersen.
Riley, who first started researching his family in 1985, says that he and his wife have taken a number of two-week trips to Salt Lake City, where they spent 12-hour days doing research.
“It can become a life-time involvement, so it helps to have your spouse interested, too. It’s fun,” says Riley.
“Getting Started, Part 1,” a free seminar on the basics of genealogy research will be presented at Central Park Library May 7, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Pre-registration by May 1 is required to attend. Visit www.scchgs.org or call (408) 615-2986.
Local History Librarian Mary Hanel maintains a helpful genealogy site on the library website (www.library.santaclaraca.gov) and can be contacted for information: firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 615-2909.
For Family History Center information, call (408) 241-1449 or do an online search for “Santa Clara Family History Center.”
“It only takes a little input to get started. Don’t wait until everybody’s dead and you don’t know anything and you’re 91,” says Livacich.