Where Worlds Meet: The Oakland California Family History Center

By LaRene Porter Gaunt, Church Magazines

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Patrons here often become experts in their areas of research and help one another find ancestors from all over the world.

The Oakland California Temple sits on a prominent hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area, a shining beacon to all the world. The large regional family history center just across the parking lot looks out on that world too, offering facilities to help unite the human family.

Leading the way is Ralph Seversen, head of the center. “As a regional family history center, we are the hub for surrounding family history centers,” he says. “Our goal is to strengthen our relationship with these centers and share resources. In addition, we have joined with the California Genealogical Society to offer research classes here. This, and our invitation to non-LDS genealogy societies to meet in our facility, is all part of our community outreach.”

If Ralph Seversen is the head of the family history center, then Marge Bell is certainly the heart of it. A friendly and knowledgeable woman, Marge has been with the family history center for more than 25 years.

“I have nothing but praise for the patrons who attend the center,” she says. “They are the lifeblood of our work here. As they become expert in their areas of research, many spend time helping others. Also as a regional family history center, we have online access to a few sites that are available only to centers like ours. Patrons are able to use these sites, which greatly enhances their research efforts.”Brother Seversen adds, “I have a testimony that, when we need it, we can have unexpected help from beyond the veil. Once while I was searching through books, two records with the information I needed fell out. Another time someone stole my briefcase filled with irreplaceable Portuguese research. To my amazement, the thief returned the research to my mailbox. Powerful experiences like these often accompany family history work.”

You too can enjoy the excitement of family history research. There are 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries. To find the center closest to you, go to LDS.org and click Family History and Temples, then Family History Centers. Facilities will vary, but all family history centers have consultants who can offer support to those who are searching for information about their deceased ancestors. All are welcome whether they are Latter-day Saints or not. Beginners can learn how to get started. More experienced researchers can access microfilms from among the 2.8 million available from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

Left: While his wife helps patrons with their family history research, Milan McDowell spends his time repairing books, which are a part of the center’s 10,000-book collection. Right: Carol Hoyt is one of 70 volunteers at the center.

Photographs by David C. Gaunt, except as noted; photograph of Oakland Visitors’ Center by Craig Dimond