Many people involved in genealogical research call the avocation addictive, and they say it's more stimulating than ever thanks to new technology that takes some of the tedium out of tracing one's family tree.
One research tool popular among local genealogists is the FamilySearch computer system, which was set up in December at the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3655 W. 10th.
Using information stored on several compact discs, the system puts at one's fingertips many of the records stored at the Mormon Church's Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
"Because of the intensity of the church's genealogical research, it's recognized around the world," said Thomas Morgan, public communications director for the second ward of the Lawrence church. Morgan said there is a reason the Mormon Church is so devoted to tracing family histories.
"We believe that our ancestors are still alive, and linking family present with family past is a very important thing to do," Morgan said.
AFTER CHURCH members identify family relationships and collect records on their ancestors as far back as they can trace them, the members and their ancestors are sealed together as families through sacred temple ordinances.
Of course, Morgan said, a lot of people do genealogical research just as a hobby, and the church's records obviously can help them, too.
Among the features of the FamilySearch computer system are:
The International Genealogical Index, which contains information on 147 million deceased people who have been researched by church members for ordinances. Morgan said that even people who are not in the church might find their ancestors in the catalog because those same ancestors could be in the family lines of church members.
The U.S. Social Security Death Register, which provides the dates of death of approximately 39 million people.
The Ancestral File, which contains about 7 million names from family histories that non-church members have submitted.
John Christensen, a Topeka resident and the Family History Library adviser for the northeast Kansas region, said names are being submitted all the time. He said the Mormon Church even sells a software program to researchers so they can submit information on their families in a unified format.
"The file has the capacity of becoming a very large, shared base of information," he said.
MARY BURCHILL, president of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, said the computer is great tool, especially for those who are just starting to delve into genealogy.
"The biggest problem is always how to get started, and that's what's so exciting about the LDS computerization," she said. "If you just go in and type in a name, it will pull up information and also tell you where you can find it."
The computer's Ancestral File program also can be used to print out a pedigree chart if one's ancestors are found in the data base. Burchill said that feature, as well as organizational programs offered by other computer software, also can make genealogical work less complicated.
"The research can be terrifying because you gather all these little slips of paper and photocopied pages, and it can just get out of hand," she said.
ATTESTING to the FamilySearch system's popularity is that people presently are booking the computer two weeks in advance. However, the center offers a wealth of information on microfilm and microfiche, and the center has several microfilm and microfiche readers available for public use.
The center, which is staffed by local church volunteers, can be used free of charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays.
Burchill said computers also have contributed to genealogical research by allowing the creation of electronic "genealogical bulletin boards." Bulletin board subscribers can enter a "query" on a particular ancestor to find out if any other subscribers nationwide have information on that person. Burchill said she knows of one such subscriber in Baldwin.
While computer technology obviously has helped local genealogists, the Douglas County Genealogical society is planning a couple of projects that will help researchers in the future.
THE RENOVATION of the Lawrence Public Library includes the creation of a genealogy room, which will allow for the consolidation of the library's genealogical resources. Burchill said the room also will be staffed by volunteers from the DCGS and the Daughters of the American Revolution, thus providing researchers specialized assistance.
The library renovations are scheduled for completion in mid-April.
The society also is planning a book on Douglas County family histories.
Carol Francis, facilitator of the project, said the idea is for county residents to contribute 500-word historical stories about their families to create a social portrait of present-day Douglas County.
Francis said the society welcomes histories not only from lifelong residents but from "any person who considers Douglas County home," including newcomers and former residents.
Burchill said that "for people 50 years from now, the book will be very important."
FRANCIS agreed, saying that a similar book published on Douglas County in 1899 backed up evidence she had that the Lawrence office building she owns was the only downtown building left standing after John Quantrill's 1863 raid on Lawrence.
Francis said the book also would provide more than just names and dates, which by themselves make history boring for her.
"It will give you snippets of people's lives," she said.
Entries for the book are due Jan. 30, 1992, and the book will be available in 1993. People wanting more information can call the society at 842-1139.