When you think of Salt Lake City, you may think of mountains and Mormons, but you probably don’t think of genealogical research. But Salt Lake City is home to the Family History Library, the largest genealogical library in the world. This library is part of a 10-acre complex known as Temple Square that houses buildings owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Whether you’ve never even thought about your family history or can trace it back hundreds of years, there are resources at the Family History Library for you to help dig deeper than you ever have.
The best part? It’s all completely free, and that was all I needed to hear to get in the door during my recent visit to the city.
Researching My Ancestors at the Family History Library
Before visiting the Family History Library, I had never given my family history much thought. I knew that my father’s side of the family came to the United States from Norway and the Ukraine while my mother’s side came from Germany, and that was about it. So I wasn’t exactly sure how successful I would be with my research.
As soon as I walked through the museum doors with a deer in the headlights look, one of the greeters approached me and asked me if it was my first time there. After I said yes I was given a name tag, escorted to one of the dozens of computer stations sitting in the first floor area, and introduced to Mary, one of the volunteers who would be my personal assistant through the research process.
Mary introduced me to the Mormon-run Family Search website, where I set up an account so that I could research records and start building my family tree electronically. I put in birth and death dates, birth and death places, and as much other information as I had for my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Then came the fun part– searching through the website for census records, military service records, immigration records, and more to help fill in the details that I was missing. I had never really looked at these types of records before, and I found it instantly fascinating. Seeing my grandfather’s name on census records from the early 1900s somehow helped me feel more connected to him and to my past.
Finding Immigration Records No One Knew Existed
Mary kept me focused and asked me what my goal was for my time that day, as it may take quite a bit of time to find any information at all. I decided that mine would be to try and find where in Norway or Ukraine my great-grandfathers on my dad’s side came from. I hit the jackpot when I found an immigration record for my dad’s grandfather from the Ukraine to the US. His hometown was written as Chaptinka. I was amazed that we’d found it so quickly, and so was Mary. Many times people can spend hours or days to find information like that.
Mary then took me downstairs to the basement of the library, which was another fascinating sight. This floor is for international records and searches. The most impressive thing about this floor? There are literally dozens of volunteers who speak pretty much any language you can think of who will help you translate any records you find.
I waited for a few minutes until a specialist in Ukrainian and Russian records was available. I told her I was trying to find more about where my great-grandfather came from in the Ukraine- Chaptinka. We spent quite a while trying to even figure out where it was, and then she realized the correct spelling of the town was Chaplynka.
From there we tried to find records of him in Chaplynka but hit a dead end. The volunteer kept telling me I really needed to know what religion he was in order to try and find records through the church. I considered finding the real name of his home in Ukraine a success due to my lack of available time, and called it a day.
Plan for a Long Visit if You Do Some Serious Digging
If you ever find yourself in Salt Lake city, a stop at the Family History Library is definitely worth it. The volunteers are all extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and it’s completely free! If you’ve never researched your family history before, this is a great place to get started.
Just be aware of one very important detail- once you get a lead on your family history you wont want to stop, so it is best to plan to visit this one with a lot of time because you truly do not know what history you may dig up.