ELON, N.C. -- Your long-lost relatives could be waiting for you in a small brick room in Elon.
The Elon Genealogy & Family History Center, at 712 South Williamson Ave., gives patrons access to sites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and MyHeritage - as well as trained staff ready to assist with searches - free of charge.
And director Carol Moore has already seen success.
"I had a gal come in who had been hunting for her grandmother for years and within five minutes, she found a record relating to her grandmother," Moore said. "That brought tears (to her eyes) because she had been trying to find her for so long, so that was really exciting."
'AN UNBELIEVABLE RESOURCE'
Thanks to digitized records and DNA testing, we've entered a new era of genealogy, but the cost can be a barrier.
The most basic Ancestry.com membership charges $19.99 a month or $99 for six months (after a 14-day free trial). If you want to find international records - say, for your grandparents who emigrated from Poland - it will cost you $149 for a six-month membership.
That's why the new center, hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is essential. It provides access to billions of records, including newspaper archives, without the hassle of pricey subscriptions.
"It's just an unbelievable resource," Moore said.
FamilySearch, alone, allows multiple people to add information, documents, photos, audio files and memories to a digital family tree, which helps families piece together and preserve their history using bits of information from different relatives.
Sometimes, small pieces of information will contribute to a breakthrough - with a bit of luck.
"You know, I think you get help from the other side sometimes. I think they want to be found," Moore added.
The site also offers a feature that allows two people who already have accounts to find out if and how they are related, which Moore says has led to some interesting discoveries.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has worked to open family history centers across the world as far back as the 1890s.
Today, there are 4,700 family history centers in 130 countries, all with trained volunteers ready to help patrons unlock connections they never knew about.
"We believe in Jesus Christ as the leader of our church and that families are really central to our happiness here on earth," Moore said. "And family history is part of our family, so knowing about our family can really help us be stronger through trials. Maybe if you know what your ancestors did in the past, the trials that they overcame can help you overcome trials."
Right now, the Elon center is relatively small - with two computers that are open from 10 a.m. to noon and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Moore said as the interest grows, they can apply for additional computers and expand their hours.
They've already had more than 100 visitors from the church since July. The center officially went public in September.
Moore said hopefully, some residents can start on a path to self-discovery.
"We really believe that family history can help you in your life today as well as helping those who have gone before to not be lost," she said.
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Trace your ancestry for free: Elon center provides access to genealogy resources