Havre Daily News
A few short hours of mouse clicks and computer entries can give local residents a wealth of information about the lives of their ancestors - thanks to a Havre connection to the world's largest genealogy library.
A small room in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Havre is one of 4,000 branches of a massive database of information, and anyone in the area is welcome to stop in at the Family History Center to try their hand at learning a little history.
Center volunteer Virginia Beckstead said one man came in Wednesday afternoon for his first genealogical search. He turned up more than 200 names in little more than an hour, she said.
“You don't just get names, you get a lot of information,” she said. “They get a little better idea of who their ancestors were and what they were like. It's really kind of fun when you get into it.”
The center connects Havre and Hill County users to a wealth of records from around the world through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the largest library of its kind in the world, genealogist Sylvia Murray said. The collection, founded in 1894, includes more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed records along with hundreds of thousands of microfiche, books, periodicals and other resources. The library's database contains more than 700 million names, and a majority of the records contain information regarding people who lived before 1930.
“That's a really nice collection to be able to get into,” Murray said.
Through the main collection, curious residents can request and rent birth, marriage, death, census, tax, military and land records, she said. The information can include the “pages out of somebody's Bible” or a number of other possibilities, she added.
The Havre center has its own collection of materials on permanent loan from the main libary, including more than 20,000 microfiche and about 500 rolls of microfilm, Murray said.
People interested in finding their roots can stop by the center and start with what they know - the names and dates of birth, marriage and death of their eldest relatives - and go from there.
Genealogy helps “people learn who they are and who came before them, and why they're of great value - because everybody is,” Murray said.
Sometimes the seekers find a little more than they anticipated, but that's part of the experience, she said.
“Some people can't handle what they call ‘skeletons,'” Murray said. “You have to go into it with an open mind.”
Beyond its own collection and the Salt Lake City library, the Havre center offers a number of other resources including access to computer databases and Internet services that assist users in finding names and records.
Patrons can view the records at the center or make copies for 25 cents a page for microfiche or microfilm and 10 cents a page for information gathered on the computers.
Murray herself is a resource. One of fewer than 400 accredited genealogists in the country, Murray taught the subject at the college level for 20 years. She's a member of the Fort Assiniboine Genealogical Society, another resource for curious seekers. The group meets the first Thursday of each month in the Family History Center
The center is not the only place for explorers of the past to gather in Havre. The center and genealogical society work closely with the staff of the Havre-Hill County Library, which has its own collection.
The library's collection consists of books and documents on Havre and Hill County history, library director Bonnie Williamson said. The collection includes more than 50 local family histories.
She said the library and the family history center work together to build their collections. The library's collection is more specific to north-central Montana, while the center's collection offers a broader scope of information.
“We try to complement each other,” Murray said of the two collections. “You use our two libraries together to get the best of Havre.”
The Family History Center is open Mondays and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m.; Wednesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.; and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
The Havre-Hill County Library is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.