Planning a Visit to the Family History Library?

With RootsTech 2020 less than 8 weeks away, , NOW is the time to begin planning your research time in the Family History Library.

Whether this is your first visit or you are lucky enough to have been able to work in the Family History Library already, pre-planning is the key to a successful library experience.

I always recommend having one’s ducks in a row long before walking through the library doors. How do I do it? Here is my 2020 (slightly)  updated list (first published in 2015) with my best practices.

1. Keep a running list of the items and call numbers you want to view in the library.

I began preparations for my next library visit as soon as I got home from my last trip to Salt Lake City. How? By starting a running list of everything I needed to view on site during a future library visit. I keep a pad of paper on a shelf behind my desk. Every time I am in the midst of researching a family and come across an item – book, film or library-only computer access – I add it on the “to do” list, adding call numbers and FHL film numbers next to the record titles.

2. Just before I leave, I review my list. Have any books or films been digitized since I entered the title on my “to dos”? If so, and I can view it at home, I cross it off the list. I absolutely don’t want to waste precious library time reading records available on my home computer. One very important point needs to be stressed here – Be aware that digitized books are no longer on the library shelves!

Next – Are any of my films in the Granite Vault? If so, I need to make sure to request them as soon as I first enter the library so there is time for delivery and viewing before I leave.

Is any item on the only-in-the-library computer access arena? There are a few record collections that can’t be viewed digitally even in a local family history center and are restricted to FHL-only access. If so, I try complete these items early in my visit so they don’t get overlooked.

I can’t stress this enough – make a list of items to look up BEFORE you leave home. That list should include the film number or book call number for each item. If it is something that has been digitized, unless it is hard to read or in a foreign language and you need help, don’t waste precious 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. 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.

BSO’s: You have a research plan going into the library. What about all the BSO’s (bright shiny objects) discovered along the way? There is nothing wrong with following some new trails discovered on site. However, make sure that you are not using valuable research time going down rabbit holes that can be entered through your own computer at home!

3. If you have never been to the Family History Library before, check the FamilySearch website for library tips, floor plans, hours of operation, etc. so you are somewhat familiar with it. I also recommend letting the volunteers at the library reception desks, located on each floor, know that you are making your first visit so they can help you get started. It is very easy to be very, very overwhelmed by this library so taking time to get oriented is time well spent in the long run.

4. Being retired, my travel time is somewhat flexible. If scheduling a couple of extra days in Salt Lake City is feasible for you, arriving on Sunday night is my recommendation.

I usually time my visits for a Sunday evening arrival. That way, I am fresh on Monday morning. Note that in 2019, the Family History Library extended its hours and now is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday AND has Sunday hours from 1 – 5 p.m.

5. What to packI always include some granola bars, mozzarella sticks and licorice and bottled water to have something on hand in case of airport delays and need for a bite while in the library in between meals. There is a lunch room in the FHL, located on the first floor in the back. Vending machines have drinks and quick snacks. See #8 for restaurant tips.

Pack a layered wardrobe! Always wear comfortable layers of clothing and shoes as you will be walking many steps in the library as you research. Some floors in the library are warmer/cooler than others. The RootsTech convention center is huge and you will definitely be walking a lot in there. As in the FHL, some classrooms and sections of the convention center are warmer/cooler than others. Dress accordingly.

I also bring two pairs of tennis shoes with rubber soles, as they provide good traction in case the sidewalks are wet or slippery. If one pair gets wet, I can wear the second while the first is drying out. SUGGESTION: I would recommend buying a pair of waterproof boots on sale if you live in a warm climate and don’t own any. I have been at RootsTech in past years where it has snowed and sidewalks were slushy and slippery.

6. Bring a couple of flash drives with a lot of memory (at least 16GB) with you. Information found on the computer can either be directly saved or screen clipped and saved. Many images can also be emailed directly home, but I prefer to have mine with me. Or, better yet, email them home AND save to your flash drive so you have a back up.  Also, BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME, create a file folder on each flash drive titled “If Found, Return to Owner” and put a document in there with your contact information in case you lose/leave your flash drive behind in the library. Flash drives are OFTEN left behind by library patrons. Staff loves finding one with an owner folder in it because they try to return them to (usually very grateful) owners. It is also a good idea to attach the flash drives to a lanyard so you are less likely to walk off and leave it in the computer.

7. Even if you use Evernote or some other tech note taking system, pack a pad of paper. I also bring a paper version of my “to do” list and my ancient, typewritten pedigree charts,  as I have been in the library when the computers are off line or the server is down. It is absolutely horrid being in that library with no access to one’s notes!

I travel just with an iPad, no lap top in the library, although I keep one in my hotel room, and have never had difficulty getting on a computer in the library when I needed to. My iPad also has 4G, so when the internet was spotty in the library, I still had access. I NEVER enter new information into my genealogy software when I am on the road. I much prefer reviewing all my notes when I am home. Besides, who wants to waste research time entering computer data when you’re in the Family History Library???

8. When in Salt Lake, be sure to eat a substantial healthy breakfast before going in the library or to RootsTech sessions and be sure to take time to eat a good lunch, too. My two favorite lunch spots are the Nauvoo Cafe in the Joseph Smith Building and the cafeteria downstairs in the LDS Church’s headquarters building on the other side of Temple Square. Both are very reasonable in cost. There is also a food court in the City Creek Center Mall, the Blue Lemon with great sandwiches and soup, the Lion House Pantry in Brigham Young’s home next to the Joseph Smith building, the Olive Garden near the Hilton Hotel and JB’s, next to the Plaza Hotel, along with several other local restaurant options.  If you head to lunch before 11:30, you will beat the business crowd in the restaurants. The lines can be very long!

9. What do I work on first when I get to the library? I always begin with items for which I know I will need help. I’ve been doing a lot of Danish and Swedish research and, while I can make out basic words, I often need help reading the old script or navigating obscure military records. I head directly for the Scandinavian section and settle in.

Also, by beginning with difficult items, when I am feeling tired and need a change of focus, I have easy items to renew my energy.

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.

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.

If you need help, go to the reception desk on your floor, 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 onto a 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.

10. Technology in the Library –The first floor, which used to house computers and books of family history is now the Discovery Center. Volunteers help visitors and beginners learn how to find family history information.

Upstairs and downstairs, the Family History Library has all the equipment needed to scan images from microfilm, to produce photocopies, etc.  Don’t worry if you are technologically challenged, as there are volunteers staffing the equipment areas and all are most willing to help/teach you how to use the machines.

As you head to your research floor, you will notice a variety of machines tucked in an area to the side on each floor that allow various types of images to be created and saved.

Access to photocopy machines is by cards, which you can purchase in the library. You can choose the amount to put on the card. I recommend starting with a small amount – $5 or less – as I find so much that can be saved digitally that I am making fewer and fewer paper copies with each visit. Their photocopy machines have the capability to directly scan page images onto a flash drive – FOR FREE – so no paper copies are necessary unless you want them.

If you have a personal small hand scanner, you can use it in the library. (FYI: There are a few libraries that don’t allow the use of hand scanners.)

12. Take a bit of time each day to enjoy Salt Lake City. As mesmerizing as the Family History Library is, your brain will need a break or two. Tours of Temple Square are available and you might be able to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practicing.  The  City Creek Center shopping mall is very close to Temple Square. It is fun to walk through and you can get some retail therapy if you need it.

Next week, I’ll share some tips to enhance your RootsTech 2020 experience.


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