How I Met My Mother’s Mother’s Mother

Quin Nelson

All I had to start was an address and a phrase: “Find Your Ancestors” at 1821 2nd St. Intrigued by the vague advertisement in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, I set out to clear up my equally vague family history. Is my dad a nationality other than “white”? How many of my Filipino “aunties” am I actually related to? I had questions, and I hoped 1821 2nd St. could give me answers.

I stopped at the address to find myself at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I walked through a side entrance into the Walla Walla Family History Center. The Center is a large room with a few bookshelves, tables and a row of computers. I was greeted by Lois Addington, who showed me to a computer where I could start my search.

She started me off with and excitedly explained, “Websites like these cost hundreds of dollars, but at the Center you can use them for free.”

The Center also offers classes to help with ancestry searches, as well as indexing, the practice of compiling ancestry information in databases for everyone to use. All of these resources help people fill out pedigree charts, which are basically family-tree-type charts that help in organizing the data one can find.

Apparently, ancestry has always been an important tenet of the Mormon faith.

“It is very important that we know our ancestors, to know from whence we came,” said Addington.

However, the Center is available for everyone, not only Mormons, and although most visitors are elderly, many young people stop in too. Noting Addington’s enthusiasm for her work with the Center, I asked her about her personal experiences in ancestry searching.

“The first day I walked into the Family History Center, Betty [a coworker] brought out a book that had all of the states, towns and county seats in the [United States]. She opened it up and pointed it [out] on a page: Tacoma, Pierce County. I said, ‘That’s where I’m from!’ Where I was adopted. I didn’t know…” she trailed off.

After a moment’s pause, she concluded with the advice I took for the rest of my trip:

“If you don’t look back, you can’t go forward.”

I later learned that Addington’s search led her to meet her biological sisters for the first time, but I didn’t need to know that part of the story to understand her connection to the Family History Center. I saw the emotion evoked by her search, by finding out about herself and her newfound family.

I was able to trace my ancestry back a few generations, and it was a great experience to discover family history. Holding copies of my mom’s parents’ naturalization papers after emigrating from the Philippines and my dad’s parents’ marriage certificate, I understood the lives of those who came before me and felt the weight of the moments that brought me to where I am.

If you don’t look back, you can’t go forward.

To find out more about the Walla Walla Family History Center, visit