Pleasanton — Getting to know your ancestors now might come in handy when you meet them in the afterlife. This is part of the philosophy behind the popularity of genealogy with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We believe that family is eternal, and it continues beyond the grave," said Nickie White, one of several regular volunteers at the Pleasanton Family History Center.
The center, located adjacent to the Pleasanton church, is open to the public four days a week.
The service is free, and volunteers are on hand to help with the various online databases — some only available by paid subscription — and the microfilm files used for research.
White has spent a number of hours researching her own family history along with the families of others. It's a hobby she doesn't seem to tire of, often continuing people's research at home after the center closes.
"(Our ancestors) want us to know them," said the Pleasanton resident. "I've felt that very strongly."
All but one of the center's volunteers are members of the Mormon faith, but about half of its users come from the general public.
Church member Jane Barlow said doing her own genealogy has given her an awareness of her family's past.
"I think it helps get a sense of yourself," said Barlow, a Pleasanton resident.
On any given day, White or other volunteers see about two to three people drop in to do some family research.
Some people come in with just basic information on their parents and grandparents, while others bring in stacks of papers already full of information. Researchers typically get started on the Internet. FamilySearch.org, a free site created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Ancestry.com, a paid-subscription site, often are the first places to look.
Inputting names, birthdays and places or the date and place someone died are often the first steps. This can bring up census records and other indexes sharing additional information.
Some families are easier than others, though. White likened the process to being a private investigator. Names are often misspelled or flipped around, and sometimes much trial and error is required before finding a juicy bit of information.
"It's detective work," Barlow said.
"And it's addictive," White added.
"Before you know it, hours have gone by," Barlow agreed.
Those who are lucky can have relatively little trouble researching their ancestors, while others spend years searching for their correct genealogy.
Those wanting to dig deep can set up a Personal Ancestral File — a type of family tree — and fill in the blanks.
It's the filling-in of those blank spaces that keeps White excited about her volunteer work, even if it's not finding her own ancestors.
"The best part about this job is seeing the excitement," White said. "You can't explain it until you've found somebody yourself."
Records from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are relatively easy to come by, but those from other parts of the world — such as Asia or Africa — can require a bit more know-how.
When Pleasanton's volunteers get stumped, they often send genealogy researchers to the larger Family History Center in Oakland.
The volunteers encourage anyone to drop by the center, but doing a bit of investigating first will help. White suggests that those interested in genealogy contact all of their relatives while they are still living and find out what they know.