There is only one word to describe the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – WOW!
I consider myself very lucky to live in the western United States because the Family History Library has never been more than a short plane ride away. I first visited the library about twenty years ago and have probably made about twenty additional trips there to research.
I distinctly remember that first visit. My husband Dave, son Michael and I met up with Dave’s aunt and uncle. His aunt and I were spending out time in the library while Dave, Michael and Uncle Dale went sightseeing. That was back in the day when the library opened at 7:30 a.m. and closed at 10:00 p.m. The first morning, Dave drove his aunt and me to the library. It hadn’t yet opened and we were anxious to get there because it was summer time and we knew there would be a long line to enter. As we turned the corner to Temple Square, Dave saw a very long line of people that stretched all the way to the corner of the block. He wondered what was going on because there were so many people out there that early in the morning. He was incredulous when we told him that THAT was the line to enter the library and that was why we wanted to hurry and get there.
Whether one is a novice or an experienced genealogist, the Family History Library can be an overwhelming first experience. I salivate at the thought of 3,000,000 microfilms and over 350,000 books ALL related to genealogy. So many choices and so little time. . . .
Before my first visit to Salt Lake City, a genealogy friend who had been to the library a number of times gave me advice that I have followed on every trip since – make a list of items to look up before you leave home.
1. I can’t stress that enough – make a list of items to look up BEFORE you leave home. That list should include the film number or book number for each item. If it is something that has been digitized, unless it is hard to read or in a foreign language, don’t waste precious library time reading it in the library.
If you will be visiting the library for the first time in February, arrive with your list ready to go. It is fine if you start working down your list and get sidetracked because you have success and want to follow up new leads. However, if you are not successful in one search, you have the next item on your list with film/book numbers cited so you don’t have to take time to do that in the library.
Although I use Evernote, I also take a paper copy of my “to do” list and a pad of paper in case the internet goes down. (That has happened to me a couple of times while in the library.)
2. Always wear comfortable layers of clothing and shoes as you may be walking many steps in the library as you research. Some floors in the library are warmer/cooler than others.
3. I always make sure I eat a healthy breakfast and, as hard as it is to tear myself away from the library, I force myself to eat a light lunch and dinner. I don’t do my best work when I’m tired and hungry, nor do most other people I know.
Now, I have to admit that my last visit to the library ended two days ago. In spite of the number of times I have been there, I followed my own advice and I prepared my “to do” list before I left. It was one of the shortest lists I’ve ever made because there were only three or four items that were quick look ups; the rest were “problems” and one problem in particular, my Swedish ancestors, took up most of my time.
4. That leads me to the next topic – help available in the library. There are library workers – both paid staff and volunteers – who can help with generalized searches, but there are also many specialists available to help with family research located any where in the world.
If you will be making your first visit, do take time to ask for a library orientation tour. That will save you time as you will learn how the library is set up and on which floor you are most likely to want to begin your research.
I have never needed help while researching U.S. and Canadian records, although many library workers have asked if I needed assistance. Working through my Danish and Swedish lines, though, would have been impossible for me to do on my own. I don’t speak any Scandinavian languages and reading the old Gothic writing is not my strong point either. I also would not have found my Slovak family records without help.
The library specialists are absolutely fabulous! Not only can they translate, they are excellent at reading the old (sometimes very faint) records and can give suggestions for further research. Since my experience has mostly been with Nordic research, I will take a moment here to thank again Ruth, Anka, Naomi, Liv and Roy for all of their help over the last three years. If you have spent time on floor B1 in the Nordic corner, I am sure you will recognize these names.
5. Finally, the library has recently instituted a new method for requesting help from the specialists. Until a few months ago, there were reference desk areas on each floor. If one had a question, he/she went to the desk to seek advice or get help reading a microfilm.
The reference desks are all gone. They have been replaced with a small reception desk and lounge seating. If you need help, go to the reception desk, give your name and state the type of help you need. (For example, my name is Linda and I need a Swedish record translated.) The receptionist (for lack of a better description) enters your name into a computer list and assigns a specialist to help you. Much like waiting to be seated in a busy restaurant, you will be given a pager. You can either sit in the lounge seating and wait or return to your table or computer and continue to work on something else until the specialist is available. When the pager vibrates, you return to the reception desk and the specialist will be there.
The library was not busy when I was there last week so I never had to wait for more than a minute or two. I asked several receptionists how they liked the new system; each said it took some getting used to, but it seemed to work fairly well. The downside is that, like at a crowded restaurant, if the library is busy, the wait can be long. However, it would have been long standing in line at the reference desk, too, and you wouldn’t be free to work at your seat because you’d lose your place in line. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this new system, but I think it is an improvement over standing in lines at busy times.
How will I prepare for my upcoming visit in February? I have to admit that I decided while I was at the library last week that I had to change my plane reservation and come earlier than I first planned. I made that change today so I will have at least two full days in the library, before the conference opens. 🙂
In the meantime, I will continue to follow my own advice. I’ve already started the February “to do” list. I can’t wait to go back and I don’t want to waste even a minute of my time there.