When Jan Gow of Aukland, New Zealand, first visited Salt Lake City in 1992, she chose the Utah capital over other choices, such as Niagara Falls. In that first trip, taken mostly on a fluke, she was immediately hooked on genealogy, Utah style.
Gow had already ventured into a genealogy consulting business in Aukland in 1984, using Beehive Books as a resource. But her on-the-spot visit to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family History Library in Salt Lake City convinced her she had found the genealogist's mecca.
She has returned annually for 25 years, bringing clients to share in several weeks of concentrated searching for family names among the church's collections, unmatched in the world.
"I've been called a 'dry Mormon,'" she quipped, referring to the fact that she is not a member of the church, but like millions around the world, has a deep-seated addiction to the family history hobby. Those of many faiths use the church resources on a regular basis. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as the church adds their data to its archives.
This year's Utah visit included only 10 clients, Gow said, but she has been hostess to as many as 20 at a time. In any given year, some of the group are likely to be on repeat status. "They always want to come back," she said.
Before a trip to Utah, she conducts a series of seminars in New Zealand. The focus tends to be primarily on British genealogical possibilities, Gow said, "although there is some interest in Scandinavian and German research."
The particularly interesting history of the settling of Australia partially by convicts deported from England during the 1700s and 1800s can make for a fun search, Gow said. She is a native Aussie-turned-Kiwi (New Zealander).
"In my line, there are five convicts who were sent to Botany Bay, the British penal colony, usually for such crimes as stealing chickens or bread, things of that sort," she said. "The descendants of convicts are referred to as 'Australian royalty.'"
In fact, one of the things that keeps bringing Gow and her genealogical compatriots back to Salt Lake every year is that they are "treated like royalty," Gow said. Personnel at the library include the many missionaries who fill callings in the Family History Department, who aid the research.
On one occasion, a family history worker who had grown up in Adelaide, Australia, called Gow in her hotel room and invited the whole group to take a tour of local sites of interest, including the famed Bingham Copper Mine, the Great Salt Lake, an outlet mall and "the King Kong Restaurant." On at least one Sunday during their visit, the Aukland group gets the "VIP treatment" at the Tabernacle Choir performance, she said.
Barbara Bates of Aukland was enjoying her sixth Utah trip during this July. This time, her daughter, Natasha, was in tow. Barbara Bates looked back on her first class with Gow. That's where she caught the bug. "I went to the meeting with a notebook and pen. It was way before computers," she recalled.
Bates was introduced to genealogy by another woman with whom she was attending "Plunkett classes," a series of programs for New Zealand nurses who assist with the care of new mothers and their infants. After a conversation, Bates accompanied the nursing companion to a Gow lecture and her fate was settled.
"I got hooked," she said. Her friend Gow, in fact, breaks up the word "genealogy" into component parts of "gene" and "allergy." She just can't get past it.
The New Zealanders were complimentary of the LDS Church's addition of indexing to its research resources. The work of gleaning family history tidbits from hundreds of thousands of records from throughout the world greatly expands the possibility of finding information about relatives, Gow said. "We're becoming very spoiled."
Bates said her family shares her enthusiasm for delving into genealogy, including her husband, "as long as I do the work," she said. Being able to share the work with her daughter is a bonus.
Ironically, though part of the younger generation that has grown up with computers, Natasha Bates admits to a special fondness for the old microfiche technology.
"'Fiche is old school," she said. "But it's good school."Comment on this story
Like these enthusiastic Kiwis, more and more people with the genealogy bug are going to great lengths to search out their little nuggets of family history. For many of them, the lure of Salt Lake City with its unequaled family history resources is a preferred destination.
When they completed their annual work at the Salt Lake Family History Library, in fact, the New Zealanders split up. Natasha Bates headed home with others of the party, but for her mother, Gow and others of the group, the trip would continue. The next destinations, England and Scotland, are for more digging into their family lines.
Yep. No question. They're hooked.
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.