Searching in Salt Lake

We are assembled at Victoria Airport, ten women, each with some understanding of genealogy but each of us with different experience levels. Most of us belong to the Victoria Genealogical Society. I have done this trip to Salt Lake City twice before. Others have made the odyssey more than once but I had not met them before today. Two of us are friends from a CFUW writing group with family history a frequent topic. Two of our party are very new to the experience, as you might one day be. As assumed, we will assist them.

The setting of the city is magnificent – the descent of our plane allows views of a broad flat plateau surrounded on all sides by mountains – the highest peaks dressed in winter white. No wonder Joseph Smith and his followers chose this valley. Our luggage comes down the chute promptly just as the hotel shuttle pulls up outside. The air here smells and feels like spring.

Check-in at the hotel is efficient and our rooms are comfortable. For a serious searcher The Plaza Hotel is the absolute best place to stay. Situated in the same block as the Family History Library, it is right across from Temple Square and only a block from two shopping centres. Jay’s Family Restaurant in the hotel is inexpensive; a senior’s discount is available but must be requested.

Our after-dinner agenda offers a presentation, “Introduction to Genealogical Collections.” The speaker is knowledgeable, his handout helpful, but he is uniformly vague, or perhaps just uninformed, about Canadian sources. Gratefully we retreat to bed.

Morning light is so bright and clear I can almost touch the snow-tipped mountains from my window. The day begins before seven with make-yourself-coffee. Strict Mormons do not drink coffee, nor do they drink alcohol, but we were able find places that serve both. The pot in my room splutters and spits out only a few drops at a time. My palate is addicted to this treasured brew; it is taking so long I will have my shower first. Then, clean, dry, and creamed again, I allow time to enjoy my favourite beverage.

We take breakfast downstairs at a table prepared for ten. Group members arrive, eat and leave, according to their personal schedules. Newcomers are always shocked to learn the library opens at eight o’clock. Singly or in pairs, we all arrive soon after. Within this famous repository of all things genealogical my personal search will begin once more. There is an orientation class and guided tour, but I won’t need to do it again.

During my first trip to Salt Lake City I had learned more about the religion that has created this tremendous facility that has benefitted family historians world-wide. I learned that in order to be accepted into the Temple believers complete a two year mission of volunteer work for the church. Those who are called to travel abroad proclaiming their beliefs to others and finding new members must have first earned sufficient funds to support themselves for those two years.

Each person hoping to be received as a Mormon is advised to have researched four generations of their family members on the family tree to share with others who may be related. This explains why the files kept at the library here, and available to smaller sites around the world, are so extensive and become more so each year. Workers here at the library and elsewhere within the Church of Latter Day Saints locations include volunteers, missionaries and paid experts which means there is always a well-informed person for us to ask.

People are often surprised to learn that church and civil registries have been assembled by the Mormons for almost every ethnicity. When these records were filmed a copy was given to both the church itself and the government of that country, many of which didn’t have these records accessible to the public country wide.

Each of these four floors of the library holds information specific to a particular part of the world: Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain, Asia, United States and South America. The place is so extensive one can easily become disoriented and feel completely lost. Ten researchers, each with individualized search plans, probing these four floors, means we rarely encounter a familiar face all day. If we do, it is only for a hurried consultation, “How are you doing?” “Finding anything?” and then we’re away to the next reference.

Each area is equipped with whatever may be needed for our search: books, films, microfiche, maps, indexes and computer files. There are narrow alleys between floor-to-ceiling drawers of films and shelves of books, cubicles equipped with film readers having varying adjustments. Computers are all new, have large flat monitors and each computer pair shares a printer. Printer cards come from conveniently located machines that accept both coins and bills. There are also copiers of various types. Searchers are supplied with modern comfortable chairs on rolling legs that makes spending long hours in a seated position almost bearable. Scattered throughout are large library tables for quiet writing and reading. Improvements are noted each time I have visited: the search is addictive!

Freedom of Wheels

The return trip from Campbell River last weekend placed me in a contemplative mood. Have you ever considered the importance of wheeled conveyances in our lives? When I was a child I lived on a float that was tied to the rocky shore and partly surrounded by water. On the beach side the trees and undergrowth came down nearly to the high water line. Unless it was low tide even walking outside was restricted.

Then we moved the house on to land! That summer when I was nine my parents bought me a bike. Not an ordinary drab boy’s bike but one with a low slung bar to accommodate a girl’s skirt. My bike was a bright green colour and had modern balloon tires to give it a smooth ride. And that was the way I began to know the beautiful feel of wheels under me that could take me farther and faster than my quickly growing feet.

The big problem about all of this was that we now lived in a large truck-logging camp where gravel roads were rough and dusty. On weekdays loaded trucks came barreling down the hill on their way to the log dump across the creek from our house. It was dangerous for me to ride on the road leading out of camp. What I did enjoy was the smooth ride on the rough board deck of the pier that ran out to the wharf. It was a good opportunity to be away from my sister, who wasn’t allowed to take her trike there. I could be alone to watch all the boats coming and going.

The summer I was 16 years old my parents moved to Campbell River. Thankfully they agreed I should learn to drive and since they owned two vehicles it would not be any inconvenience to them. For 10 days at a time my father was working away, having taken a ride with his work partner, so his half ton stick shift truck was available for my use.

But what a disreputable looking vehicle it was! Its dull blue colour wasn’t noticeable but its bashed bumper and fenders certainly were. Dad had been fortunate to purchase the current year model at a very good price because by some reason never revealed to us the truck had been rolled into a ditch. The marks were not put there by him, or me, the student driver, but it certainly elicited second looks when I drove by.

Thus began my driving lessons with Mom as the instructor. She had only been driving for a few years herself and had taken paid lessons at the time so she knew the rules and the route I needed to learn to pass the driving test. Better yet, she was clear in her instruction of parallel parking, which we practiced on Sundays in an empty parking lot until I could do it proficiently. Thanks to her patient instruction I still can do it well.

Oh the freedom of having a driver’s licence! I had a summer job and being able to get myself there on time was a feeling to be treasured. The next summer I obtained employment at the Campbell River Lodge located on the Campbell River itself. The work was varied: serving guests at mealtime, typing and copying daily menus, occasionally shopping and picking up mail at the Post Office. For the latter chores I was allocated Mrs. Painter’s elderly Mini Minor car. Such fun it was after sitting up high in Dad’s truck, to be bombing around the familiar roads in that little stick shift vehicle!

At university in Vancouver I was without a vehicle and relegated to the tired and slow bus system if I needed to leave the campus. During those years most students had no vehicle, borrowed or otherwise, to get them to and from the university location. It was just the way it was and I eventually found my way easily on buses to the places I needed to go.

During my year of teacher training the time came to practice my teaching techniques at the assigned Vancouver high school. Once more I felt the freedom of wheels when my current ‘boyfriend’ and now husband, lent me his car. Unfamiliar as I was with the Vancouver streets I was able to find my way following the bus routes I had already learned and travelled on. Again I was on my own, that wonderful feeling of being independent of other systems and able to plan my own way.

I can still remember the different cars I’ve driven, some of them his, some my own. But the most powerful euphoria came from deciding which brand and year and colour of automobile I wanted to drive, and making the purchase myself with money from my own bank account.
may-016

I make fewer long trips these days but over the years there have been many “road trips.” I recall a significant trip, perhaps it was a first of its kind, when the destination was Kelowna for a CFUW BC Council conference. I packed up and picked up three other Nanaimo Club members, leaving three children at home with their father.

Such freedom there was to be able to get away for a long weekend with adult friends to discuss adult issues. Many of the women I knew, for various reasons, were not able to go away on their own, and they considered me fortunate. Yes, I was fortunate but always there had been that need to travel along my independent road, as long as it did no harm to others.

Some years later when the children were grown and gone I made a lengthy trip through British Columbia. The car was new and of my own choosing, and this was the beginning of a new volunteer role. Once again I felt the power of independent choice, of creating my own route map. Each stop along the way had its own significance and I remember the people and the places still.

Some of those memories came back to me last week on the road from Campbell River. Five hours, including stops, alone in my own car to contemplate the power and freedom that wheeled vehicles have provided. It has been a great ride.