Grand Genealogy Journey: Salt Lake City!

Downtown Salt Lake City

Downtown Salt Lake City

The eastbound California Zephyr arrives in Salt Lake City at 3:45 a.m. Mountain Time.  It’s chilly in Salt Lake at that time of the morning regardless of the season! But you can easily catch a cab at that hour from the Amtrak station (which is not a very pretty or comfortable building) to the downtown hotels.   For me, the hotel of choice is the Plaza, which is next door to the Family History Library.  I’ve also stayed at Little America.  The Plaza has basic (yet comfortable accommodations) such as would be found at any mid-range lodging.  Little America is a more upscale experience.  The Plaza has the benefit of location, but if you stay anyplace else, Salt Lake City has an outstanding light rail system to get you to the Family History Library.

Here’s some advice on preparing for a trip to the Family History Library: First, decide which surnames or areas you want to focus on. Then set goals for your research on those families or areas. Figure out the categories of resources you may need. Go to the Family History Library Catalog online to see what resources are available. Make a list of call numbers and titles of books and film numbers of microfilm and take that with you. [You can do this on the computers at the Library, but it saves time and helps focus your research if you do it before going]. Some microfilm is stored off-site, so if you manage to get organized sufficiently in advance, you can call or fax the Library with a list of those resources, and they may be able to get them before you arrive. Once at the Library, don’t hesitate to ask the staff and volunteers for help. They won’t do the work for you, but they’ll gladly share tips and advice.

LDS Family History Library

LDS Family History Library, Salt Lake City

You can take your laptop into the Library; there are plenty of places to hook up.  But please, please, follow the rules about where you can use cell phones! There are plenty of easy places in the building to use your cell phone, so be a good neighbor on that issue.

I would recommend spending at least three days at the Family History Library, especially if you’re a first-timer.  That’s because I predict that if you have organized well. you’ll start making discoveries pretty quickly and you’ll want to try to get to everything on your list.

The Library’s resources are in a variety of media, including microfilm. I would point out to those raised exclusively in the digital age that working with microfilm is not exactly simple. First there are the physical aspects of the medium: you have to place the reels on mechanical spools and hand-crank through the frames. [There are some electronic microfilm readers, but most are if the hand-crank variety]. Then there is the nature of the content you’re working with: ancient records with no indices in many cases; certainly no “search” function! Those documents that do have indices often are only casually alphabetized. And that’s because before the digital age, “cut-and-paste” was a physical, not a virtual operation, and thus not undertaken. So without careful preparation and some computer aid, microfilm research can be time consuming.

Naturally, the Library has a vast collection of books and other printed matter; don’t fail to examine these resources.   For up-to-date information about the Library, go to

There is a small canteen in the Library with food and drink vending machines; genealogical research can make you forget to eat real meals!  But afterwards, save some time for a great meal at some of the terrific restaurants in Salt Lake City.  The offerings are quite diverse and range up to the five star category.

Salt Lake City is one of the most attractive midsized cities in the nation; you’ll want to return again to do things other than just genealogical research!


5 Responses to “Grand Genealogy Journey: Salt Lake City!”

  • Craig says:

    Joan, it’s a MUST-SEE for all genealogists! Hope all is well in Alberta!

  • The FHL is on my list of places to visit next year. Thanks for the tips.

  • Chris says:

    I would love to visit the FHL sometime. My heavens,the information available!

  • Jenna says:

    What a wonderful place, I’ve been lucky enough to visit the FHL 2 times in the last 5 years. First time I walked in with a “what in the world do I do now look” and I was never alone the rest of the day. They take good care of the first-timers!!

    Beautiful photo, SLC is one of my most favorite places!

  • Donna says:

    A very nice summary, Craig! But I have to point out that, while there is a nice little canteen in the library, first-time visitors should know that if you are looking for a caffeine-pick-me-up, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Steve Danko humorously watched me discover this in April, but like a true gentlemen he didn’t laugh (well, not too hard) and in fact, walked with me to find caffeine!

July 2010
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