Shaking the tree uwk7vu

Image: Seth Gale

Thanks to my obsession with PBS’s Finding Your Roots, tracing my genealogy is one of my new favorite time sucks. The show traces the family trees of celebrities like Billie Jean King, Anderson Cooper, and Ben Affleck to reveal famous—and sometimes infamous—historic figures. Still, I had no burning desire to dig into my own roots until Affleck asked Finding Your Roots producers to omit mention on the show of a slaveholding ancestor they found in his tree. The ensuing kerfuffle, which almost led to the show’s cancellation, made me wonder what unsavory characters might be hiding in my own lineage.

I didn’t have to go far to find out. Main Street is home to the Park City Family Tree Center, the only one of the Mormon church’s 4,700 genealogy research/visitor centers not associated with a temple or historic site. When I walked inside last July, I expected to be taken to some supervised, offline computer directly linked to the Mormon Church’s Family History Library database in Salt Lake City. But the director, J. Merrill Bryan Jr., simply sat me down at one of the center’s multiple computer workstations and logged on—through the Internet—to In other words, I could have easily accessed the site from my laptop at home.

Then again, having someone in the know guide me through the nuances of the data was huge. Census records, for example, along with marriage certificates and birth certificates, are fraught with misspellings and inaccuracies—products of simple human error, yes, but frustrating if you don’t know how to account for the errors. And though the website is well organized, Bryan had tons of tips on how to smoothly and efficiently navigate it.

What skeletons did I find in my closet? None, yet. But I’m still looking. I go to family and poke around whenever I have a few free minutes, filling in the branches of my tree little by little—a time waster I find much more fulfilling than scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.


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