WOONSOCKET -- The options for finding ancestral information through the American-French Genealogical Society (AFGS) have expanded in a way that will make it easier for local researchers to access faraway record repositories without having to leave the Society’s 78 Earle St. base.
The local research center has affiliated with the Family History Library system operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, the world's largest resource for genealogical records, according to AFGS members.
The new research connection will allow visitors to the Earle Street center to order microfiche and microfilm copies of records stored in Latter-Day Saints repositories that have been photo-copied from government and church record facilities in over 130 countries around the world.
"It opens up the world to us," AFGS member Sylvia Bartholomy said while noting the new relationship at the headquarters on Tuesday. "Any record the Family History Library holds from anywhere in the world is now available to us," she said.
The access will help people stopping in at the center complete genealogical research on their families and possibly allow them to travel farther back into those history projects than they would be able to otherwise.
Genealogy work involves identifying early family members through civil records such as birth, marriage, death, land, and census information held by governmental sources like city and town halls, and also through a similar set of birth, marriage, death and religious records kept by churches or religious orders. Each "find" of a relative can lead to the identification of another set of relatives that continually carry the research back in time. The work must be exact and also repetitive to make sure that the actual history of a family is found, according to Bartholomy.
The addition of the new information available through the Latter-Day Saints Family History Library will expand local researcher options for double checking their discoveries and also carrying them beyond the wealth of New England and Canadian genealogical records that the Society holds in the former First Universalist Church building it occupies on Earle Street.
A portion of the Family History Library holdings can be accessed online but Janice Burkhart, AFGS president and librarian, said the new affiliation will grant local researchers access to the entire collection.
"This is a huge expansion of our resources," Burkhart said. The Family History information will be available to anyone interested in paying a nominal fee of $5.50 to have a roll of microfilm mailed to the center where they will be able to review it for 30 days. The film can be kept at the Society for a longer period for an additional fee of $5.50.
The Society maintains six machines for viewing 35mm and 16mm microfilms and also has the equipment to view individual pages of microfiche.
Visitors can also access the internet at the Society and use the Family History Library's online catalog to find out what records are available for order.
Fran Tivey, a Society volunteer working in the microfilm section, showed how a computer search can turn up leads on French Canadian relatives before they left France for a new life in Quebec.
One search she helped a visitor with looked at records copied for the Latter-Day Saints Family History Library from a Catholic church in the Seine Maritime department of Normandy, France, that ranged from 1547 to 1791. A French Canadian family with roots in that region might be able to find a line of relatives through those years that they never knew about, according to Tivey.
The Society charges visitors a $5 fee for a day of work in the library. The Society is open on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays (September through May) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Society has volunteers on hand to help researchers work on their genealogy projects and even holds classes for those just starting out.
While the Society does have a membership option for those who would like to visit regularly, member William Pommenville noted that no membership or fees are required to access the new information available through the Family History Library affiliation beyond the microfilm ordering charges.
And while the Society has collected many records on French Canadians in the past, that too has expanded to all ethnic groups in the area. With the new access to the Family History Library information, searches can now extend to a wide range of countries internationally, he said.
"The focus is to get people involved and expand the database to all types of records anywhere in the world," Pommenville said. More information on the new program is available at www.AFGS.org .