Church of Latter Day Saints
Family History Library Information:
A Guide To LDS Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah
A JewishGen InfoFile
Source: By Conor P. Mac Hale, Dublin Ireland
The Family History Library was founded by the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894 and it now houses the largest collection of genealogical material in the world. The society is dedicated to acquiring and preserving copies of the records of mankind. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has financed the society's methodical work. The Church teaches that close ties to ancestors are a part of family happiness. In an LDS temple, a family begins with a marriage - a sacred ordinance that unites husband and wife. Further ordinances tie children to parents, parents to grandparents, grandparents to great-grandparents, and so on, linking the generations to each other. Members of the church believe that deceased ancestors may be baptised and become postumous members of the church.
So that families may continue to discover their ancestors, specialist teams are sent around the world to locate and copy existing records. Since 1938, they have been using microfilm as the principal medium. The films preserve the land grant, deed, parish, will, marriage, cemetery and other public records that help to document the lives of many people. Where they are permitted to photograph the records, a copy of the film is given to the original record holder. Today there are 200 camera operators working in 45 countries around the world. Master copies of the films are stored under carefully controlled conditions in the Granite Mountain Records Vault in the Wasatch mountains southeast of Salt Lake City. This repository is not open to the public. It contains a store of about 2 million rolls of microfilm (equivalent to more than 6 million 300-page books) that are safe from flood, fire, earthquake, and man-made disaster. Only a fraction of the available space has so far been filled, and with new technology even more information can be stored in less space, e.g. by using 16mm microfilm in place of 35mm. The collection is growing at a rate of more than 4,100 rolls of film a month.
The present library building was constructed in 1983-85, and contains microfilm, microfiche and paper copies of records in open access shelving and cabinets. There are about 2 million rolls of film, 0.4 million microfiches, and more than 250,000 books available. There are an estimated two billion records on deceased persons. You can take up to five films or five books to use at a time. There are more than 625 film readers available in the building, the largest portion of these are in the U.S./Canadian section (which contains nearly 0.6 million films). Most microfilms are available for immediate use. However, some lesser-used records are in stores and you may have to wait an hour or two for these. For countries other than the U.S., Canada, the British Isles, Germany, Scandanavia, Switzerland, Poland and the Netherlands you may have to write and request the films at least two weeks in advance. A few records are protected from public access by contractual arrangements.
The Library is located in what is known as the Temple Square district, on the north side of the downtown area of Salt Lake City. Temple Square is located to the south of the State Capitol. The square is a prime tourist attraction with two visitor centres, the Mormon Temple and the domed Tabernacle. Free guided tours are conducted regularly throughout the day, and free organ recitals are given, while the Mormon Tabernacle choir rehearse in public on Thursdays while their weekly Sunday broadcast is also open to the public. To the east of Temple Square are the Beehive House, built in 1854, and the Lion House which was built in 1856. These formed the official residence of Brigham Young, President of the Church and first Governor of Utah, whose grave is situated a short distance away. The Family History Library is on the west side of Temple Square in a block which also contains the art and history museum of the Church, and Osmyn Deuel's cabin preserved since 1847. It is on the south end of the block, a large white building, 3 stories high (with two basements, floors B1 and B2).
If you are driving in on Interstate 15, exits are few and far between, so the best strategy is perhaps to exit at the North 6th exit, and then go east towards the Capitol dome (up on the hill). Parking is tight. Also Salt Lake City doesn't seem to believe in protected left turn signals for traffic, so you take your chances. There is also more pedestrian traffic in downtown Salt Lake than I've seen in any other city in the Mountain West. In fact, there are sometimes pedestrian stop lights in the middle of the blocks so people don't have to walk to the next corner in order to cross.
The Library itself looks every bit of the millions it must have cost and it is one of the nicest in the U.S. if not the world. As you enter the front door, you should turn towards the left and inquire about the short orientation presentation which will serve to introduce you to the facilities in the Library. This tells you a little of the purpose of the facility, how the place works and where you can generally find help. You will need lots of nickles, dimes and quarters (5, 10 and 25 cent coins). The copy machines are coin-operated. Change-making machines are available, and the library assistants are very helpful.
Hours of Operation:
The library hours are 7.30 AM to 6 PM on Monday, and 7.30 AM to 10 PM on Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Apart from Sundays, and early closing on Mondays, the library is only closed on 7 days throughout the year. July 24th is a state holiday when EVERYTHING shuts down to celebrate Pioneer Days or the days of '47 when the Mormons came. One correspondent was there just before and saw some of the week long celebrations. An all horse parade (about 1000 of them!) organized right in front of the library. There was also a rodeo in town at the Salt Palace (indoor arena place).
Using the Facility:
There are five floors in the Family History Library, with four of them open to the public - each dedicated to a group of countries. Floor 3 is restricted to members of staff and contains the staff area and cataloguing Department. The British Isles are on Floor B2, Continental Europe and Scandanavia are on Floor B1 with the Latin American and International section, and the North American section (US/Canada, etc.) is on the Main Floor (books) and on Floor 2 (films). Stairs and express lifts provide access to all floors.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) microfiche is available on each floor. The computers on each floor give access to the FamilySearch software where you can put in a certain surname, county, state or whatever and generate all the references available for that particular subject. You can also specify very particular search criteria by using what is called a 'filter' option e.g. Patrick Murphy, born 1830 in Co. Cork - if there is matching information the computer will display it for you. The software uses the Soundex matching system which enables it to display similarly sounding names to the one you are looking for. This is an important consideration where there are a lot of variant spellings of a particular name. The computer system is quite straightforward and easy to use but there is also personal guidance available for anyone who needs it.
There are printed guidance leaflets available that cover almost every aspect of the system used in the library, as well as instructional booklets or research outlines on conducting genealogical research in particular areas. Some printed materials are free, and there is a small charge for others. Patrons are asked to sign a log (first name is often sufficient) for the computer they wish to use, and to limit themselves to about 20 minutes on the stand-up machines or 1 hour on the sit-down machines at busy periods in the Library. The stand-up computers are meant just to check up quickly on something. Each computer also has its own printer attached so that you can have the information you requested printed out from the database - you pay 5 cents per sheet to the Library Attendant. You can get output from a laser printer at a cost of 10 cents per sheet. Blank sheets are free. You can also bring your own computer disks with you, and use these to take away copies of the information that is on file. Computers are equipped with two kinds of disk drive so that they can be used to make file copies on any standard type of floppy disk. Formatted floppy disks are also available for purchase in the Library. The 3.5 inch disks cost 1 dollar, and the 5.25 inch cost 50 cents.
There is always at least one volunteer assistant or staff member at the main desk on each floor and an expert consultant is available too. They are very helpful. The copy machines are good and cheap. Prices are 5 cents a page for photocopies and 20 cents per page for printout from microfiche or microfilm. There are change machines that take a one or five dollar bill or if you have larger the Library Attendant can make change for you. The photocopiers can be worked very hard at times, and there may be queues of people waiting to use them - in which case patrons are asked not to photocopy more than 5 pages at a time. The quality of some copies from microfilm may not be very good, though legible.
As well as staff members and volunteers (who mostly work in the separate family history centres), consultants provide expert advice. The consultants specialize in the records of a specific area, teach classes in research techniques, and take phone call queries from volunteers in family history centres. The library also provides lists of accredited researchers who can carry out research on commission for clients. Advice sheets give guidance to patrons on how to approach this.
As well as the free introductory orientation session, classes are held regularly at various times throughout the day. These classes are conducted by experienced volunteers and staff members. There is no charge, but patrons are asked to sign an attendance sheet. The topics include: Using FamilySearch, Writing Family Histories, Using the IGI, Personal Ancestral File (PAF) software, Using the Family History Library Catalog, Using TempleReady software, Bulletin Boards. As well as these, more specific topics are also covered such as British or English Canadian Research, U.S. Census / Civil War / Church / Immigration Records, Research in records of specific U.S. states, Large City Research, etc. Other classes are conducted on; How to research Sensitive Issues in your family; Beginning Genealogy; The difference between Genealogy and Family History, etc. Some topics are dealt with on a monthly rota basis and it is advisable to obtain the list for the current month in advance of your visit.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) was compiled in 1980, and transferred to CD-ROM compact disk in 1986. It was issued on microfiche in 1988. The current edition is dated 1993. It contains the names and some information on about 200 million deceased persons. The Library Catalogue was put on CD-ROM in 1987, and the current edition is dated November 1993, it too is available on microfiche. Both the IGI and Family History Library Catalogue microfiches are available for sale, together with the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) software which can be used for compiling family genealogies. This software can also be used to obtain information from, and submit information to, the Ancestral File maintained by the library.
There are more than 60 computers available, some of which act as terminals connected to a mainframe, others are stand alone units with the indexes on CD-ROM. They work very well indeed. The FamilySearch software (see below) allows them online and CD-ROM access to the IGI, the Family History Library Catalogue or FHLC (including locality, surname, author/title files), a collection of genealogies (submissions of pedigree charts) called the Ancestral File, the U.S. Social Security Death Index, the Military Index, and the TempleReady computer program which can be used to submit names for temple ordinances.
Salt Lake City:
Salt Lake City blocks are about twice as long as the usual U.S. city block! You'd better bring your hiking shoes, because there will be quite a lot of walking, especially inside the library! There are about 5 blocks to a mile in this city. In fact, there are sometimes pedestrian stop lights or zebra crossings in the middle of the blocks so people don't have to walk to the next corner in order to cross. For meal facilities within the Family History Library there are vending machines available and a room on the Main Floor where you can take your snack. There are also family style restaurants within walking distance. There is a fast food place (MacDonalds) located nearby, with various other facilities in shopping malls.
Shopping was also very near. The Crossroads Plaza Mall has about 140 stores, a food court and McDonalds at street level. It is catty-corner to the library and across from Temple Square. The ZCMI Mall is one more block away and has more stores to spend money in. There is a tour of Temple Square offered about every 15 minutes. You can stop in to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse on Thursday night. Open to the public for free as is their broadcasts on Sunday morning. Do bring walking shoes. You'll do most of your walking INSIDE the library!
One corporate travel budget allows 35 dollars per day for meals but you can do better than that! Three meals a day will cost from 22 dollars upwards depending on where you eat, e.g. breakfast 3.00, lunch 5.00, dinner 14.00. It can be very cold there in the winter months; and it gets very hot in the summer. The visitor information centre provided information on the scenic areas, the cultural activities in art and music, tours of the city, and the winter sports activities.
There is plenty of accommodation available in motels and hotels. The nearer these are situated to the FHL and central downtown area, the more expensive the rates. Public transport buses are frequent along Main street, and taxis cost about 1.50 dollars per mile. The Motel 6 situated 7 blocks south of the FHL cost from 32 dollars per night. Due to be renovated soon, it was the cheapest option in this category, providing an adequate room but no on-site recreational or dining
facilities. There is a full range of restaurants (from MacDonalds upwards) situated within easy reach. It took about 20-25 minutes to walk to the library from there. The Quality Inn motel next door cost from 52 dollars per night, and The Inn at Temple Square (just across the road from the library) cost from 77 dollars. Most of the motels and hotels provide a (free) courtesy shuttle transport service to and from the airport, a taxi trip costs about 12 dollars.
Salt Lake City is a central access point for several winter sports ski resorts in the surrounding mountain areas. Groups of skiers are a feature of the early morning city traffic in the winter time. It has also got a large conference centre, the Salt Palace, which is currently being completely rebuilt (January, 1994).
Naturally, all the materials in the library are non - checkout. You can spend at least half a day on your first visit getting oriented. The holdings are segmented into reference materials, mostly indexes, and the actual detailed holdings. Most records belong to the period 1550 - 1910 or so, although there are a few earlier and some later materials. Generally, there are vital records (birth, marriage, death), census and probate records, deed records, passenger lists, military records, and court proceedings. There are also some Church Records, Bible Records, DAR & SAR (Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution) materials. The library has some local history publications, but does not have such things as newspaper files. The major indices are divided into a surname index and a locality index.
The indexes are also on microfiche, with many copies available, so you just select the one you want, put it in the machine, and off you go. The index will give you the microfilm roll number which contains the records you want. You then go retrieve the film or fiche, put it in the reader and start looking. There are plenty of readers and although there are signs stating usage time limits in busy periods, I never found it to be that busy except on Friday (of course, this was in the dead of winter). The place never gets really empty of users. The general age there (except for the staff) seemed to be in the 60's or older. There were also a few very much younger (late teens or early 20's) people, who may have been volunteers doing work directly for the Church. I saw at least one young couple with their newborn baby in a carry-cot!
No one ever asked if I was a member of the LDS church (they welcome anyone furthering research). If you write, or have access to a family history they do not have in their holdings, you can lend it to them to be microfilmed. They will give you a free copy of the microfilm as well. One thing to bear in mind is that if you produce a history, this is probably the one place where it will be guaranteed to be around for a couple of hundred years.
A visitor should probably expect to spend at least two whole days in the library on a first visit. Also, 10 hours of intense research is completely exhausting. All I wanted to do when I got back to the motel in the evening was to fall into bed! And boy did my feet hurt, they had blisters with blisters on them by the end of the week!
A distinct feature is the growth of independent genealogy enterprises which supply support to those who may wish to use the FHL. Examples are Everton's and Heritage Quest, both located nearby. These act as suppliers of materials and other resources (including microfilm, microfiche and CD-ROM), as well as training and undertaking commissioned research on behalf of clients. They each run genealogical societies for the sharing and distribution of relevant information among their clients. Although they all (including the FHL) have access to electronic mail services, none of them are offering full consultation services via these means. However, two recently set up genealogy bulletin board services allow access to files on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The computerisation carried out by the FHL since 1986 is extremely efficient and user-friendly. The latest version of the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and the FamilySearch software are very impressive. The PAF has also established a standard (called GEnealogical Data COMmunication, or GEDCOM) for the exchange of genealogical information via computer files. At present, the CD-ROM and microfiche versions provide off-site access to the indexes and catalogue for the separate Family History Centres.
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