The following article was originally written by Paul and Janice Lipinski for UPGS 2006 and was updated by Stephen J. Danko for UPGS 2008.
When preparing to Visit the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, some advance preparation can help ensure a productive visit.
Learn all you can about your family: Gather information from home and family sources. Contact and interview family members.
Record your family information: Choose a standardized system for recording your family names, dates, and places. Bring pedigree charts, family group records, and copies of key family documents (leave the originals at home in a safe place). Enter your family information in a genealogy database. If you don’t have one, Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is available for download at no charge through the FHL. The standard edition of Legacy Family Tree is also available for download free of charge.
Choose a research goal: A good research goal identifies a specific name, event, date and place you want to learn about. Don’t expect to do your entire pedigree during one library visit.
Visit local libraries and archives: At a local library, courthouse, or historical society, you may gather additional background information.
Use gazetteers and maps: Gazetteers and maps help you learn about the places where your ancestors once lived. Study general histories of their residence to learn about migrations, religious groups, military actions, and other events. Use census records and indexes to obtain basic clues about each family.
Visit a Family History Center (FHC): Find a nearby FHC and visit the facility to become familiar with the copiers, printers, microfilm/microfiche readers, and the computer tools available. Be sure to check out the following:
International Genealogical Index (IGI)
General information about the Family History Library
The Floor Plan of the Family History Library
Census indexes and other research files
Learn how to use the FamilySearch website: Learning how to use the Family Search website in advance will facilitate your research. Ancestral File, the Family History Library Catalog, locations of Family History Centers, etc. are all available online (FamilySearch.org and the brand-new FamilySearchWiki).
Identify Films: Use the online Family History Library Catalog to prepare a list of the films you want to review while at the library. Determine if the films you need are immediately available in the library.
Request “Vault” Films: The FHL is unable to store all microfilms at the library. Films listed in the catalog as “Vault” films may take up to three days to retrieve. Request any microfilms marked “Vault” at least two weeks in advance of your trip. Include your arrival date and either write to:
Family History Library
35 N West Temple St
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3400
or FAX: 801-240-1924
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dress: Be sure to dress comfortably, and remember that you’ll be sitting a lot. You may wish to layer your clothing by wearing a short sleeve blouse or shirt with a long sleeve shirt or blouse or light jacket on top. If it’s cool outdoors, a windbreaker should be sufficient. There are clothing racks to hang your jackets in the library.
Climate: Salt Lake tends to have a dryer climate than most places and there are humidifiers in the library. Bring lotion and use it.
Copies: FHL patrons pay for photocopies with a card system. Remember to sign your card as you will occasionally forget to remove it from the copy machine. It’s also a good idea to load only a small amount on your card ($5.00). That way, if you lose your copycard and it doesn’t get turned in at the desk, you won’t lose too much cash. Computers are available on every floor making it easier to check the catalog and make copies of the film descriptions, etc.
Digital Images: Patrons who wish to save digital images of books, maps, and films to digital media (either DATA CD or USB Flash Drive) can do so by signing up to use the scanners in the FHL. Patrons are allowed to sign up on the scanners for an hour each day. Bring your own blank writable data CDs and USB Flash Drives. USB Flash Drives are relatively inexpensive and are a bit faster and easier to use than are CDs. FHL personnel can help you learn to scan and save digital images. Patrons may also use digital cameras to photograph the projected images in the microfilm readers.
Laptop Computers: The FHL allows patrons to bring their personal laptop computers to the library. Electrical connections are available at the microfilm readers and elsewhere in the library. Free Wi-Fi access is available throughout the FHL.
Suggestion: Bring refrigerator magnets to place on the metal drawers when you pull a microfilm so it is easier for you to find the correct location to put it back.