Trace family roots
Lacee A.C. Martinez , firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: Virgilio Valencia/For PDN)
For a brief hour and a half on Thursdays, a room attached to the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church in Barrigada opens up to the public.
That’s when visitors crowd around a half-dozen computers in the Guam Family History Center, pouring over online documents like they’re trailing through clues.
Those “clues” are names, dates, and locations pulled from genealogy sites and other resources available for free at the center.
Genealogy, however, is only one part of what the center assists with, says Tami Burton, the center’s director.
“We see family research with several aspects and one of them is keeping our own records, writing stories about our lives and things that are important to us that we might want to hand down for future generations,” she says. “And then also researching for family members who have passed away and helping our children to develop a connection with those traditions and family stories. We think it helps them feel more grounded.”
Regardless of religious affiliation, the center offers free service for everyone interested in researching their family history.
Much of it begins with FamilySearch.org, one of the largest genealogy organizations in the world, funded by the church. FamilySearch works with archives, libraries and churches in more than 100 countries to give people access to records, which connect them to their ancestors.
While FamilySearch is freely accessible online, researching at the center offers access to other premium sites, including Ancestry.com, and help with researching your family history.
For example, the center often assists with navigating through the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.
“Sometimes people are hesitant to go in there, and they’ll give us some information on their family and we’ll go in there and find it,” Burton says.
Researching family history goes beyond the libraries and records. It also means talking to family members, including older generations — something the center assists with as well.
It can be tricky to talk to island elders, however, especially when they’ve endured living through trauma, including the war.
“Some people are hesitant to talk about experiences,” Burton says. “Some things were emotionally shocking to them and difficult for them talk about it. But it might be therapeutic for some people to talk about things that were awful experiences at the time. The fact remains they were strong enough to survive it and their stories can strengthen their children.”
Burton knows of the obstacles many face when trying to interview family members who have lived through the occupation.
“We recommend that people try to talk to their surviving family members and do it with a compassion and not to push them beyond what the person they’re interviewing wants to give them, but to not shy away from it just because it’s not going to be a pleasant topic,” she says. “We want them to bring it up and not talk about it and pretend it’s not a part of the history, because it is part of the history.”
With wars, typhoons and a culture of oral history, records can be scarce for island residents and those from our region. FamilySearch and the center continues to move forward with digitizing documents all over the world, even recently collecting data other islands in Micronesia. The center also has completed some work with the MARC on digitizing different documents.
One of the next big projects include working with the governor’s office to digitize some four million vital records to eventually give the public more data to build their family history.
Yet even with digitization, there’s still another step before it’s accessible. The information must be indexed to be searchable. The Internet has helped close that gap, allowing people from all over the world to help index through the FamilySearch website.
You can look forward to that old, new information in the future as well as the annual Guam Family History Fair, to learn more on the subject and see presentations made by island experts.
This year’s fair took place on Sept. 26 where Guam historian Tony Ramirez spoke on preserving oral history and the Guampedia documentary, “Voices of the Elders” was presented.
In the meantime, you can check out the center once a week to begin your own search for your family history.
“It’s really fun and people really, really enjoy it,” Burton says. “Once you start looking, you start to find all kinds of things about your ancestry. It’s like a puzzle piece because you start with a little bit.”
IF YOU GO
· What: Guam Family History Center
· Where: Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church in Barrigada (left side of the building)
· When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays
· For more information: Call Tami Burton at 487-7098 or email tamiburton671 @gmail.com