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Chelsey Allder, Deseret News
Sundance Film Festival brings new crowds to the Family Tree Center in Park City Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015.

PARK CITY, UTAH

The Family Tree Visitors’ Center in Park City, Utah, is an unusual sight on Main Street, situated between theaters and galleries. And yet, the Family Tree Visitors’ Center welcomes crowds of visitors from all over the world. They may come to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival or skiing and snowboarding, but oftentimes they find themselves in the Family Tree Visitors’ Center beginning research into their family history.

“This place is kind of a haven or retreat from the chaotic scene that’s out on the sidewalk,” said Elder L. Merill Bryan, director of the Family Tree Visitors’ Center, “and I think they can feel that when they come in the door.”

What sets this particular visitors’ center apart from others in the world is that most will have a Church history site or temple nearby. “We don’t have either of those here.” Elder Bryan said. “So our focus is on families: strengthening families, the blessings of families, and teaching them about families, how we can be forever; and providing all the resources that the Church has to do their family research.”

When visitors enter, their first sight is a full size life-like tree whose branches reach to the ceiling. In the bark, which was molded after the trees found in the canyons nearby, are carved faces, showing that this tree symbolizes the roots and branches of a person’s heritage. “It really represents eternity because who knows how far that will reach,” Elder Bryan said.

Directly opposite of the tree is a genealogical chart of John Howland, who was onboard the Mayflower when it first came to America with the pilgrims. Simply from his family line came two American presidents and several leaders of the Church. “Many people don’t have any idea who their ancestors are,” Elder Bryan said, “so we try to get them interested in their genealogy.”

Several computer workstations are available to visitors to begin searching their family line, which they can print and take with them. Missionaries who serve at the visitors’ center, both senior couples and sisters, assist visitors with finding their ancestors. While most visits can take only about 15 minutes, others take much longer.

“Some of them get so addicted to finding their relatives, they’ll spend a lot of time here,” Elder Bryan said. One couple in particular who attended the Sundance Film Festival from Australia. After discovering the visitors’ center, they spent three days in the center researching their ancestors and learning about the Church.

“People come in and we’ll ask them if they want to learn about their ancestors. It’ll prompt them many times [to ask] questions about our beliefs,” Elder Bryan said. Questions about why the Church focuses on families and doing family history often gives the missionaries opportunities to talk about the Restoration, Jesus and the Atonement, according to Elder Bryan.

“People feel a spirit here and are moved. As a result, there are opportunities to teach,” he said. Opportunities such as an actor from Mexico being so moved by a picture of the Salt Lake Temple that he could hardly speak. Or two members bringing a non-member friend who accepted an invitation from the missionaries to take and read the Book of Mormon. These are only two of the experiences Elder Bryan has had since becoming director of the Family Tree Visitors’ Center on Jan. 18.

Visitors can also watch videos focusing on the values of the Church. The videos include questions about the gospel answered by children and TV spots on the importance of the family. A small theater in the basement can be used to show visitors several different Church produced videos, including Meet the Mormons.

Before they leave, visitors are invited to have their picture taken in front of the large tree, which they can take home with them as a memento of their visit, along with any of the family history research they’ve done or a Book of Mormon if they request one.

“We’re like any other visitors’ center,” Elder Bryan said, “inviting people to come unto Christ.”

vjohnson@deseretnews.com

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