On Wednesday, May 16, 2012, approximately 300 people gathered at the historic Raymond Clark Store across the street from the Nauvoo Temple for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the new Nauvoo, Illinois, FamilySearch Center.
Until about five years ago, the LDS Family History Center had been located in the Clark Store, and LDS Church members and residents of Nauvoo and surrounding communities kept family history volunteers, computers, and microfilm readers busy. Five years ago, however, the Clark Store became a visitor information center for the Nauvoo Temple. The Family History Center was moved to the LDS church building, and fewer patrons utilized the facility.
A couple of years ago when the Temple Arrival Center was built, the Clark Store was no longer needed as a temple information center. As a result, last year Norm Albiston, Global Manager for FamilySearch Centers (FSC), and other FSC representatives from Salt Lake City came to Nauvoo and, according to local director Martin Daly, asked if the Clark Store location would serve patrons more effectively. After they toured the facilities and met with the Nauvoo Stake Presidency, they determined that the Clark Store would be a better location. But the building needed to be brought up to code and renovated inside.
Norm Albiston asked Casey Cluff, NRI Facilities Manager, if his Nauvoo workers would refurbish the building, which they did. As time drew near for the open house (May 16-19) and dedication, Casey’s crew picked up the tempo to have the building and grounds ready by May 16. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for this state-of-the-art FamilySearch Center took place outside on the beautifully landscaped grounds, and the weather was perfect.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Nauvoo Stake President Chris Church presented Mayor John McCarty a binder with his family tree traced back as far as eight generations. Mayor McCarty learned about an ancestor, Leonard Bratz, who settled in Nauvoo in the mid-1800s. According to one published account, Leonard’s brother George came to Nauvoo in 1846 “when the Mormon trouble had reached nearly a culmination.” George “was pressed into the service of law-abiding preservers of order to keep the peace and insure the safe departure of the retreating remnants of the prophet, Smith.” George’s son later became mayor of Nauvoo. Now Mayor McCarty can claim long-time connections to the community he represents, including being related to a 19th-century mayor.
Sister Joy and Elder Merlin Price, family history missionaries from Idaho, researched Mayor McCarty’s history and created the binder for this occasion. The Prices are serving in the FamilySearch Center for 14 monthsas missionaries from the Des Moines Iowa Mission. Like Mayor McCarty, Sister Price claims connections to Nauvoo, although her ancestor, Raymond Clark, left about the time John McCarty’s family arrived. Sister Price is the third-great-granddaughter of the builder and owner of the duplex which now houses the FamilySearch Center. The Prices live upstairs in her ancestor’s home.
In 1840, Raymond and Louisa Clark and three children came to Nauvoo, as many early saints did. Raymond purchased property across the street from the temple in 1842 and built a duplex, which functioned as a mercantile store and a home for the family. Raymond farmed other properties and assisted with temple construction while Louisa managed the store. During their years in Nauvoo, three children were born to them, but all died as infants. After the family left Nauvoo, Louisa and an infant died in Missouri in 1847. Raymond married Hannah Miller, Sister Price’s ancestor, who raised Louisa’s three older children. The Clarks moved to Indiana, where Raymond and three of their babies died. Hannah and her only living child, Mary Alice, crossed the plains to Utah. Sister Price descended from this daughter, Mary Alice Clark.
“It is humbling for me to be where the saints were in Nauvoo and to walk where they walked,” Sister Price said. She feels especially blessed to live in her ancestor’s home and serve with her husband as family history missionaries, assisting patrons to research their family histories.
Just steps away from the Nauvoo Temple, the historic Raymond Clark Store again has patrons searching for their ancestors and doing historical research. “This is the second Family History Center on a historic site,” Norm Albiston said. “The other is in Kirtland, Ohio. But it’s in an old home and hasn’t been upgraded.” Albiston added, “The Nauvoo FamilySearch Center is the first center with a visitor facility for people to learn about family history. This vision, which started in Nauvoo, has caught fire, and more FamilySearch Centers in the future will combine a visitor facility and research.”
Norm Albiston noted that this Center will assist LDS members who come to Nauvoo looking for their pioneer ancestors but do not have names. After they identify their ancestors, they can go to the Land and Records Office to search for additional information.
“This Center will also be a community resource for the tri-state area,” Albiston said, “for genealogical and historical research.”
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, LDS Church Historian and Recorder Steven L. Snow said, “This place [Nauvoo] tells stories. There’s a remarkable story of the community before and after the saints came. These stories can once again be told, found, and shared” as community members search for their ancestral past.
Patrons from Nauvoo and the surrounding communities are already beginning to use the Center. One young man from Carthage comes several times a week to research the ancestry of his grandmother, who grew up and still lives in Nauvoo. This young man brings organized and impressive family history binders with him, which he has created.He is now finding resources he was unable to access from his own computer.
The Nauvoo FamilySearch Center is one of 4,500 genealogical research centers offering public access to genealogical records from all over the world.
This state-of-the-art Center has 15 high-speed Internet computers, and patrons receive free access to such genealogical websites as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Fold3.com (historic military records), and findmypast.co.uk (750 million UK historical records). Large flat-screen, high-definition televisions have been installed for training classes and family history videos. One video invites viewers into the Granite Mountain Record Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah, and shows them the world’s largest collection of genealogical microfilms and microfiche.
The Nauvoo FamilySearch Center is operated by volunteers and is a free service to patrons. Patrons may also order microfilms and microfiche online from Salt Lake City for a small fee and then use the microfilm readers in the Center to conduct their research. FSC hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
What better place could the first state-of-the-art FamilySearchCenter be located inthan Nauvoo? After all, this is where temple ordinances began in this dispensation. In the 1840s Nauvoo, the Lord bestowed knowledge and keys for eternal ordinances that allow individuals to progress and families to live together forever. The Lord also revealed the pattern for the holy temple where these ordinances can be performed. In today’s Nauvoo, individuals can search out their kindred dead, discover their roots, learn about themselves, and turn their hearts to their fathers and their fathers to them as Malachi directed (Malachi 4:6).
Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo, Illinois, correspondent for Meridian Magazine.