Image: The Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Jennifer Dobner  /  AP
The Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The center is considered the largest genealogical library in the world.
updated 3/18/2010 5:40:35 PM ET 2010-03-18T21:40:35

Even after almost 30 years of research, Jan Alpert still gets goose bumps when she discovers a new branch on her family tree.

"The biggest surprise is how much you can find out," said Alpert, who was bit by the genealogy bug in 1981 after helping her father pursue his own interest in family history. "When you know what your ancestors went through, you have a greater appreciation for why you are the person you are."

Now the chair of the National Genealogical Society, Alpert's pursuit has led her on dozens of trips across the U.S. to locate records and pieces of her family's story.

"There are millions of people like me out there doing it," she said.

Beginning April 26, thousands of family history buffs are expected to descend on Salt Lake City to hone their skills — or begin their journeys — during a unique week featuring four conferences focused on genealogical research and technology.

Anchored by the 2010 National Genealogical Society's Annual Conference, the week also includes the Brigham Young University's annual Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy, BYU's Family History Technology Workshop and the FamilySearch Developer's Conference for software developers.

Because the four events take place at the same time, Alpert, a retiree with homes in Michigan and South Carolina, said she believes it "will be the largest genealogical event ever."

Dozens of workshops will be held daily to provide beginners and experts alike with tips on everything from basic research and organizational skills to locating resources, deciphering records, understanding DNA testing and writing and editing family narratives. Special technology workshops are also planned to aid in understanding and using various genealogy-specific databases and programs.

The week also includes several special events, including a genealogy "kids camp" for youth in grades four through 12 and a Celebration of Family History concert featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and author David McCullough. McCullough's books include biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams.

Recent annual NGS events have drawn about 2,000 people, but Alpert said early registration for the Salt Lake City conference is "exceeding expectations."

The response could be due in part to Salt Lake City's unique resource: The Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has been collecting data since 1894.

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The library is a well-known destination for genealogists. Considered the largest genealogy collection in the world, its database contains well over a billion names drawn from thousands of original records, including births, deaths, marriages, census data and patron contributions.

The library also has more than 300,000 volumes of data, including published family histories, county and city directories and transcripts or abstracts of other documents with genealogical significance, said David Rencher, the facility's chief genealogical officer. The records are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. A staff of 80 professionals and 600 volunteers are on hand to help individuals with their research.

"You can bring your box of stuff and you can lay it out and say 'Help! What do I do next?'" said Rencher. "And that's the hard part."

About 700,000 curious lovers of family history from around the world visit the library each year, said Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs.

"They just have this yearning to identify their ancestors because it's part of who they are," Nauta said.

Another factor driving interest in the conference may be several new television programs — including PBS' "Faces of America" and NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" — that show celebrities discovering their family trees with the help of trained genealogists. Most of the programs have used the services of the Family History Library, Rencher said.

"These shows are wonderful because they are hitting an emotional nerve and that's what's getting people excited about family history," Alpert said.

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