Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Albertine Joan Garner's family pictures, memorbilia, and scrap books were on display during Family Discovery Day on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Soldotna Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints. Garner has compiled 30 scrapbooks of photos and information on her family.

Tracing roots: Genealogy event held at Soldotna church

In the mid-1800s, Albertine Joan Garner’s great-great-grandfather deserted from the French military, married a can-can dancer — Garner’s great-grandmother — and sailed to a new life in Canada.

While talking to Garner at a genealogy workshop held Saturday at Soldotna’s Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, Beth Meier said she was also descended from a military deserter, who had left the German army. Another workshop participant said she’d discovered bootleggers in her family tree. Tracy Earll said she had a murderer.

“You win the gold star!” Meier said to her.

“Nobody’s secrets are safe around a genealogist,” Earll said.

Saturday’s genealogy workshops were part of a nation-wide genealogy promotion day sponsored by the LDS church, which counts genealogical research as a prominent part of its tradition. LDS worshippers are encouraged to find the names of their ancestors with a theology that emphasizes family connections and allows baptisms and other rituals to be performed on behalf of the dead. One of the nine genealogical research classes offered Saturday was about how to submit names of ancestors for ceremonies by the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Meier, who had organized the event as the Family History Director for the Soldotna Stake (an administrative area of the LDS church), said this was the only class aimed specifically at LDS church members. Others were general genealogy classes that included presentations by and for members of secular genealogy groups such as the Kenai Peninsula Totem Tracers, as well as members of the church and the public.

Meier said her interest in genealogy was passed down from her mother, and had become a personal investigation for her.

“It’s nice to place my family with events in history,” Meier said. “Why did they move from place to place? I try to add in some questions. It’s a rewarding thing to learn about the people who came before me and what they did.”

The Soldotna church’s genealogical research center was also open during the day for the general public to use, as it is on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays throughout the year. The research center offers online access to the LDS Church’s Family Search web service, which allows users to dig through its large database of historical records, as well as offering free access to 12 pay-for-use databases including, collections of military records, documents of American westward expansion, and archives of 19th century newspapers. Meier said that in addition to these online databases, the lab also has copies of local cemetery records.

Garner, a member of the Soldotna LDS church, had a table in the church gymnasium devoted to a few of her 30 decorated scrapbooks and binders dedicated to holding family records, stories, and photographs. She said she began researching her family in 1998, after inheriting a suitcase filled with old family photographs. Since then, she’s discovered that her ancestors include a Mayflower passenger, a wealthy copper-mining executive, women executed for witchcraft in England, and John Nance Garner, vice president to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

After visiting Europe on genealogical expeditions, Garner traced an Irish branch of her family back to 1690. She said that on her next trip she wants to visit Ulster for more research, and in the future plans to trace the French branch of her family, which lived for several generations in the small village of La Cote St. Andre, back to the year 1111. So far, she’s found ancestors in La Cote St. Andre dating to 1824. While she’s in Europe, she said she may try to visit Buckingham Palace.

“I’m related to the queen,” she said. “I’ve got some Windsors in my family.”

An only child with no children, Garner said genealogy is a very personal interest of hers.

“I have no siblings, and my mom and dad divorced when I was very young,” Garner said. “This is the only way I know the family, through pictures I have found.”

Garner said that after her death, she plans to leave her collection of records and photographs to the Soldotna LDS church.

“I don’t know who else would be interested in them,” she said.

Meier said that even among LDS members, genealogy research isn’t necessarily connected to temple rituals, called ordinances. Meier and church member Marie Jacobsen-Bates said they submit ancestral names for ordinances. Garner said she doesn’t.

“Everyone’s got to find God in their own way,” Garner said.

After controversy arose in the 1990s over the church’s posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims, the rules for temple rituals on the deceased became stricter. Jacobsen-Bates said the temple only does rituals when the submitter can prove direct descent from the ancestor, who must have been dead for 110 years. Exceptions are granted with permission from the dead person’s spouse or sibling. Information about living people is restricted in the church’s database.

“I’m one who encourages people just to learn about their history,” Meier said. “The ordinances (temple ceremonies) are an added bonus. But the main thing is the history of it. The stories you can share.”

Meier said the Family Discovery workshops are a twice yearly event. The Soldotna LDS church will hold its next one in October.


Reach Ben Boettger at

More in Life

In 1964, two years after the Fairs moved to their homestead at the end of Forest Lane, Calvin Fair took this photo from neighbor Dan France’s SuperCub. Note the dearth of large trees in the foreground, where the 1947 Kenai Burn wiped out much of the hillside forest. (Courtesy Fair Family Collection.
One man’s misfortune becomes my family’s good fortune

Without his misfortune, almost everything changes for me.

Snickerdoodle cookies have a distinct cinnamon sugar scrawled shell, photographed on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Memories of snickerdoodles

I asked my grandma if she had her mother’s snickerdoodle recipe.

Russell Wagner graduated from the dental school within the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco in the spring of 1931. Shortly thereafter, he made his first trip to Seward. (Photo courtesy of college archives)
When the Kenai had just one full-time Dentist, Part 2

Part One discussed how Dr. Russell Wagner, the Kenai Peninsula’s only full-time dentist in 1960.

Christina Whiting poses for a photo on Oct. 5, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Taz Tally)
Homer artist takes pandemic project on road

‘Behind the Mask - Our Stories’ invites people to share experiences

Homemade ice cream steeped with chai spices and churned with local honey is frozen and ready to be enjoyed, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2029, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Churning ice cream at home

Winter is a great time to break out the ice cream machine

This is the 1908 birth certificate of Russell Martin Wagner. (Certificate courtesy of
When the Kenai had just one full-time dentist, Part 1

Wagner graduated from dental school at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco.

Butternut squash soup picnic is enjoyed on the rocky beach at Eklutna Lake, on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: A soup to match the color of the leaves

Getting outside can be a balm to that isolation and grief many of us are experiencing.

Minister’s Message: Are we seeing flowers or weeds?

In diffiult times, we need to watch what we watch

A plate of fried fish is photographed in this undated photo. Frying up cod or halibut in a beer batter is a delicious way to enjoy Alaska’s catch. (Courtesy Victoria Petersen)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: A secret ingredient for fried fish

Victoria Petersen serves up beer-battered halibut with a not-so-secret ingredient.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: So sayeth the almanac 2020

Once again, the summer has rocketed by and we find ourselves on the precipice of the autumn equinox.

Photo from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art 
                                Dr. David Hassan Sleem stands on the front porch of his large Seward home in 1906.
The multitalented D.H. Sleem, Part two

Syrian-born David Hassan Sleem settled in Seward in 1903.