First Time in the Big (Salt Lake) City: Part 1

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah

When NEHGS asked me to attend the RootsTech–FGS conference, I was equally overjoyed and anxious. I’ve never before been to the Family History Library, and I want to be sure to take best advantage of being at one of the world’s top genealogical research facilities. I turned to my NEHGS colleagues for advice, and they gave me four great suggestions for my first visit:

  1. Nail down what you want to work on. Researchers can be overwhelmed with the sheer size of the FHL, making them feel like kids in a candy store. Therefore, if you wish to avoid the negative effects of a sugar rush, you should identify specific questions that you want to answer and specific lines or generations that need work. Identify any holes in your research or brick walls that you want to resolve.
  2. Make a priority list. You will most likely have grand plans, but not enough time to accomplish all your goals (and that is okay). Pick questions that are more achievable to start, and move later to your brick walls. Availability of specific resources should influence your priority list. For example, you should make time to research in books first, as FHL does not have interlibrary loan.
  3. Identify FHL resources that can help with your specific research questions. Search the FamilySearch Catalog by place, surname, keyword, title, author, or subject. Once you locate possible microfilms and books of interest, create a spreadsheet or list that identifies the film or call number, the name of the individual (with identifying dates), and the intended record (e.g., the 1752 baptism for Dale Wharton Brown). If you locate a microfilm that is cataloged as “Vault,” order it beforehand, as it may take three days to retrieve.
  4. Create an organized research plan. How do you plan to knock down each brick wall? Are you planning to use vital records, church records, land grants, etc.? What records have you already found that pertain to your specific question? Be sure to include previously identified names, dates, and locations with your research plan, to keep you from going back and forth between your compiled research and the FHL resources. If you have a specific FHL resource in mind, jot it down also.

In addition to these research tips, my colleagues suggested a few housekeeping items:

  • Check the FHL hours. (The library may close early for holidays or stay open later during conferences.)
  • Bring a water bottle with a cover and lip balm. (Hydration is important at higher altitudes.)
  • Bring a thumb drive. (The FHL does not charge for scans made using digital readers.)
  • Bring small bills for photocopies. (The FHL charges 5¢ for b/w and 30¢ for color.)
  • Bring a laptop and perhaps a computer lock. (Computer use is first come, first served.)

Well, my bags are packed and my research plans complete. Wish me luck on my newest genealogical journey! I’ll check back in a few days with a progress report.

About Lindsay Fulton

Lindsay Fulton joined the Society in 2012, first a member of the Research Services team, and then a Genealogist in the Library. She has been the Director of Research Services since 2016. In addition to helping constituents with their research, Lindsay has also authored a Portable Genealogists on the topics of Applying to Lineage Societies, the United States Federal Census, 1790-1840 and the United States Federal Census, 1850-1940. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has appeared as a guest on the Extreme Genes radio program. Before, NEHGS, Lindsay worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she designed and implemented an original curriculum program exploring the Chinese Exclusion Era for elementary school students. She holds a B.A. from Merrimack College and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

11 thoughts on “First Time in the Big (Salt Lake) City: Part 1

  1. Great article. I am saving it. It occurs to me it’s a great template for any research library that you go to. I was pleased that you gave specifics for this library. Would love it if you published a similar one on your own library. I am planning a trip to Boston later this year to get to know your library and become a member. Would like a similar article to work from so that I could plan in advance how I will use my time and your facilites.

  2. Excellent Plan. Two additions. You can get a ticket and directions to the LDS Cafeteria which is a short and head clearing walk from the front desk. Take a digital camera for taking ohotos of large maps and documents you want to grab on the fly. Good luck and don’t forget to take breaks. If you are waiting at airports use the time to do more catlog searching

    1. Apologies for the typos! I had a list for each floor. So for the Genealogies I had all call numbers in alphabetical order. I copied everything relevant for each including title page and then went on to the next. I used time when the library was closed to go through what I had collected.

  3. These are great suggestions for all research trips, whether a long anticipated special trip to Salt Lake City, Washington DC, or Boston, or to courthouses and cemeteries. How often do we have the luxury of “all the time in the world” even at our local repositories?

    I like wheatonwood’s thoughts on “head clearing” walks and taking breaks to collect our findings. And save room for serendipity — those chance encounters with other researchers or the intriguing book that may not be in your plans but add valuable clues along the way.

  4. This went into my “research strategies” folder- it’s a succinct but thorough summary of how to plan for a research trip. I’ll use it to generate a list of to-do’s and research questions. I won’t be in SLC this year, but at some point I hope to make it, since a good many of my ancestors are buried in Utah and Idaho- a chance to visit a lot of cemetaries. Plus, as Candy said, This is a good way to plan any research trip (including online) for best use of time and energy. Speaking of which, wheatonwoman, thanks for the hints, especially about the LDS Cafeteria!

  5. Do you know if they give a tour of the library? I would rather do that first to get the lay of the land, so to speak, then search more or request the film to my local LDS Center.

    1. When I visited the library I was with a group so we did have an orientation in a room specifically for that very purpose. It was scheduled the first morning of our visit at the library before it opened to the public and lasted about 45 mins to an hour. We received a map of the library with indications of each levels’ specific research sources, information regarding library rules and where and how to get/make copies as well as guest tickets to allow entrance to the cafeteria.

      For individuals going to the library I would call their 800 number and inquire as to these orientation tours. There may be a specific time when others who are not in a group can get together for the same type of introduction.

  6. Let serendipity happen. At the FHL, I was looking for the U.S. Immigration record of my great-grandparents in the many, many cabinets of microfilm. I opened the wrong drawer of the wrong cabinet and looked at the wrong microfilm. There was the record of the arrival of her father and sisters on board the Liverpool ship identified in the Mormon records but filed (and microfilmed) out of date sequence because the ship arrived on the Fourth of July.

  7. And then ditch all of the above when you realize that you the plan you had might result in your having come this far and spent all that money, but wind up going home with nothing! Always have a Plan B!

  8. Really helpful suggestions which I need to disciplin myself to follow. I live in SLC and have visited the FHL many times, and it is indeed overwhelming. I invariably wind up chasing rabbits down the most interesting rabbit holes – my favorite be browsing the book stacks, especially county histories. But now the books are being digitalized and can be accessed online.

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