Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 1 – Plan Ahead

My first visit to the Family History Library, I was completely unprepared. I have a vague recollection of going through their standard orientation, but I didn’t know what I was looking for or what I was doing. I can’t even remember if I found any records or not. I do remember being shown how to write a certain surname in Russian. (And I’m certain that Margarita Choquette was the one who showed me; I befriended her after I moved here.)

A few years later, I made it back. By then, I had been doing genealogy research for a few years (not counting what I did in my childhood) and had a better idea of how to do things.

Now, I live in Salt Lake City and the Family History Library is my second home. (Seriously, I’ve got a cot in the back corner of B-1, but it’s got a perception filter so you won’t see it.)

I can go to the FHL whenever I want, but if you’re making a trip to Salt Lake City, you want to be prepared before you get here.

And that is the most important thing to do before visiting the Family History Library: Plan Ahead.

Know what you want to research. Choose a family to search, print out the charts with the information you need (or bring it on a flash drive), and figure out what you want to learn. Search the FHL Catalog to see what records are available. Make a list of sources that you want to check, and what you are hoping to find, and write down the film and call numbers. You don’t want to waste time doing that when you get here, so do it at home.

When you’re writing film numbers, make a note of what else the catalog says about it. Some of your research will be obvious, but each film has a number and a “code” that will say US/CAN, INTL, or BRITISH. In case you’re not sure or you forget, this will tell you where to find the film when you get to the building.

If the film says VAULT, then you will need to request the film. Not every microfilm in the catalog is at the Family History Library. Some are only in the Granite Vault. It usually takes a day or two for the vault to send it over to the FHL, so you will want to request those films before you leave. The FHL has a form online specifically for requesting films. In my experience, they can take a couple days to answer your email request, and probably a couple more days to fill the request.

Knowing what you hope to accomplish before you arrive will help a lot. Instead of spending time figuring out what to research, you can just jump right into the research.