Disenchanted with her traditional Catholic upbringing, Ana Montalvo was fascinated by what she read in the Book of Mormon.
In it, Montalvo read about the cultures that populated the Americas before Columbus reached the continent. She heard about her ancestors, like the Mayans, and their advanced civilizations. She saw how each culture held a wide knowledge on subjects such as astronomy and math.
“These people were not heathens like Columbus’ people said,” the Thousand Oaks resident said. “We had a whole history. The Book of Mormon gives part of that history.”
Having converted from Catholicism to the Church of Latter-day Saints 30 years ago, Montalvo represents a niche in the Mormon church that is growing locally.
A need to meet the demands of the church’s Latino members prompted Jean Hawley, director of the Thousand Oaks Family History Center, to add Spanish classes and Latin-American heritage presentations to her church’s annual genealogical workshop Tuesday.
The three Spanish classes, one focusing specifically on Mexico, are geared for a thriving Latino community within the Mormon church and to serve the greater Latino population throughout the county.
Some classes will focus on learning about Mexican ancestors and other Latin American backgrounds, but the open house will mainly offer basic and advanced genealogical research methods for any heritage.
Held at the Thousand Oaks Family History Center, the family roots event embodies the value of exploring family history held by the Church of Latter-day Saints. The belief that couples are married for eternity and are reunited with their ancestors after death represents part of the drive to learn about ancestry.
“In the church we teach that when you’re married, you can be married for eternity, and have children for eternity,” Hawley said.
“We believe a family can be united after death even. It (marriage) is not limited by death. That’s why it’s so important to discover who our ancestors are, because we believe we will be with them again.”
Switching from Catholicism to Mormon was a choice Montalvo’s entire family made and one she sees an increasing number of Latino families following.
Latinos in the Los Angeles area have been converting to the Mormon faith more than any other group, said Carolyn Allen, a volunteer with the church’s public affairs office in Los Angeles.
Southern California has five Latino stakes with thousands of members speaking Spanish.
In the Mormon faith, congregations are called wards and can contain as many as 500 people. Stakes are formed when multiple wards are combined.
Although Thousand Oaks only has a Spanish-language branch, which is smaller than a ward, the number of Latino Mormons in other parts of the county is growing.
In Oxnard, the church’s two Latino wards will soon expand into a stake, said Roberto Quiroz, bishop of the Oxnard wards.
Quiroz said Latino leaders are increasingly more common in the church.
Large numbers of Latino Mormons also live in Santa Paula and Ventura.
Through her faith, Montalvo learned about her own roots growing up in Argentina. Montalvo’s mother will be at the workshop to talk about her Bolivian heritage.
The appeal of the Mormon faith to Latinos may lie in its basic teachings.
To Montalvo, the Mormon church offers “what Latin Americans look for, where family is the center of everything.”
For basic information about family history, origins and archives, search these free genealogy websites:
http://www.ancestry.com is a paid service that is free through the Family History Center.