Family History Library

From Rootsweb
Jump to: navigation, search

This article originally appeared in "Appendix F: The Family History Library and Associated Family History Centers" by Stephen C. Young in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City,UT.

The Family History Library, supported and sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the 'LDS' or 'Mormon' Church), is located on the west side of historic Temple Square in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The library's origins stretch back to 1894 with the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) and launched with the donation of the personal collection of historical and genealogical books of its first president, Franklin D. Richards. From this modest beginning more than 110 years ago, the Family History Library has grown into the largest and best known genealogical research facility in the world with its five stories of research space and more than 4,300 satellite family history centers around the world. The main library's continually growing collection now numbers in excess of 285,000 books, augmented by more than 1.3 million rolls of microfilm and 665,000 microfiche. More than 2.5 million rolls of microfilm are actual­ly archived, but due to space constraints only the most commonly used rolls are placed in the library. The GSU is now capturing digital images in its effort to collect and preserve documents of genealogical value from archives and record offices in most of the nations of the world.

All resources of the Family History Library and its associated family history centers are freely available to genealogical re­searchers regardless of religious denomination or inclination. The motivational commitment to fund this immensely coor­dinated and expensive network of research facilities is based in the doctrinal imperative for LDS Church members to seek out their kindred dead in order to perform proxy service in their behalf. The Church extends these resources in an invitation for all interested genealogical researchers to use its facilities and participate in preparing the records and information to eventually create the world's largest, most comprehensive lineage-linked database.


During the past century the Family History Library has been located in several different buildings in Salt Lake City. The current five story structure, officially opened in October 1985, is its first independent, purpose-built library facility. It includes 142,000 square feet of floor space on three levels above ground and two below. Two separate remodeling projects in 2001 and 2004 improved staff and patron workspace and furnishings, and updated the technological re­sources available to researchers, in­cluding the addition of more than two hundred desktop computers with Internet access for patron use. Additional public access com­puters will be introduced into the library in the future as demand in­creases. Concurrently, numbers of microfilm readers will necessarily be reduced to make space as more genealogical records and indexes become available digitally, including images from the Library's own collections.

The catalog to the collections of the Library can be searched online by visiting, then clicking on the 'Library' tab at the top of the page, then clicking the 'Family History Library Catalog' tab. Several options for finding specific resources in the collection are presented here, including searching by place, surname, title, author, subject, or call number. A keyword search also provides a specific function for finding entries that contain certain words or combination of words. This latter search feature is particularly useful in discovering sources by intersecting elements such as geographic places with surnames, or multiple surnames of particular interest within a family. It is always a good idea to search the catalog in preparation for coming to the library in order to ascertain whether the records or resources of interest are available, especially if traveling to the library from long distances. Of particular note is the recent and ongoing project of linking hundreds of published family histories in the catalog to digital images of the books themselves. Visitors traveling to Salt Lake City from a distance should check the catalog prior to coming to confirm if the microfilm they wish to use is in the library. If a particular film is not stored onsite, the FamilySearch website has an e-mail function to order films so they are waiting for free pickup at the service window on the appropriate floor.

The Family History Library is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., except Mondays when it closes at 5 p.m. The Library is also closed on some national holidays (e.g. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christ­­mas, New Years). Specific closing dates can be determined by accessing the library's calendar at the FamilySearch website. It is recommended that large groups plan­ning visits, either sponsored by local genealogical societies or pri­vately organized, contact the li­brary's Research Services office prior to arrival. Coordinating with this office will reduce the likelihood of many groups visiting the library at the same time and competing for the same resources. Special orientation sessions and a welcome packet can be arranged for visiting groups by calling (801) 240-1054. Classroom instruction on a variety of general and specific research topics is offered on a daily basis by library staff. A monthly printable class schedule is accessible from the library website and is usually posted three months in advance.

The main floor lobby, just inside the front doors, provides ample signage to direct users to the resources of the library. Don't be surprised if one of the friendly staff stationed in the lobby approaches and offers assistance; they are trained and eager to provide support to the public, especially newcomers.

One of the first services offered may be a short presentation in the Orientation Room located just off the lobby. All first-time visitors to the Family History Library are encouraged to view this video presentation as it illustrates and explains where the public services and resources are located in the building.

Novice researchers should bring family information to the library with an idea of what goals they wish to accomplish during their visit. A trained staff member at the front counter is available to interview patrons and quickly analyze historical documentation they've brought to determine where and how they might find success in the library. Volunteers will then escort these patrons to the appropriate floor of the building and introduce them to additional personnel to further assist them in beginning their research. Genealogical research can appear very complicated and intimidating to the novice, so this guided experience is designed to maximize the chances of success.

Each floor of the library has restroom facilities and drinking fountains. Public telephones are located near the elevators on each floor. Cellular phones should only be used in this area so that quiet search rooms in the building are not compromised and other pa­trons can conduct their research uninterrupted. A stairway and three elevators at the front of the building deliver patrons to each of five floors of the library and all exits are well-marked.

Another standard service on every floor is a reference counter staf­fed by people skilled in genea­logical research methodology, stra­tegies, and resources. In addition to these general skills, these staff members have distinct research ex­perience in the genealogical re­cords of different nations or even specific regions within those countries. Visitors will find at least forty computers available for their use on each floor of the library. Additional staff with general and specific expertise are stationed and tasked to assist patrons in using the computer for genealogical research.

Each search room has small lockers available for patron use for a refundable fee of ten cents. For security purposes personal items may not be left in the lockers overnight and they are emptied by security personnel each evening after closing. The Lost and Found service is found in the Main Floor lobby. Coat racks are available on every level but it should be noted they are not monitored by security. Valuables, such as purses and laptop computers, should never be left unattended in the search rooms. Thefts are occasionally reported in the library despite random patrols by security staff.

Pour plus de sécurité, l'intallation d'un coffre-fort de sécurité peut être un plus. Une armoire forte blindée permettra de ranger des registres sous forme de dossiers suspendus, celà permet de sécuriser les documents, mais pas les grosses valeurs.

One of the greatest assets of the Family History Library are the full and part-time volunteers. Literally hundreds of volunteers assist the paid employees each week in all areas of operations and customer service. These highly-motivated LDS Church members from around the world leave their homes, family and friends to dedicate twelve to eighteen months of their retirement years to come to Salt Lake City to assist the Library in fulfilling the objective to provide the best possible service to its guests. Many others are local church members who assist the genealogical research community in their visits. Many of these hard working volunteers are already avid genealogical researchers, and all are constantly upgrading their research and service skills within a continual comprehensive training system. The library could not function without the good graces and enthusiastic support of this large volunteer staff.

The collections of the Family History Library are logically divided, using a modified Dewey Decimal system, on a geographic basis to facilitate researcher access. A description of each col­lection and its location is appropriate here.

Third Floor'U.S./Canada Books and Maps

This floor of the library holds approximately 105,000 books containing a wealth of information from most United States and Canada localities. These include local histories on a state, county, or even smaller jurisdictional basis, as well as published cemetery and census indexes. Indeed, any kind of publication deemed genealogically helpful to patrons may be found in this collection. Detailed modern and historical maps at different scales, encapsulated for preservation purposes, are available for all parts of North America. Periodicals of genealogical and historical interest, many of which have been bound to ensure their durability, compliment this collection. Library administrative offices, a copy center and the Conservation Lab are located on this floor. There is also a modestly equipped first aid room in a staff area on the third floor used for low-grade health concerns.

Second Floor'U.S./Canada Microform

The North American collection on the second floor includes 670,000 rolls of microfilm and over 200,000 microfiche. These include all the relevant federal and state/provincial census returns for both countries. Dozens of published volumes of census indexes obligingly accompany these films to facilitate research. A great percentage of the books on the third floor have been filmed and are included in this microfilm collection so they can be ordered and used by researchers at any of the Family History Centers worldwide. Again, the microform (film and fiche) for the United States and Canada can include all types of publications, including military, civil, and religious records at all levels, as well as private genealogical collections donated by individual researchers. Office space for the Library Attendant and reference staff, one classroom and a copy center, complete the layout of the second floor.

Main Floor'Published Family Histories

The main floor of the library houses approximately 75,000 published family histories which are essential to survey in the beginning stages of research in order to discover if any ancestral lines have already been researched and documented. As already mentioned, the main lobby and Orientation Room are situated on this floor, as well as a small patron snack room with food and drink vending machines. The building's largest classroom and the recently added computer lab, with thirty computer stations, provide the latest in training technology. Reference and Research Services staff areas and the copy center take up the remainder of this floor.

B1 Floor'International Books and Microform

This floor is one level below the main floor and includes books and microform (film and fiche) of any of the international collection not placed on B2 (see below). This includes records from the Far East, Eastern and Western Europe, the Scandinavian and Baltic nations, Central and South America, and Africa. This collection incorporates more than 56,000 books, 550,000 rolls of microfilm, and 250,000 microfiche of records in the languages of these regions. Due to space constraints, some books are located in a high density storage area on this floor, but can be accessed by request at the service window. A staff area, reference counter, classroom and copy center offer the same services here as on the other floors.

B2 Floor'Australia, British Isles and New Zealand Books and Microform

Placed on the basement level two floors below the main floor is the collection encompassing the records of the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand. This includes more than 50,000 books, 150,000 microfilm, and 220,000 microfiche. In addition to the staff area, reference counter, classroom and copy center, is the library's Special Collections room which holds restricted records. There are two non-public operations on this floor: the Medieval Research and Photo-duplication units.

Computer Resources

Nearly all public access computers are connected to the Internet; there are also dozens of ports provided for laptops at many of the tables on four floors of the library (the 3rd Floor being the exception). Future plans include wireless access for laptops. A few of the patron computers are dedicated strictly for the considerable compact disc resources containing additional programs, databases and indexes. These CDs can be identified in the library's catalog and are obtained on each floor at the service windows next to the copy centers. The Family History Library produces and maintains its own software to assist its guests in quickly and easily identifying electronic products produced in-house (such as several national census indexes). The reference staff on each floor of the library recommends and updates additional Internet hotlinks of websites specific to their geographical interests as well as hot links to other genealogical resources on the Internet. These include free access to some 'fee-based' websites, including

Reference Services

The Family History Library employs approximately forty-five full-time reference personnel, most of whom are professionally accredited genealogical researchers. Some are world-renowned in their particular research field and all can demonstrate years of education and experience in practical family history. At least thirty languages are supported (spoken or written) by staff, and most have researched in different parts of the world. Each staff member is assigned weekly shifts at the reference counters for the express purpose of assisting visitors in their research efforts.

Library Attendant Services

Located near each reference counter on every floor is a service window staffed by library attendants. These highly-trained support personnel are ready to assist patrons in a variety of ways, including making change, responding to requests for assistance dealing with retrieving microfilm/microfiche and books, as well as technical challenges with copy machines, film readers, and copy card issues. Research aids and supplies, such as genealogically-oriented software, research guides, research logs, census forms, pens, pencils and envelopes, are purchased at the service windows. Microfilm not stored in the library can also be ordered by patrons for next-day delivery.

Copy Services

Making photocopies or other reproductions of copy­righted material is governed by copyright law. The person using self-help equipment is solely responsible for abiding by copyright law and may be liable for any infringement. Each reference floor includes a designated copy center with equipment to digitally reproduce records from paper, microfiche, and microfilm to laser printers. Library patrons also have the option of downloading digital images from microfilm or book onto compact disc or a computer memory stick on a scheduled basis. Blank CDs for this purpose are available for purchase at those service windows with a cash register (currently B1, Main, and 2nd floors). Laser printers are connected to each of the public access computers on all five floors allowing instant printing of any information found on the Library desktop product software or any Internet websites. The Family History Library uses a card system for purchasing copies. Initial purchase of a reusable copy card costs $1.00 which includes 40 cents for copies; additional funds up to a maximum of $20.00 can be purchased for these cards at any time on each floor. However, adding large amounts of funds on the cards is not encouraged because it is not uncommon for patrons to forget their copy card in a printer or copy machine. There is a name strip to sign on the back of the copy cards so that lost cards can be retrieved at the service windows.

FamilySearch Center

This facility is designed specifically with the intent of introducing the uninitiated to the exciting possibilities of family history. Located on the main floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on the east side of Temple Square, tourists and walk-in patrons are presented with fun, interactive exhibits and activities around the theme of 'discovering your heritage,' including displays designed specifically with children in mind. Like the Family History Library, the services of the FamilySearch Center are free to the public and offer the opportunity of understanding genealogy and placing one's own family within the context of general history. No appointments are necessary, the FamilySearch Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (closing Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.). This is not a research facility; visitors who wish to conduct focused research efforts are directed one block west to the Family History Library.

Family History Centers

Due to the doctrinal commitment of its members to conduct genealogical research, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports more than 4,300 Family History Centers in church buildings in 102 nations. Like the Family History Library, these centers are open to the public and their onsite resources are free to use beyond the standard cost of making copies or printouts. Most microfilmed resources identified in the Library catalog can be ordered from Salt Lake City for a nominal fee, this cost covering postal charges but no handling fee. Many centers house small collections of books and microfilm usually focused on general national and specific local history, records and resources. The Family History Centers are administered locally by ecclesiastical church leaders and staffed by area LDS and non-LDS volunteers. Understandably, the knowledge and training of these support personnel differs, but each volunteer is usually experienced in genealogical research and committed to assisting visitors to the best of their ability. Address, phone number, and hours of operation, which vary by center, can be learned at the FamilySearch website. It should be noted that nearly all Family History Centers have access to the Internet, and some centers have site licenses to some of the popular fee-based genealogical websites, such as

For the most current information about the Family History Library, see the FamilySearch website <>. Library rules, answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), contact information and hotlinks, floor plans, parking information, and explanations of other services, are all available here online.

Family History Library 35 North West Temple Street Salt Lake City, UT 84150 Telephone: (801) 240-2331

External Links