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Salt Lake City joins Global Family Reunion, celebrating family history

SALT LAKE CITY — Amy Archibald named her children after ancestors and she continues to look for ways she can teach them about past generations.

"Real life is better than fiction," she said, adding that some of the stories she's dug up from the past are filled with history, adventure and sometimes shocking details. Archibald, who fell in love with the "real-life mysteries" at a young age, has made genealogy a hobby and she hopes to pass that to her children.

The family participated in the Global Family Reunion on Saturday, joining thousands of others who gathered locally for the cause of family history. The Salt Lake City block party was held in conjunction with a larger event in New York City that was spurred by bestselling author A.J. Jacobs, who has told of receiving an email from a previously unknown relative, making him believe there must be more he hasn't met.

"He decided to get everyone together because we're all family," said Debbie Gurtler, supervisor of International Study at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. "Maybe we'd all be nicer to each other if we think about being related."

The impetus for the global reunion is to get enough people interested in wanting to know their own family history and ultimately show how we're all connected, Gurtler said.

The events, held all over the world, included live musical entertainment, workshops to help people begin searching their ancestors, food and fun for kids. In Salt Lake, visitors were invited to tour the library and try their hand at indexing names or tracing their family line.

"I love helping people find their relatives," Gurtler said, adding that some squeal, cry or shout with joy at the new discovery. "Breaking down those walls gives me great satisfaction."

Gurtler said genealogy is more popular among older generations than with young people, but the library would like to change that.

People come from all over the world to the local library, which gets about 2,000 visitors each day, Monday through Saturday. It has access to all the records of the whole world, Gurtler said.

Inside the library are rows and rows of computers used to search all kinds of records, including books, newspapers and other historical documents to glean information about people and families. The library also houses some of those historical books, which are gradually becoming digitized, said Sister Valerie Chamberlain, a service missionary with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who drives with her husband from Saratoga Springs to work at the library three days a week.

She helps patrons explore the resources available at the library and has traced her own family back to the 1600s.

Chamberlain, 80, said the work "keeps me young."

"I've done a lot of things in my life," she said. "But this is the most fulfilling."

Archibald, of Clearfield, enjoys family history so much that she blogs regularly about it at www.RevealingRootsandBranches.blogspot.com. She said what she loves most is that it provides a "uniquely personal connection" to who she is today.

"I like to see some of the characteristics, both physical and in my personality, that I inherited from my ancestors," she said. "It's who I am, it's where I came from and it is the legacy I will leave for my own children."

For more information or to get started searching, visit www.FamilySearch.org.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards