My adventures at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah started about 30 or so years ago. My first big effort to identify my family consisted of primarily tracking down hundreds of Family Group Records accumulated from family members over 100 years or so and collating them into a semblance of order. At that time, long before portable computers, I had to photocopy anything I wanted to save. I ended up with mountains of photocopies which I subsequently organized and entered into a succession of computer programs.
Now, this many years later, I am still living with some of the mistakes and inconsistencies I inherited and made myself. So I am back at the Family History Library to help attendees at the Family History Expos Retreat and see if, in some small way, I can make some progress on my own genealogical mess.
So why come all the way to Salt Lake City to do research? The answer is simple if you have ever been here before. But it may be complicated depending on your ability to travel and spend time in a library. What makes the FHL a target place to do genealogical research? Well, the obvious reason is the huge collection of books and microfilms. If you have spent any time looking at the FamilySearch Family History Library Catalog, you only have to realize that all that stuff is sitting in the library. But here are a few more reasons the FHL is so famous among genealogists:
Many libraries make doing research more or less difficult. The FHL is the epitome of accessibility. The stacks and miles of microfilm drawers are open to the researchers. You can camp out at a table and then spend your time walking the shelves and gathering material to research or delve into the drawers and sit at a microfilm reader looking at a million miles of microfilm. The size of the collection is impressive but the accessibility makes it useful.
The collections are roughly organized geographically. You will likely spend considerable time in one area or another but because of the organization, you do not have to march through miles of shelves finding scattered records. All of the books on one state, for example, are sitting together on the shelves. Of course, there are other resources scattered around the library that you might want to use, but the collections correspond to what and where you want to look.
The FHL is sitting in the middle of a major metropolitan area. There are stores, restaurants, attractions and several other libraries within a short distance of the main library. You can stay in a hotel only about a hundred yards from the entrance to the library. There is abundant public transportation with a light rail system running right down the street less than a block away.
The FHL has a huge staff of research consultants and other volunteers without equal in the world. You may have to wait your turn, but you can always find someone who knows about the area you are researching. If you need any kind of help at all, from finding things in Salt Lake to problems with machines, likely someone will help you find the answer.
There are few libraries in the world that are as technology friendly as the FHL. From free WiFi to electrical outlets at every research station, the library is set up to assist those with computers. There are hundreds of computers for free use also, but on busy days, you might find them all being used. FamilySearch is in forefront of developing new ways to search and research their collections. But don't despair if you can't get to the library. FamilySearch is in the process of digitizing the entire collection and making it available for free on its website FamilySearch.org.
If I sound like a promoter for the FHL, I guess you would have to say I am. I have spent so many days over the years at the library and I have yet to even scratch the resources.