Monday, December 8, 2014

FGS 2015: Tips for Researching at the Family History Library

Research opportunities in the area are often an extra draw for people considering attending an FGS conference. The vast collection at the Family History Library makes Salt Lake City and the FGS 2015 Conference scheduled for February 11–14 a research location for everyone. (Is it possible there's a genealogist out there who has no reason to visit the FHL?) Shelley Bishop of A Sense of Family remembers her first visit and shares her top tips for researching at the FHL. 
Are you planning your first research trip to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City in conjunction with the 2015 FGSConference? Wondering what’s the best way to prepare for it? I was in your shoes a few years ago. I vividly remember what it was like walking into the FHL for the first time, feeling a mix of awe and trepidation and thinking, “Holy schmoly! What have I gotten myself into?” So I’ve pulled together some tips that I hope will help you.
Set up shop for the day at a microfilm reader
One thing is that you do some prep work at home before walking in the door of the Family History Library.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Start by identifying the books, journals, and microfilm reels you want to look at from the FamilySearch catalog. Here’s an easy method for determining what you want to do:
    Go the FamilySearchhome page. From the Search tab, select Catalog.  
    Enter the place where your ancestors lived, from largest body to smallest: country or nation, state or province, county or parish, town or city. (Example: United States, Pennsylvania, Lehigh, Allentown) As you're typing, the locality you want may pop up; go ahead and click on it. Keep in mind that you'll usually get more results by searching on the county only, without naming a town. 
    Choose what you want to look at from the results (cemeteries, church records, vital records, etc.). 
    Click on a title to see a particular resource. When you find one you want to check, either print out a copy to take with you or add it to a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or electronic note-taking application like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote.  
    Write a note about who or what you want to look for right there on your print-out, list, or spreadsheet, along with any pertinent details. (Example: “Look for John Eberhard/Mary Comfort marriage in Lehigh Co. around Dec. 1891.”) If there’s more than one microfilm listed, circle or highlight the one you need to get from the drawer in a bright color. 
    Return to the Catalog home page and search by Surnames, repeating these steps. 
    Organize resources by where you'll find them in the library. Since family history books, locality-based books, US/Canada microfilm, and international microfilm are on different floors of the library, it helps to know what you need to get on each floor. 
    Make a master list of your highest priority items—those sources you want to be sure to look at. It's easy to lose track of time, and you don't want to forget to do something important. I make a list on Evernote, and print it as well so I can check things off as I do them.
Find a table near the location books you need
Another common question is what should I bring with me? Essentially, you'll want to bring the research tools you're most comfortable with. Here's some of the things I'd suggest: 
    A laptop or tablet to check resources, take notes, and consult your genealogy database. You don't want to get there and waste time duplicating what you already have, or wondering how William Whatever fits into your family tree. 
    Blank research logs to record your results and sources. I make myself write down the title, author, film number, and other citation elements before I open the book or crank the microfilm. Then I record the volume, page number, and details when I find something. If I don't find anything, I write "no record found" or a similar note. 
    One or two USB flash drives. Try to buy the kind that you can attach a small keychain to. That way, if you accidentally leave the flash drive in one of the scanners (speaking from personal experience), you have a better chance of getting it back. 
    A digital camera and spare battery. You can save time and money by taking pictures of books and articles rather than making copies. Some people take pictures of microfilm, too, to avoid lines at the scanners.  
    Dollar bills for the copier, for those times when you want to print from a book or microfilm. Copies are only a nickel each.  
    Reading glasses, if you use them, or a small magnifying glass. 
    A pouch with pencils, pens, paper clips, small post-it tabs, and any other items you usually use, and a notepad to write on. 
    Money, bottled water, and/or snack to eat in the snack room. Trust me, you'll get hungry, but it's soooo hard to tear yourself away.  
    Chapstick. The air is dry in Salt Lake City. 
    Some kind of tote, backpack, or rolling bag to put everything in. Lockers are available, but I usually carry my things around with me.
Copy from microfilm to a flash drive
That's about it. There's a short orientation film you can watch when you first arrive. As you're working, the volunteers and staff at the FHL will be more than happy to answer all the questions you ask, like where to find things, how to work the printers and scanners, and where the snack room is. You’ll be in good hands.
My first visit to the FHL was both exhilarating and exhausting. I made some great discoveries—one of which I wrote about in “Striking Gold in Salt Lake City”—and found a lot of information that deepened my understanding of my ancestors. Here’s hoping that your first visit will be everything you've dreamed of!
For more information about hours, a directory of what you'll find on each floor, and parking, see FamilySearch's Library Tips

Find more tips about researching at the Family History Library from Cyndi Ingle, Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA, and J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA, in the November edition of Connect with FGS. And check for posts from the FGS Ambassadors throughout December as they write about researching at the FHL.

Do you have tips for researching at FHL? Share them in the comments or write your own blog post and link it in the comments. Register today for FGS 2015 and start working on that research plan. 
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