SALT LAKE CITY -- Getting to know the people behind the names on a family history tree chart is one of many reasons so many people are getting hooked on family history.
As genealogy becomes an increasingly popular hobby in the country for people of all faiths, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently launched its latest enhancement to help people do family history, called Family Tree, located at familysearch.org.
They are currently phasing out the new FamilySearch program that was only available to Latter-day Saints, and have opened up access to the family tree building and sharing tool to everyone with Web access.
Family Tree has a simpler look and feel to attract people who are not familiar with their family history and want to get started.
"It's easy to get a family history researcher excited, but we want to engage that broader range of interest most people have about their immediate and extended family," said Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public relations manager.
For the first time on familysearch.org, people can start building their family tree entirely online, beginning with themselves and then expanding to past generations, connecting to other family members in the process.
"The Family Tree feature is an online, community-based application, so individuals and extended family they may not even know can come together in a collaborative environment and begin building a good family tree, sharing their resources and coming together as a group to decide what is fiction or fact," Nauta said.
One senior-missionary couple who have been assisting visitors at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City for the past 16 months are Ken and Terri Wilks.
"We help people learn more about the people beyond the dates and places," Ken said.
His wife, Terri, agreed.
"You get to love these people, which is easier to do with the new program," she said, "because you can start researching their stories on the Internet and looking at information on the census to see what they did for a living, see where they lived and what family lived near them."
With Family Tree, individuals can get access to their family information already entered at the click of a button, with all of the additional indexing of old records that is currently being done.
The Wilkses have been surprised at how many people come into the family history center with little knowledge of their grandparents or great-grandparents.
"Within three generations, people don't know where you came from," said Terri. "It's a gift you give your grandchildren, the gift of knowing who they are personally."
When Terri first began working at the family history center, she thought her family lines were already done. She began researching on FamilySearch and discovered many branches off her line that were incomplete.
She went back 150 years into the 1800s and found a relative who had been killed while building a church. His widow died four years later, leaving behind several children. Terri wanted to know what happened to them, so began researching their family lines and found out they all went on to live long lives, each with interesting careers, one as an upholsterer and another as an undertaker.
"I had no idea about these people before, but I became connected to them and came to love them," Terri said.
An important feature of Family Tree is how fast you can get information for your family lines.
"At some point, you may enter an ancestor the system recognizes, and if you confirm, it will populate that branch of your tree and expand your online family as you know it because you've tapped into it, and that's where it becomes fun, addicting and exciting," Nauta said. "That's the dynamic community we're hoping to create."