RoseMarie Guthrie, director of the Alpena Family History Center, considers doing genealogy research the least expensive hobby around.
With a new online component currently being added to what is already available at the center, she said tracking family roots also just got easier.
"It keeps getting easier and easier," Guthrie said. "When I started 20 years ago, I had to take a trip down to Lansing if records were not available here. Now you can put a name into the system. It's so incredible the way things have progressed."
News Photo by Diane Speer
RoseMarie Guthrie, director of the Alpena Family History Center, puts a newly labeled microfilm box on its storage shelf as part of a major reorganization project.
The center in Alpena, as well as 4,000 others like it around the world, is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, the LDS Church offers a free online family history site that beginning this spring will start publishing the locations of the 4,000 centers and the microfilms housed in each of them.
"Once you access the online catalog found on familysearch.org and select the microfilm that you are interested in viewing, a list of the family history centers housing that roll of film will be apparent to you," Guthrie said.
If that information is located in a center not conducive to travel, the materials can be ordered online and then viewed at the center in Alpena. However, if the search of the online offerings shows that desired microfilms are housed within easy driving distance, (besides Alpena, Family History Centers are located in Gaylord, Petoskey, Traverse City, Cheboygan and West Branch), then Guthrie believes researchers may want to drive to those locations and spend the day there doing their research.
"If driving to those centers will hasten getting answers to that age-old question Who do you think you are? then folks interested in genealogy may choose to take a drive and make a day of their research quest," she said.
Guthrie said the center is expecting an increase in visitor traffic with the addition of the new online component. In anticipation of that, she and other volunteers have been engaged in a major reorganization of the center's own collection of more than 2,000 rolls of microfiche and microfilm.
According to Guthrie, the Alpena collection currently is organized by geographic regions, but is in the process of being re-labeled and reorganized so that it is more in line with the numerical library catalog used in Salt Lake City.
Among records housed at the local center are 500-plus films of Michigan county courthouse records. This aspect of the collection represents records of births, marriages and deaths for nearly every county in the state. Early Alpena County probate records also are available at the center.
Additionally, microfilm collections of Canada, Norway, Germany, Poland, England and Ireland are easily accessed at the facility. Many Internet sites that require payment are free at the center, including full Ancestry, Footnotes, British Newspapers and many more.
"Native Americans are well represented with a copy of the Grumet rolls and texts of Northeast Michigan natives," Guthrie said. "All this is open to the public at no cost."
Already Guthrie and other volunteers, including members of the Northeast Michigan Genealogical Society, have put in between 50 and 60 hours with the reorganization process. They are only about half-way through the project.
It is the goal of the Alpena center to have the revamping of the records completed by early April. It is the goal of the LDS Church to have all materials available in the Salt Lake City Library up and online over the next 10 years.
The Alpena Family History Center, located at 411 Long Rapids Plaza, is open just two days a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many people stop in during that timeframe for help with their research or to take advantage of what's available there.
Guthrie said it is good to call ahead at 358-9809 if particular help with research is needed. She also said it is rare for someone to come in on a genealogy quest and not leave without having made at least some progress.
As for her own family history, Guthrie's many years of research have enabled to her to trace her Polish roots back to 1700 and a Scottish line in her husband's family back to 1200.
"It's the least expensive hobby in many ways," she said. "And you can discover 'who you are' right here in Alpena."