A small, unimposing, little cottage tucked behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Valparaiso just may house the names of most of your ancestors. Such is the breadth and depth of the collection inside the Menlo Park Family History Center.
The LDS church has been interested in ancestry since its inception, but the Family History Center is open to everyone, with the majority of its services offered free of charge. “About 80% of our patrons are not Mormons,” explains Sue Allen, who serves as the Center’s director. “That’s also true with about a third of our staff.”
“People usually start searching for their ancestors online and find out some things very quickly,” she says. “But there’s a lot that is not available online and that’s why they come to us. Or they’ve ordered some micro film and come here to read it.”
The Center’s resources include comprehensive records – with a focus on the U.S. and western Europe – as well as how-to books on genealogy. The various staff members have expertise on different areas of the world, and classes are offered throughout the year.
“There are also great online classes at Family Search,” says Sue. “And there’s a large regional family history center in Oakland. They have the online catalog for all of the Bay Area. If someone is looking for a specific book, they can look there.”
Sue has worked at the Center off and on since 1988, and has found it very rewarding. “It’s wonderful to be in the room when somebody finds new information,” she says. “We’re really a little jewel, one that’s relatively unknown to the wider community.”
The Family History Center, located at 1105 Valparaiso Ave. in Menlo Park, is open Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm and on Saturday from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm.