Wanna feel like a celebrity? Then join the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmett Smith, Susan Sarandon and others happily exploring their family trees on the new NBC television show "Who Do You Think You Are?"
You may be surprised to learn your family's history is every bit as interesting and exciting as those who regularly walk the red carpets of Hollywood. In fact, you may even be their not-so-distant cousins.
Somewhat of a local celebrity himself, Bern Case, director of the Medford airport, is a family history enthusiast. Case's clan has been documented as far back as 436 A.D.
"I have a 20-foot piece of cloth that has our family tree on it," he says. "We look at it with great appreciation from time to time, for all the history and all the work and research that's gone into it. And when we're done, it's all rolled up like a scroll for safekeeping. It's a family treasure."
Who can be found in your family tree? Finding out used to take a lot of time, money and patience. But those days are largely over thanks to modern technology and free research assistance available from two local genealogical libraries.
The world's largest catalog of genealogical information has been collected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is made available to people of all faiths who wish to trace their family's ancestry. Go online to either www.familysearch.org or lds.org to find out more.
The church has family-history research centers in Medford and Central Point where volunteers will help people discover all the twigs and limbs on their family trees.
Michelle Swan of Central Point has made good use of the LDS church's free facilities during her decades of family-history research.
"I'm the typical Heinz-57 American," she says, "with Minnesota-Nova Scotia-France roots on my dad's side and North Carolina-Ireland-Germany on my mother's side. In my ancestry, you can find famous architects, congressmen and pioneering Mayflower passengers."
On a wall in Swan's home is a huge fan chart displaying all the ancestors she's discovered so far. It has been an exciting journey, and Michelle's family history stories rival those of any celebrity on NBC's TV show.
Noreen Mack is another local family historian with roots going back to Maryland's earliest days.
"So much genealogical information is readily available on the Internet these days," she says. "But if you're just beginning your research, the LDS Family History Centers are a great place to start. They'll provide you with friendly help, computer usage and free access to Ancestry.com's records."
The church's family-history centers do charge a nominal shipping fee to bring in microfilmed records that are sometimes needed to find detailed information that would otherwise remain hidden. This especially holds true for foreign family histories, and the church has access to some of the largest collections of foreign research records to be found.
"We were able to discover my husband's Polish ancestry because of the church's microfilmed records," says Mack. "In America, you can't get access to those kinds of records online or anywhere else."
Interested in getting the celebrity treatment with your family history? Here's where you can get free help from LDS volunteers:
In Medford, visit the Family History Center at 2900 Juanipero Way. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Appointments are available Thursday evenings. Call 541-773-3363.
In Central Point, the Family History Center is on the corner of Grant and Taylor roads. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6:30-9 p.m. on Tuesdays; noon to 4 p.m. and 6:30-9 p.m. on Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Call 541-664-5356.
Anther local resource is Rogue Valley Genealogical Society, which operates Jackson County Geneology Library at 95 Houston Road, Phoenix, open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 541-512-2340 or see the website www.rvgslibrary.org.