Tips for Visiting the Library

Each year thousands of people travel substantial distances to access the wealth of genealogical resources contained at the Family History Library. Here are some quick tips to maximize your time in the library.

Before Your Library Visit

You should do the following things before you come. Volunteers at a family history center near you can help you with these steps.

Organize Your Materials

Gather together information you have about your family. Talk to other family members and get copies of their information. Use a genealogy program like Personal Ancestral File to record information about your ancestors. Organize historical records (like birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc.) of your family by family group (such as a husband and wife and their children) or surname to make it easy for you to find the records.

See What’s Already Been Done

See what other people have already discovered about your family by searching for your ancestors in collections of precompiled genealogies like Ancestral File or Pedigree Resource File on our website.

Decide What You Want to Learn

Decide which ancestor or family you want to learn more about. What specific questions would you like to know? Who are the parents of Warren Dodge? When did Frank Barnes die? Who are the children of Sarah Brewster and Thomas Barnes? Here are three important pointers:

  1. It is easier to find information about people that lived more recently.
  2. It is easier to work backward through time. For example, find death, then marriage, and then birth information.
  3. Verify what you know, and then use it to look for what you don’t know.
Identify Available Records

Identify the places where your ancestors lived or may have lived. Then search the Family History Library Catalog to see what records are available for that place. Make a list of the records that are likely to contain the answers to your questions. Be sure to include call numbers or film and item numbers. An easy way to do this is to print out the listings from the Family History Library Catalog.

If you know in advance what microfilms you'll need at the library, you can order them before your visit. Library staff will retreive them so that they will be ready for you when you arrive. Films listed in the Catalog as "Vault" films may take up to three days to retrieve.

Request microfilms

While at the Library

Bring Your Information

If possible, bring any information you have that relates to the people or questions you are researching. These documents can be originals, copies, or scanned. This will provide important background information as you search.

Visit with a Reference Consultant

The Family History Library has many reference consultants with expertise in genealogical research. Professional research consultants are available at counters on each floor to consult with you on your research and point you in the right direction. They can create a research strategy to help you find the information you want to learn. Getting their help can save you substantial time. There are also volunteers who can help you once you have gotten direction from a consultant. Remember, everyone knows different things, so don’t be afraid to ask your question to more than one person.

Record what you find

As you look at a film or book, make sure to write down the name of the source you searched, the film or book number, and note what you found, or what you did not find, in that source. Be prepared to capture what you find by writing it down; taking a picture; or using printers, copiers, and scanners available in the library. There is a small use fee for anything you decide to print. This will keep you from looking in the same places over and over again.