Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 26 Apr 2015
If you haven’t been bitten by the genealogy bug you don’t understand why anyone would spend a week of their hard earned vacation time in a library far from home researching dead people. My work colleagues gave me polite bemused smiles last month when I shared my exciting news – I was FINALLY going to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Definitely not a dream vacation for any of them but it’s always been my hope to one day research there.
Here’s what I learned from my adventure…
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME:
- Form a goal – mine was finding clues on how to climb over at least one of my top 10 walls in the four days I would be visiting.
- Make a list of the people you want to search – what you know, how you know it, & what you want to know. Then, narrow your list down as you aren’t going to have time to check out every one. I used a small pocket notebook as a backup to my electronic tree. I have my tree saved to a cloud (Dropbox and ancestry.com) so it’s available in case I needed to view saved original records. The notebook enabled me to write down call numbers, page numbers and thoughts and was a backup if the electricity went out. (Ok, I realize that would be highly unlikely but being from Florida where we have the power go out frequently, I was going to find a window and keep working from my paper notes.)
- If you haven’t already done so, join FamilySearch – like the library, it’s free. Then, use the online catalog to identify resources you’ll be checking. If you’re not sure how to use the catalog check out this Youtube video. Make sure you remember to print and bring the list you’ve compiled! You’ll be using the catalog as you find new information at the library but this initial search is a great way to identify a starting point. If you see “Vault” on an item request that it be pulled for you so it will be available on the day of your visit – you can do that from home.
- View these YouTube videos so you are familiar with the library procedures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_umqQmaGvM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sAr7NltMaY
- You’ll quickly get acclimated to the floor collections: British Isles-Basement 2, International-Basement 1, Surnames and Canada books-1st floor, US/Canada microfilm-2nd Floor and US Books and Maps-3rd floor. Here’s a floor plan of the library: https://familysearch.org/locations/library_floor_plans
- Go online to verify the library hours (Typically Monday 8AM-5PM, Tues-Fri. 8AM-9PM, Sat 9 AM-9PM). I saw a sign while there of an upcoming closure so do check ahead of time or you may be in for a disappointing surprise.
- Google Earth your hotel and the library (35 North West Temple Street) so you know the route. The blocks are much longer than in my area but it was a pleasant walk as passerbys were very friendly.
WHAT TO BRING:
- Kindle Fire/IPad/Tablet if you have one. Don’t go out and buy one if you don’t! I used my Fire to take notes, sign on to the free wifi to check my tree, use Google translator and do quick searches of the catalog while in the stacks or at the microfilm area. Saved time getting up and walking over to a computer.
- Digital camera, scanner or your phone with a fully charged battery. I took pics of the book pages and microfilm discoveries. If none of those suggestion work for you, purchase a copy card. I wanted to come home without killing a forest and be able to quickly import what I found to my tree page so the camera worked well for me. I bought an extra sd card but didn’t need it. Make sure you bring the charger to recharge the battery overnight!
- Office Supplies I found useful were a pen (there are pencils with no erasers and scrap paper everywhere), stickees to tag book pages that I wanted to photograph, and a highlighter to highlight the microfilm index pages I wrote down so I knew that I checked each page. (I so despise microfilm even though that’s where I seem to find my most amazing discoveries!)
- A magnifying glass – seriously! Some of the records are small and difficult to see.
- A bag to carry your research goodies. I used my airline carry-on purse but a backpack would also work. My hotel was several blocks away and it rained so the bag and the rain poncho I brought kept my stuff safe and dry.
WHAT TO LEAVE HOME OR IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM:
- Laptop – there are plenty of computers to use. I brought mine the first day and it was heavy to lug around as you don’t want to leave it out unattended. I used it in the hotel in the evening to upload my discoveries, record the source citation while they were still fresh in my mind, and plan for the following day’s research but I really didn’t need to bring it at all since I had the tablet.
- A thumb drive – always have one on me but didn’t use it.
WHAT OTHERS RECOMMEND THAT I DIDN’T FIND USEFUL:
- Change – I used the lockers on the first day only to store the laptop I didn’t need.
- Orientation Room– Since I viewed the YouTube videos I didn’t need to spend time there, though I did a quick walk through of the eye appealing displays in the room.
- Snacks-I was so consumed by what I was doing I wasn’t hungry. I brought a box of granola bars but never ate them. There is a vending machine area if you do get hungry.
- Meals at the Blue Lemon in City Creek Center that everyone raves about because the line was long (there was a conference in town). For a quick bite, eat at JBs, the old fashion restaurant on the corner – a nice salad bar, daily specials and a to die for chocolate chiffon pie to celebrate your finds! I figured I burned a 1000 calories using my brain to research so the calories didn’t count. JBs online reviews weren’t so hot but due to inclement weather, I didn’t want to venture far. Wish I had discovered them on day 1! Also did Johnny Rocket and Jimmy Johns for lunch, Olive Garden, Squatters Pub, and Blue Iguana for dinner. Used the hotel breakfast bar which had a nice selection of different items every morning.
I’M HERE, NOW WHAT?
- First Day – I admit that I’m a research nerd and I got so excited when I walked in that I announced to the world that my dream had come true. I guess that got me tagged as a Newbie which resulted in the staff asking me throughout the day how things were going. Each morning staff welcomed me back and asked what I’d be working on that day. By my last day I was hugging several volunteers and staff members good-bye as their genuine interest in my research bonded us. I sent a few email thank you’s upon my return home as one genealogist’s neighbor was from my childhood hometown and I had pictures to share. Another volunteer was researching the same surname (Coke) from the same areas (Virginia and New York) and we hit it off.
- On each floor is a podium with helpful volunteers. I call them the Greeters. On your first time on each floor they can give you useful tips for their resources. For example, on the 3rd floor on the left wall is a notebook cheat sheet to quickly locate state-county-city books on the shelves. I wouldn’t have found it if the Greeter hadn’t told me about it. After you’re familiar with the floor I found myself going to the podium behind the podium – that’s where you ask for specific genealogical assistance.
- Ask For Help – I liked to get there at opening because there are no crowds and you can quickly speak with a genealogist. If there is a wait, they’ll give you a restaurant style pager. I never waited longer than 5 minutes. Getting a new pair of eyes on your quandaries can open up a new direction for you. Blue lanyards are research helpers, red lanyards are collection helpers. Even if you forget which is which you’ll be directed to someone that can help you.
- Pace Your Day – I varied my activities between looking at books, microfilms (which tires my eyes), following a new lead online after using their other resources, and talking with a genealogist. I tried to speak with a genealogist first because both of us are fresh first thing in the morning, there is no wait and the advice might have revised my plan for the day. I looked at books next because they don’t circulate to my home library for review like microfilms do so I didn’t want to miss them. On my last afternoon I browsed the surname books on the first floor. I found 2 books on Leiningers I didn’t know about and was surprised they didn’t have the 2 that I have, nor any of the 3 Harbaugh books. It’s important to remember they don’t have everything. If you don’t find what you’re looking for it still may be out there somewhere so don’t give up!
- Classes – I didn’t think I would have time to take a class so I didn’t look at the schedule from home. Thank goodness that the daily classes are posted and an announcement is made about 30 minutes before the start of one. I found I did have time so I took Scotts-Irish Research Ideas and French Resources. Both were awesome, FREE and gave me additional direction to pursue. I wish I could have squeezed in the German class, too.
- Have Fun Outside of the Library, Too! All research and no sightseeing makes for an exhausted and grumpy travel companion so do see the surrounding area. There is a Visitor’s Center next to Salt Lake Palace Convention Center (with a nice small gift shop) a block away that can assist you. My travel companion and I took the UTA light rail which is very inexpensive to the University of Utah to visit the “Dino” Museum and the botanical gardens next door.
A student we met on the light rail gave us a short walking tour of the University which was also nice. There is a free campus van that will drive you from the light rail to the museum/gardens. It’s about a 10 minute walk but it’s all uphill!
One night we did the Grimm Ghost Tour which was fun but a little creepy – I skipped out on visiting the serial killer’s basement.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had a dress rehearsal on another evening which was wonderful. (No pictures, no audio and they check your bags).
We also rented a car to go to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. This is where the bison and the antelope play.
WHAT I WISH THE LIBRARY BIGWIGS WOULD KNOW:
Your knowledgeable and dedicated employees and volunteers are beyond awesome! I so appreciated their wonderful recommendations, encouragement and patience with my many questions. I am thankful that I was able to visit your beautiful facility and plan on returning again and again!
Only suggestion I have is to remind your Elders if you want the Millennial generation to become interested in genealogy, they need to be encouraging. On two separate days, my travel partner was questioned by Elders as to why I was asking all the questions. She responded politely that she was new to genealogy and was in town for the conference. The response of both was, “Hrmph.” My advice, Elders, is listen to the Sisters. They always said, “Glad you’re here!”
WHAT I TOLD THE ‘KNOW AT ALLS’ WHEN I GOT HOME:
IMHO, there are 2 kinds of people in the world – the glass is half full and the glass is half empty. Before I left home I had several people tell me I wouldn’t find anything. WRONG! I found and learned so much that I only wish I had more time to spend and lived closer. I am truly sorry for the folks that never found what they were looking for. I know it’s frustrating but it is what it is. Just because you didn’t find anything doesn’t mean no one else should go.
I also had acquaintances tell me that I would be accosted by Mormons who were going to repeatedly attempt to evangelize me. WRONG! No one ever tried to persuade me to join the Mormon faith. No one ever asked me what my faith is. The ancestors I was researching had been Quaker, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Puritan, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist. No one cared that they weren’t Mormon. No one tried to ‘baptize’ them. Just because a Mormon woke you up too early on a Saturday morning does not mean it’s going to be a problem in the library. It won’t be. So go visit – you really must!
Next time I’m going to share my thoughts on how the library experience pushed me to pursue becoming a Certified Genealogist.