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Community listens

A family history specialist emphasizes the whys and hows of family research

WINTER PARK, Fla. — The family history specialist in the Winter Park Ward, Twila Sundall Williams, has taught family history to her entire community.

Much of her annual efforts each year are centered in the "Unity Heritage Festival," held this year on Jan. 14-16.

"The festival is held over the three-day Martin Luther King Holiday weekend," she explained. It includes tributes, booths, music, art, activities, a silent auction, presentation of a "feature family," and lots of southern food and music. It also features family history. At the festival, Sister Williams presented a family history display that includes instructions for first-time researchers, and tables with computers that visitors can use to begin their research.

"This is the second year we have done this, and many of the residents came prepared with names and dates to get started."

She explained that the area is predominantly African-American and "it is the committee's desire to preserve the rich cultural heritage of this community, and family history of the residents, before the urban sprawl closes in."

Proceeds from the festival are given to educationally disadvantaged children of the community.

Sister Williams was asked to work with the feature family for several months in advance to do their family history. The family selected this year is that of Climmie Lee Boyer and his wife, Ethel Mae Williams Boyer, members of the Church of God in Christ in Winter Park. Sister Williams helped research the family's roots and present their accomplishments to the community. She said Mrs. Boyer was a cleaning lady at Rollins College, where she often took her children to see photos of professors. "I want you to be just like them," Mrs. Boyer told her children. While the oldest child died at age 18, the remaining seven all have master's degrees and five hold Ph.Ds. The Boyer grandchildren are continuing in formal, advanced education. Two of the Boyer brothers also became popular gospel singers and performed at the festival.

Of their ancestors, Sister Williams said, "We are still celebrating their family heritage and achievements."

Evidence of Sister Williams and the community's mutual interest in preserving the past is the Hannibal Square Heritage Center that will be built to house art, family histories, stories, pictures and artifacts of the community and its residents. The Orlando Florida Stake, through President James R. Pratt, is donating a computer, printer, desk and chair for the family history area of the building.

Bishop William Johnson of the Winter Park Ward has addressed community members about the importance of families. This year, he not only emphasized families, but also the importance of education.

In appreciation for the Church's contributions, the Unity Heritage Festival's printed program included a page about the Church with the words, "The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home," spoken by President Harold B. Lee.

Sister Williams was involved with family history research early in life. As a child, she watched her parents searching their family tree and then doing temple work for their ancestors. When her own children grew up and left home, the subject of family history returned to her thoughts "and that tweaked my mind to the point that I couldn't stop thinking about it."

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