Family History Expo in Mesa features top researchers, tips to trace ancestry - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Family History Expo in Mesa features top researchers, tips to trace ancestry

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Posted: Friday, January 20, 2012 7:04 am | Updated: 7:32 pm, Fri Jan 4, 2013.

When James Tanner started researching his family history nearly 30 years ago, his relatives told him that his grandparents already had compiled it, and the history was complete and accurate.

But he wanted to find out for himself.

So, when Tanner delved into the history of his ancestors, he discovered that the work his grandparents had done was admirable, but quite the opposite of what he was told.

"It wasn't complete," said Tanner, a retiring trial attorney and a treasured volunteer at the Family History Center, 41 S. Hobson in Mesa, who spends most of his waking hours researching a family history that has taken him back 17 generations. "There were things that were missing, and some things that weren't right. Once I started the research, I never got out of it. I kept going."

A Mesa resident and member of the Mountain View Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, Tanner will be speaking about his exploits into his family's past when the Utah-based Family History Expos hosts an event at the Mesa Convention Center, 263. N. Center Street. Tanner will be speaking for about an hour at 5:40 p.m. today and at 2:30 p.m. Saturday; he said that on days like today and Saturday, he spends most of his time helping others, showing them how to begin conducting family history research en route to rewarding results.

In terms of his own search, Tanner said his family history trek has taken him back to about A.D. 950 while discovering he had two direct ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower. He also does some work for and has extensive family data on

"It's a passion," Tanner said. "My wife says I'm compulsive, but I love what I do. It gives you a connection to your family that you wouldn't have in any other way. I know who my family members are, where they lived, where they worked and what they had for breakfast."

Just two weeks ago, Tanner retrieved a photographic collection consisting of thousands of glass negatives once belonging to his great grandparents, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson and Charles Jarvis who both were professional photographers in Arizona beginning in the late 1800s. Tanner retrieved the treasure trove of photos involving family and Arizona history from a cousin who had suffered a stroke and didn't know what to do with the images.

In addition to digitizing about 73,000 documents with plans on adding nearly that many more relating to his family history, Tanner already had digitized about a dozen of the images from his great grandparents' collection - mostly portraits of family members long gone. He has donated much of his information to the special collections and archives at Brigham Young University - after doing most of the digitizing himself.

Family History Expos events aim to teach people "to trace their roots with modern technology and proven techniques," according to the company's website.

Organizers say there still is room for more to register for the two-day event, which begins at 1 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Saturday.

The event, which features numerous top family history and genealogy researches in the country speaking on different topics, is expected to bring in at least 1,000 people.

At the door, Family History Expos will provide those in attendance with a 400-page book or CD featuring more than 100 articles and tips of how to go about family history research of numerous ethnicities whether it's seeking baptism records, immigration records of those who passed through Ellis Island or funeral notices in other countries.

Donna Brown, one of the event's planners, said that during the rewarding research, people often learn about ancestors who endured a period of struggles, enjoyed years of triumph, or one maybe discovering a generation of scoundrels and that break your heart.

Tanner said that when he's working with others on researching their own roots, he tries to point beginners and even seasoned genealogists in the direction of a wealth of resources and information that's out there - not just hard copies sitting in a courthouse or microfilm, but tips on how to look up centuries-old documents that have been digitized by various family research genealogical centers around the world, as well as and how to translate them via computer programs. And, more recently, those who are unsure about family lineage are turning to DNA consultants and having family members take the "spit test."

"Now, we live on the Internet, but we still get in a car and tramp through cemeteries," Tanner said of himself and legions of others who will attend Family History Expo, which is in its 10th year. "I always have more jobs than I can possibly do, but it's fun."

Holly Hansen, president of Family History Expos said, "Many people say they'll start doing family research when they're older and have more time. "Don't put it off until it's too late. Start today."

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