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Summer Research Trip: The Family History Library

Summer Research Trip: The Family History Library

You've probably read online that the Family History Library in Salt Lake City re-opened July 6th. During the last year I’d been promising that as soon as the Library was open I was going to travel to Utah to research. I didn’t make it to the Library on opening day but I was there a few days later.


This isn’t just a re-opening after the COVID shutdown, FamilySearch used the closure to make improvements. They aren't quite done with some of the construction but that doesn’t affect your ability to research. As of this writing, the break room that you can use to buy vending machine food is not open (it will be back in August). In addition to that, my experience was that many nearby restaurants, within walking distance, were closed temporarily or permanently because of COVID. To avoid frustration, make sure to call and inquire if a restaurant is open and their hours of operation as well as if they are serving dine-in customers or to-go orders only. Some popular restaurants near the Family History Library are not open including those in the Joseph Smith Building.

Gena Philibert-Ortega at the newly opened Family History Library. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega.
Gena Philibert-Ortega at the newly opened Family History Library.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega.

The Family History Library is currently in "stage 1" of their opening. Meaning that they are only open Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm. So if you’re in town on the weekend, you may want to make other plans. The Salt Lake City Public Library is open on the weekends and it is a beautiful building if you're a library fan like me. You can order a ride service or you can take Trax to get there. Stage 2 of the opening will include Wednesday evenings and Saturdays.

What’s New at the FHL?

So what’s new at the Family History Library? Much of the change is in the “look” and technology of the Library. New technological tools, brighter working areas, computer stations, and table space for researcher use are the most obvious changes. I visited the library months before the COVID shutdown and the changes are noticeable. Technology such as microfilm scanners, book scanners, and multiple screen workspaces are available. If you don’t like technology, that’s ok. There’s plenty of table space to use with electric outlets for your own computer or mobile devices. If you’re like me and would rather use an old microfilm reader, you still can in a special room, but for everyone else, individual computers with microfilm scanners are available. 

New Workstations at the FHL. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega
New workstations at the FHL. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

The ground floor is still the discovery area where visitors can learn more about family history. As you can probably guess, this floor was the busiest during my time at the Library. It was filled with families and tourists looking to discover their ancestors. The 2nd floor holds the US/Canada Microform Collection. Floor 3 is where you will find US and Canada books (they’ve added even more books, 50,000 were added donated in 2020!).


Family History Library Discovery Area
Family History Library Discovery Area.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

For those doing international research, B1 is the floor with the international microfilm collection as well as the map collection (check out the lighted map table and all those maps!). Although this floor is for international collections, all of the microfiche, no matter what country, is also located on this floor. B2 is the International book collection.

No matter what floor you are on you’ll find the technology that you need. But there’s also the old tried and true technology like photocopy machines. Gone is the photocopy area which you probably won't miss considering the other tools like book scanners. Even though there aren't a lot of photocopy machines, if you do need to make a copy, all photocopies are free! I overheard one volunteer state that if you still have a copy card with money on it, just exchange it with them for a flash drive.


Family History Library Discovery Area. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega
Book Scanner at the Family History Library.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

Now, what if you need help? That’s no problem. Use a Family History Library computer (there's a Help icon) or your cell phone to take a photo of a QR code that allows you to summon help. Help, when you need it, where you need it. They come to you and if they can't help they will find someone who can. Each floor also has a resource desk where you can ask for help with research, using the Library, or the technology.

Get Help at the Family History Library
QR Code to summon help at the Family History Library.
Photos courtesy of Gena Philibert-Oretga

Prepare Before You Go

I have a few suggestions for preparing for a trip to the Family History Library.

  • Like all library trips, consult the Catalog before you arrive.
  • Make sure you identify more than one family history research project to work on. That way if you run out of ideas or you become frustrated with one family line you can move on to the next.
  • Prioritize your research using materials only available at the Library (books, microforms, or record images that are restricted to viewing only at the Family History Library or an affiliate).
  • Spend some time at the computers using the subscription websites available at the Library. The Family History Library Portal (available on FamilySearch computers under the Genealogy Websites link) is different than the Family History Center Portal. While they do share some of the same genealogy subscription websites the Library has more subscriptions.
  • If you need a break from research you can take advantage of what the first floor offers such as private interview booths and large family history pedigree chart printing (you must have a tree on FamilySearch to use this service).

I do want to say something about research “success.” Researching at a large library doesn’t always mean you’ll find answers to your research questions. Yes, I did find some materials I needed. One of my favorite finds was a 70 page will, only available online at the Family History Library. But I also didn’t find quite a bit of what I was looking for. That’s ok. I spent time reading articles and books, I searched subscription websites I normally don’t have access to, and I studied records that I’m not as familiar with. No library visit is a waste if you are learning something that will help you in the future. At the very least, you now know what records your ancestor does not appear in. 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Thank you, Gena! I can hardly wait!!

Thanks for this Gena. I've recently found that there are records from my grandfather's village in Slovakia that are only available at the Family History Library. I've always wanted to visit Utah & have been thinking of taking a research trip, so this was very timely information, Thinking of maybe going around my birthday in September, though I presume things will open up more by the time I actually get there. This is great information.

Fantastic post! Thanks so much for this update on the library and your experience with the opening!

This is exciting! I go to the library every year and am so looking forward to the new and more work stations plus all the other upgrades. I first went to the library in 1990 and what a difference; no computers, long lines for photo copy, photo copy paper curled, dark work areas, rushing to get your favorite work station.

I would like to thank the library for all they have done in the years to make researching much easier and fruitful. Everyone is always so nice.....and it's free.

Margaret Porro
Bellevue. WA

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