Visiting the FamilySearch Library

This is my final blog post following my trip to Rootstech 2024 which was held in Salt Lake City in Utah.

FamilySearch Library, Salt Lake City, Utah

If you’re not aware, then this building is the something akin to Mecca for genealogists. The LDS Church considers genealogy a part of their religion and so they collect and make available records for this purpose. This led them to Ireland in the 1950s when they microfilmed (amongst other things and times) the Roman Catholic parish registers in conjunction with the National Library. They also did the initial microfilming of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. All of these projects are now online in various forms, but we appreciate their help in the first place!

The FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City is their flagship premises. A 5 floor building filled with books, microfilms, computers and maps. I got a tour of the library with my friends from Amy Rose Ward who works there. She was very generous with her time showing us individual floors, etc.

With Debbie Kennett & Sonja Sarantis

The ground floor has lots of interactive computer screens and volunteers just standing around waiting to chat and help you. This feels like a way to engage younger people and it seems to be working. You can access your own Familysearch tree and see who is related to you, etc. They also have audio booths to record memories orally.

It’s not like a traditional library: you don’t need a reader’s ticket or to pay any fees. You just go in, ask for help, get pointed in the right direction, and crack on. They have lockers to store your bags and coats. They have a kitchen space that you can eat in, even leave your own food in fridges. This is advisable as there’s not a whole lot in the area if you want to go out for lunch, and then you need to pack up all your gear too. The building is fully accessible.

The floors are spread out geographically. One floor of books and another of microfilms for the USA and Canada, and two more for the rest of the world. Computers on every floor, most with 2 screens, some with 3. The Irish and British section is extensive. Amy explained that they want to digitise everything they have, and if they haven’t, it’s only because of legal reasons. Certainly, this library doesn’t have any of the “we’re running this on a shoestring budget” that I often feel about places in Ireland!

One of the highlights was the area where people can bring in obsolete media and convert it to usable media – reel to reel, CDROMs, tapes. You name it, they have a way to modernise it. They have very fast scanners to quickly scan bundles of loose photographs.

You can scan whole books or chapters if you need to, for personal use. If you don’t have a flash drive, no problem, they’ll give you one. I scanned an article in a local history journal, Ríocht na Midhe (from the Meath Archaeological & Historical Society) that I’d asked a friend to get for me from a library in Trim. I was impressed to find a complete run of the journal so far away. I was also amazed to find a book on Grangegorman lunatic asylum, which was only published a few months ago in Dublin. I took great delight in photographing books written by people I know and sending them a picture of their book in situ!

I came back alone the following day and did some research. You might reasonably ask why I needed to travel so far to do research that I could do at home? Well, I had a bit of time, and I was keen to investigate what they had and had not. You may be aware that the state-run site is missing some images of early death records from 1864-1870. I knew the Mormons had microfilmed the registers when they did the indexes, and that they had been refused permission to put the full registers online in the past by the Irish state. Fair enough. But did they have them on microfilm? I took advantage of a service where I scanned a QR code on my chosen desk, typed in some basic info and within a few minutes, a person came by with a laptop to help. I barely had half my question out when she pre-empted me by saying “You’re talking about the missing deaths on Irishgenealogy. Yes, we have them on microfilm.” Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was very impressed that she knew exactly what I was talking about. So off I toddled to the microfilm floor, where another lovely volunteer showed me how to locate the correct film, then load the reader.

I had a list of references already (I’ve maintained a list for years of non-essential birth, death and marriage records to obtain for my own family tree: yes, I am that nerd). And then I tweeted the minister in charge of heritage in Ireland asking why the Mormons have something we don’t. She has yet to reply, but you know I will follow up.

Some tips then if you are visiting the library in future. If you have any more, let me know in the comments!

  • Plan your research in advance & use the catalogue to prepare
  • Bring a lunch
  • Bring pens/paper/flash drive
  • If you have a laptop, all the better because those there get filled up
  • Make use of their staff and volunteer helpers: they’re really knowledgeable

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