Visiting the SLC Family History Library? Go VIP.

As this is my week of vacation from my job and I was planning to head down to the UGA Conference in Salt Lake this weekend anyway, I decided I might as well head down early and get a couple of days of research in at the Family History Library. I booked my hotel, drove all day, and got in just as the sun was going down, ready to get some sleep and then get my research on! I had been here once before so I knew the general layout of the library, its location in town and such, but it had been a  year or more since my last visit, so I did all the prep I would if I were going the first time – let me share some of it with you in case you’re planning your own trip!

—>Your journey begins here. <—

This is the library website front page, and many of the most vital considerations are on the right side as links. Be sure you consult all of them! For example:

  • Directions and Floor Plans: The library is huge and SLC is also huge; knowing how to get to the library is good, but it’s as much worth your time to study the floorplans of the library a little and realize where things are that you are looking for. The more preparation you do, the better experience you will have.
  • Parking: Importance of this thing cannot be overstated. And expect to pay for it. Last time I used the lot next to the library for about $6. This time it wasn’t open, so I used the Plaza’s garage for 8 dollars for the day. Not a bad deal.
  • Hours and Holidays: Be sure and check the dates the library is open! Utah has some holidays you may not expect the library to observe, like Pioneer Day observance in late July, so be sure to check the hours and days it’s open, just as you would with any repository you plan to visit.
  • Classes: The FHL offers free classes every week – check the schedule for when you’re there, if you can spare the time – it’s free education!
  • Finally, the tips for your library visit may just be the most crucial thing you should click on besides hours and directions (and parking!).

Visiting the FHL library is a dream for many people and they travel a long way to come here, but even for those who live nearby, no one wants to waste their time. If you follow the suggestions here, it will make your trip much more worthwhile and enjoyable. Specifically:

  1. Organize your materials. This includes filling out charts, family groups or pedigree sheets, and making sure you have all your essential information on your fingertips. You can’t haul your whole computer (unless you’ve got a laptop, which is a great option), or all your binders. So get organized. Make an easy chart of what you know and what you want to know. (Tip: I did this in Evernote, and just used my iPhone to reference it, so I didn’t have to bring my laptop at all – it saved weight and worry over leaving it alone if I wanted to go get more materials to look at.)
  2. Find out what the FHL has available for you to use in its card catalog – I usually start with a locality and go down through all the records, evaluating what might be useful and then adding the right titles and call numbers to my list of sources to check.
  3. Prioritize your research list. I had two days in the library, and it felt like no time at all. I talked to a woman who had come from Florida to spend three weeks there, and she wished she had more. The sheer amount of material is overwhelming. Thus, choose the sources you most want to check first. Put them at the top of the list, so if you don’t get to the others you won’t feel bad; it’s just something for next time. (Tip: You can order microfilm to be sent to your local family history center, but books cannot be borrowed that way. If there are books you want to look at, do those first!)

So, you’re all planned – you have your hotel, your flight or route to get there – now what?

1) Use mapquest or googlemaps (my favorite) to plot exactly where everything is you intend to go before you ever set foot out the door. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying or driving to SLC – you still need to get from the airport to your hotel or from the freeway to your hotel and from your hotel to the library and any other sites you plan to visit in SLC. SLC is a big city, and it’ll save you time and energy if you know exactly where you’re going.

2) Bring plenty of one-dollar bills for the copy card machines and parking!

3) When you get to the library, tell them you’re a first-time visitor. As the lady that introduced me explained it, being a first-timer is like ‘getting the VIP treatment’. And it’s true! Even though it was my second time, it’d been so long and I’d seen so little of the library that I thought I might as well – and I’m so glad I did! I got a nifty name badge that told people I was new so they were always helpful and willing to answer my inane questions, of which I had many. After you get your badge, they’ll direct you to the orientation video, which is worth watching at least once (I watched it twice >.>), and then they’ll shepherd you out and get you started. If you’re a complete newbie, they’ll get you set up with a computer, but I was ready to set off on my own and check my research list, so I went off upstairs. I still needed lots of help later, though, learning how to use machines I never had before: microfilm and microfiche readers, the scanner/printers for microfilm and the copy card vendor, which was new since my last visit.

4) It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: write down the research you do. Use your priority list as a checklist, and just cross it off if it’s a negative search (nothing found) or make notes if you found something. Also note where it was and other information you’d need for a citation with your copies or notes because you may never get back to that book or film again! Plus, who wants to REtrace your steps when there’s more NEW fun ancestor research to do?

5) Use the library research consultation services. Even if you’re a long-time researcher, sometimes getting a second opinion or a fresh objective can really help. I talked through a complex problem with a wonderful CG at the second floor information station, and she was able to point out several holes in my assumptions that gave me a fresh take on something I’d been staring at too long.

6) Finally, don’t assume a record doesn’t exist if the FHL doesn’t have it. This is my faux pas and something I learned from this research trip. It’s a stupid assumption on my part, I know, but I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material that when I couldn’t find something for a certain locale, I just assumed it must have burned or something! The CG I mentioned in 5) poked holes in this idea of mine, too (thank gosh). So, when you eventually exhaust the resources of the FHL, don’t assume you’ve exhausted ALL resources for that locale in doing so.

If you’re planning a trip to the FHL sometime soon, I hope these tips will be of use to you. Been there before? Have other questions or tips that should be considered? Leave a comment and let me know!

© 2011, copyright Genealady & JustFolks


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