Inmates use LDS Family History centers to find their pasts and help others

Published: Saturday, March 21 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

"In a lot of cases, they come out to prison, and they've done some pretty bad things and the family cuts them off," Jepsen said. "But as these men start to do family history work, these bridges start to get mended again."

One of the prison genealogists' biggest undertakings included the Freedman's Bank Project, a list of names of post-Civil War slaves. It took them about eight years to complete, but it benefits other genealogists worldwide.

"It was a huge undertaking," Labrum said.

Maroney pulls out a letter from the Rhode Island Historical Society, which helped him track down a record of his great-grandmother, who abandoned his grandmother as a baby after she was born in 1897. He shuts his eyes as tears well up.

"I get all teary because I've been looking for this lady for 30 years," he said.

The thrill of the discovery only leaves Maroney with more questions. Why was his grandmother given up? He may never know.

"I piece together this mystery of her life, and as I record it into her files and have shared it with other family members, I've been able to show that maybe some of the trials and tribulations I'm going through now aren't nearly as tough," he said. "Prison's a piece of cake compared to what my grandmother went through."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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