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Radio series touts McLean library

Voice of America features stake's genealogical effort in nation's capital

Voice of America, with its international audience of more than 94 million listeners, featured the Church's family history effort in its weekly "Mainstreet" series April 1.

The 50-year-old program elaborated on the role of genealogy in the Church and focused on the work performed in the McLean Virginia Stake Family History Center.

During her March l7 visit to the stake family history center, Maura Farrelly, Voice of America reporter, conducted a variety of interviews for its "Mainstreet" series. The program reported the theological and cultural importance of genealogy to Church members.

The program also pointed out that many who use the family history centers are not Latter-day Saints, which reveals the broad appeal of genealogy for both members and others.

Linda Jonas, internationally known genealogist, author and director of the McLean Family History Center, explained the library's resources and the spiritual purposes behind the family history effort.

America is a nation of immigrants, Sister Jones said. People feel a need to gather the threads of their history that will lead them to their ancestors. Those who come to the center want answers to the questions: "What is my family's history, and what does that mean for me now?"

A boost to the entire genealogy effort was the Church's genealogy website, FamilySearch.org, which opened in 1999.

"We had no idea it was going to be so popular," said Sister Jonas. "Now, more people than ever are coming in, even though they can do much of the work at home on the Internet. They come because they are more prepared and know exactly which film or book they want to see."

Sister Jonas explained that the library includes original records and books, software programs, and the Internet. Visitors also have access to more than 2 million rolls of microfilm in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. She told how the volunteer staff in the McLean Family History Center shows visitors how to access this information and begin their research. The center offers classes for all levels of expertise, from beginners to published researchers.

"When a person comes in and knows little about his genealogy, we just start with what he knows and go from there," said Sister Jonas. She demonstrated the program by looking up a few of Ms. Farrelly's own relatives in County Cavan, Ireland.

Ms. Farrelly, a former teacher of American History who has done some genealogy, said studies show that America is the most "pluralistic religious society" and that genealogy is an "American phenomenon."

Her listeners, she said, would want to understand the doctrinal basis for genealogical research. Sister Jonas explained the eternal role of the family and the need for temples.

"This work is part of a greater plan," Sister Jones said.

The report featured the Church's microfilming efforts and explained how film records of births and deaths are made in countries around the world.

Ms. Farrelly concluded her taping with interviews of library patrons Marj Latimer and Louise Perry of the McLean Virginia Stake, and Jim Wall, an enthusiastic genealogist from a Presbyterian congregation. Mr. Wall told how he enjoyed learning about his grandfather who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

"My family is fractured now, split up by death," he mused, commenting that genealogy is a way "to connect with relatives who have passed on as well as with those who are still living. This place has great resources, and if a person is doing family research, this is the place to come."

Sister Jonas agreed. "I love working here," she said, "because I feel it's my sacred responsibility to help others find their roots, plus I like to see the excitement people feel when they find their ancestors and learn who they themselves are."

She paused for a moment to look around the room which was busy with people reading books about their ancestors, piecing together family lines on ancestral charts, or scrolling through microfiche readers.

"A lot of tears are shed here," she said. "I'll hear someone say, 'Oh, it all makes sense now!' Genealogy becomes a quest for one's own identity."

The broadcast was aired in 54 languages, and informed listeners that similar family history centers can be found in areas where there are large numbers of Church members.

The broadcast appears on the program's Internet site, voanews.com.