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!