Family history conference draws 500-plus to Boring

When Shirley Briggs’ great-grandfather was adopted as boy in the early 1800s, little was recorded about that life-changing event or the circumstances that left him orphaned at a young age.

But with a few clues about his life, Briggs managed to find genealogical records for her great-grandfather’s biological parents. Curiosity about the life her great-grandfather lived prompted her to keep looking for clues that would connect her to the past. And it changed her life.

“It turns out after my great-grandfather was adopted, he only lived a few blocks away from his biological father but never knew it,” Briggs said. “It’s been fascinating to learn about him and my ancestors. After I found the records of his biological parents, I was able to connect with living relatives from that side of my family. I love family history. I heard someone say that there’s at least one historian in every family each generation, and I guess that’s me this time around.”

Briggs, who lives in West Linn, was one of 500-plus people from the greater-Portland area who attended the Mount Hood Family History Conference in Boring earlier this month. The free two-day conference, hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, featured 55 classes taught by family history experts and award-winning genealogist Stephen P. Morse.

In Boring, community members can visit the Mount Hood Family History Center, 12300 S.E. 312th Drive, and use free resources to access genealogical records. The LDS Church manages the largest genealogical collection in the world with records for more than 3 billion people. The collection also includes billions of records for births, marriages, deaths, land transactions, military service and more.

Briggs isn’t alone in her pursuit to discover her own family history. Popular genealogical sites such as and receive more than 10 million hits per day. And an entire industry has emerged surrounding family history that includes fact-finding vacations, computer software, photo preservation and restoration, and even a series of reality television shows.

In addition to classes, the Mount Hood Family History Conference included free help from trained family history consultants to help people locate information about their ancestors. For years, Portland resident Andrea Heim has wondered about the events that brought her great-grandmother to the United States from Denmark in the 1890s. Heim went to the conference to see if someone could help her learn more about her great-grandmother’s life.

“We were able to find out that she came to the United States when she was nine years old,” Heim said. “She was a bond girl, which meant she was committed to work for someone for seven years after she arrived. And at 17 years old, she married the man she had been working for. It was really interesting to find this information. Now I have even more questions about her life, and I’ve got three shelves of family history records, books, and materials of other people I want to know more about.”

Throughout the two-day conference, family history consultants helped dozens of people like Heim locate information about their ancestors using and other online tools that make it easier to locate historic records than a generation ago.

“When you look at your own family history and try to find out all you can about a person, it deepens your relationship with them and adds meaning to your own life,” said Gresham resident and Mount Hood Family History Director Patti Paxson. “I owe a lot to my ancestors who made great sacrifices that still bless my life often. When you learn about your own family history and find out about their struggles, sacrifices and successes, it changes you and can make you a better person.

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