Getting Started in the Family History Library: Part 1 3

Family History Library entrance in SLC

©Jenny Lanctot

I recently took a trip to Salt Lake City, primarily to do some research at the mythical Family History Library [cue the choir of angels]. It was my first visit, so I read every blog post, article, or guide I could get my hands on. I felt totally prepared when I walked through the doors.

The reality of a first-time visit is a little different than reading about it. It is completely overwhelming. You might feel anxious and confused. Your palms may start sweating. You begin doubting yourself and everything you know. What if you do something wrong? Is there some sort of genealogy prison where you serve out the remainder of your vacation days being forced to transcribe old, faded microfilm images?

First, let me assure you that while the scale of the library is a little overwhelming at first (c’mon, it’s 5 floors!), once you get acquainted with the layout and realize that the people there are some of the friendliest people you might ever encounter, you will relax. That’s when the real fun begins.

But before you go, you might want to check out some of these helpful tips on Getting Started in the Family History Library:

  1. Check the hours of operation. Make sure the library will be open when you’re there. Most holidays and pretty much from Thanksgiving until the middle of January you can count on the library being closed.
  2. Check the class schedules. Did you know the Family History Library offered on-site classes? Neither did I. Most of these classes are developed with the beginning researcher in mind. You might want to take advantage of some of them while you’re there.
  3. Get your research in order before you get there. If you need to order anything from the vault, you’ll want to do that before you arrive because it may take a day or two depending on how many requests they have.
  4. Visit the front desk. The helpful folks at the front desk can point you in the direction you need to go, depending on what you’re researching. You can watch an orientation video about the library, and you’ll be given a map of the library to help you on your quest. Plus, you get a sticker to wear indicating that it’s your first time, which is kind of like a get-out-of-jail-free card for the day.
  5. Computers. There are computers on every floor. Most are connected to the internet and can be used to access the paid database sites. There are others that are used to view CD-ROMs only. Several of the digital collections are viewable only on CD-ROM due to special licensing agreements, so if you run across those, you’ll need to use one of those computers.
  6. Microfilm readers. Floors 2, B1, and B2 each have their own banks of microfilm readers, and thousands and thousands of microfilm rolls. Fortunately, they are situated in individual carrels, complete with work space and storage space. There is a light so you can see what you’re doing and a plug, in case your laptop or smart phone needs a fix. Before you begin pulling microfilm, you’ll want to take a stroll around the floor and find a non-annoying (at least as far as I’m concerned) takeup reel that looks like this:
©Jenny Lanctot

©Jenny Lanctot

You will also notice a pad of paper and a pencil at each microfilm reader. This is for you to record the microfilm that you use each day. I like to think they keep track of the films that are used the most to determine which film gets digitized next. I have no idea if that’s true, but it was motivation enough for me to make sure I wrote down every film I pulled.

7. Speaking of Microfilm. Please be sure to return your films to their respective drawers when you are done. As I was putting away a couple of my films, one of the volunteers at the library thanked me for doing it – as she was walking around with a basket full of microfilm rolls, putting them away. Seriously, if you can pull the films, you can put them away. You’re using all those resources for free; the least you can do is pick up after yourself.

To make it easier to remember where your films go, consider writing your film numbers on brightly colored sticky note flags, then you don’t have to carry a paper list around and when you pull your films you can stick the notes on the front of the drawer, showing you where they need to be returned. See how they stand out among the many, many drawers?


©Jenny Lanctot

There are more helpful tips coming up. Stay tuned for Part 2!

About Jenny Lanctot

Jenny Lanctot is a paralegal, genealogist, and writer. In addition to her regular column Getting Started in IDG’s digital magazine Going In-Depth, she writes her personal blog Are My Roots Showing? and is a regular contributor to the FGS Voice blog. Her articles have appeared in the Florida State Genealogical Society newsletter Florida Lines and the Chattanooga Delta Genealogy Society quarterly Southern Roots & Shoots.

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