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Family history display attracts mall crowd

A number of residents of Newport News found out recently that tracing their ancestry isn't as difficult as they thought.

During National Family Week, the Church's Family History Center in the Newport News Virginia Stake hosted a three-day demonstration in the Patrick Henry Mall here to demonstrate a computer program that lists more than 160 million individuals from earliest recorded history to the present.Crowds stayed around the exposition in the mall, where two computers hummed every day as expert operators took turns spinning out names of ancestors for those who stopped by.

The computer program, FamilySearch, contains the 147 million names of the International Genealogical Index and the 17 million names in the new Ancestral File.

Many people waiting for a turn at the computer watched as the monitors showed names from places far and near. Those interested in the research signed request sheets with names and places of an ancestor and hundreds saw names of their families on the screen.

The demonstration was sponsored by The Daily Press, The Times-Herald - the newspaper serving the Virginia Peninsula - at the paper's Customer Service Center kiosk at the mall.

Melissa Hespenhide, assistant manager of promotions/public relations for the newspaper, commented, "In the three years that our kiosk facility has been in operation at the mall, no other promotion has been as well received or attracted more interest.

"I'm sure that a sizeable number of Peninsula residents are now `hooked' on tracing their roots. I know I am."

Staffing the Family History Center in Newport News to keep up with the number of people coming in to do research has become a priority for stake leadership, according to Lyle Hughes, high councilor in charge of family history programs in the Newport News Stake.

Elder Randall and Sister Coleen Allen of Richfield, Idaho, have spent the past three months in Newport News as part of their mission to film documents at various libraries and research centers throughout the country.

The microfilming project, under direction of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, has taken the Allens to many areas of the United States.

While in the Newport News area during October, November and December, the Allens photographed more than 100,000 records including records from two of the oldest funeral homes in eastern Virginia. They also filmed several family records extending back to the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Va., and records of old York County. Hundreds of family histories and personal files were also filmed.

The records will become part of the international microfilm library that can be tapped into at more than 1,000 family history centers around the world.

"A study of the past helps us better understand the present," said Omer J. Shively Jr., promotion/public relations manager for The Daily Press, The Times-Herald. "This is particularly true of family histories. Who our ancestors were, the trials and tribulations they faced, the obstacles they overcame, all are important to a more complete understanding of ourselves."

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