I intend to visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I know already that they allow Flip-Pal Scanners, so I will bring mine, plus my laptop which contains all of my genealogical research so far, and my cell phone which has a camera. The Family Search website suggests these Tips for Visiting the Library. I have never gone on a trip alone or in a group to hunt for genealogical information before... I want to bring as few items as possible, because I will need to walk back and forth from the hotel and it is some distance.

What do I need to do to make this trip as fruitful as possible?

Update: I have two full days set aside for research, plus any extra time that I can pull myself away from the annual RootsTech conference.
Update 2: I visited my local Family History centre and got the low-down on the types of microfilm they have onsite. A great suggestion that the volunteers gave me was to pick only one line to focus on during the trip so that I don't get scattered all over with rabbit trails. Someone else suggested that I try to glean as much as I can about my Scottish ancestors, since the website Scotland's People can be expensive to search online.

  • How much time will you be able to spend at the library in Salt Lake on this trip?
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 7:02
  • Two days doesn't seem like enough time. Answers typically breed more questions. Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 16:06
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    Five days total, as the conference is three days. Surely I can tackle something at the library in two days? ...if I'm organized? This is the point of this question. Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 17:07

6 Answers 6


Thomas Macentee has covered this topic at some length in a blog post A Trip To Bountiful Genealogy Research available from http://www.archives.com.

Update: It is a lengthy and well-crafted piece of writing that deserves to be taken in full as the author intended.

  • This is exactly what I was looking for :) Thx! Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 0:44
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    Can you summarize what he says here? This is mainly to prevent link rot, which would then make this answer useless. Thanks
    – Luke_0
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 14:57
  • Summarizing what he said would be called plagiarism.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 1:16
  • 1
    @Fortiter, not sure about that. Copying great chunks of his exact words would definitely be plagiarism. Saying that he talks about Plan, Prepare, Proceed, Procure, Process and Preserve and attributing it to him with a link wouldn't be plagiarism.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 9:18
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    The link doesn't offend me; I was just explaining my different understanding of plagiarism. I've answered other questions myself with little more than relevant links. Can't speak for @jmort253
    – user104
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 18:10

In my humble opinion, I would bring a digital camera and a couple extra batteries. I would also carry a tape recorder, that way you can do dictation of your research. A notebook is also handy as well as a plentiful supply of sharpened pencils (that way you can erase if need be). Something that's rarely mentioned is "Thank You" cards. I always keep a ready supply of these to hand out to the staff whenever I go record hunting. This establishes a rapport with the staff and puts a smile on most peoples face. It helps to have a plan of exactly what your looking for as far as a collection too.

I rarely bring my Laptop, and always keep my phone on silent mode. This is a personal preference of mine but it does lighten my carry load. My digital camera takes a higher resolution picture than my phone, that's why I use it instead of my phone. The tape recorder is nice for dictation, unless you have to be quiet.

I also see what their rules are for snacks and drinks. I don't like leaving till I'm done so I like to have a little something to munch on. : }, I hope this assist you, have a great day!

  • 1
    +1 for the Thank You cards. I also send emails after my visit to thank people for their assistance.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 14:19

It's best to have planned out areas of research given the resources you expect to find at your destination. For the Family History Library, you can do much planning using the online catalog of the FHL available on the FamilySearch.org site. Spending time beforehand looking for potentially relevant resources is time it won't be necessary to spend while at the site.

The FHL has many scarce print sources which, due to copyright laws, cannot be made available online or even through loans to local Family History Centers, so if you find such sources in the catalog, you'll probably want to note their call numbers before going and then look at them on your trip.

For microfilm collections, you may want to plan out use of sets of films which usually require successive access to multiple reels. For instance, probate or land records are often accessed first via films of a set of index records, which then point you to the main records (which are within a different set of film reels). Attacking these while at the FHL (particularly if you have previously familiarized yourself with their structure and noted initial film numbers from the online catalog) can get results faster compared to ordering films one at a time from a local center. If you're short on time, you could use just the index films while at the library to eliminate that step from the sequence, and use the resulting file numbers later for local ordering and access.


Are you looking to investigate specific lines/individuals, or are you just "data harvesting" (looking to grab as much information as you can that might be useful to you when you have time to analyse it and apply it to your tree)?

If you're harvesting, take the time to identify all the sources of possible interest — use the online FHL catalog to look at what might be relevant, most especially what isn't available online. Make a list in priority order of sources to capture and analyse later and stick to it, especially if you don't expect to return anytime soon (you will run out of time.)

If you have specific research goals, still take the time to identify relevant sources and prioritise the ones that aren't available online. You should generate a list of specific research goals in priority order ("Find the birth of X between mmmm and nnnn in possible location LLLL") and make sure you have all the information to hand that helped you formulate those queries.

If you don't already know, test the quality of images that your cell phone makes in advance, so you can change your plans and beg borrow or buy a digital camera instead (you'll kick yourself if you discover too late you've spent your time taking poor-quality photographs).

Whatever it is you're trying to achieve, don't discount asking for advice by phone before you go, and in person as soon as you arrive, and have all the information you require to hand if you change your research goals.

Request any microfilms you want in advance: https://familysearch.org/films/fhl to ensure they're available to you within your timeframe.

I never visit a repository without my netbook loaded with everything I know or need to know plus a digital camera. Yes, it increases the carry load — I've invested in a small backpack for that reason — but it allows me to be nimble when possibilities change.


I'd suggest that you take a flash drive to "print" information from microfilm records instead of actually printing out copies.

  • Great idea. I don't usually carry one, but it would be easy to do :) Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 9:11

Here are some tips that I've gotten from J. Mark Lowe, F. Warren Bittner, Judy G. Russell, and Elizabeth Shown Mills that I'm trying to put into practice in my own research:

  1. Make a research plan. Yes, everyone says so, but Lowe breaks everything down and specifies what he wants to look for in meticulous detail. He puts all his tasks on individual index cards, detailing who he's looking for, what information he needs, what collection needs to be searched, and what he is hoping to find. He punches a hole in the cards, puts them on a ring, and hangs them on a lanyard around his neck. He has different rings of cards for each repository he visits, so if someone volunteers to come along on one of his road trips, he can just hand his helper a subset of the index cards and send them off to find records for him. Even if you don't want to implement the "always ready to research at the drop of a hat" mindset, his explanation of why he does it that way is a great way to get you thinking about what you really want to find out for a trip (not to mention, writing questions for G&FH.SE). The one big failing of most newbies, according to Lowe: they don't think about time management when they are making their plans, and don't narrow down the scope of the tasks they plan to do. Lowe's webinar Ready-Set-Plan! Developing a One-Step Research Plan was presented by the Florida State Genealogical Society as part of their "Poolside Chats" webinar series, and is available in their library to members.
  2. In his webinar Ten Genealogical Lessons I Learned The Hard Way, emphasizes the importance of tracking your research. He recommends writing out a summary of what you learned every day, while your new discoveries are fresh in your mind. (Bittner's webinar was presented by Legacy Family Tree as part of the webinar series and is available for purchase, PPV, or as part of a sub.)
  3. Elizabeth Shown Mills' shares samples of her Research Reports and Research Notes on her site Historic Pathways. Look for the section "Witter" for “Essential Research Reports: 3 Samples” and the three samples which follow.
  4. Judy G. Russell's webinar That First Trip to the Courthouse has many tips that can be applied to planning any trip to a repository. The webinar has been presented as part of the Florida State Genealogical Society's Poolside Chats, and the 2013 edition is in the Legacy Family Tree Webinar Library. One of the crucial steps in planning is the question: Do you really need to go there? Rule out all the things you can view at home or online, so you can focus on the records you can ONLY find at that repository.

The Family History Library is in the process of re-organizing how you can access the catalogs of the larger Family History Centers (to differentiate them from the smaller centers, these larger Centers are also called Libraries). You can see if your local centers have their catalogs online by checking on FamilySearch.org. You can also check to see what collections at the Family History Library are available online. Go to FamilySearch.org, choose "Catalog" and look down at the bottom of the page:

Search these Family History Centers drop-down box

If you open the drop-down list, the first three entries are:

  • Any
  • Family History Library
  • Online

After that there is a dividing line, followed by a list of some of the larger FHLs/FHCs whose catalogs can be browsed online. If you see that the index to a collection is available at your local center, you can use that to make a list of the records you want to search for, once you are at the FHL. Volunteers at the local center or at one of your local societies may also be able to advise you about how much time it took them to pull microfilm at the FHL, so you can plan your time more efficiently.

Here's a roundup of blog posts and online articles about planning a trip to the Family History Library, from the period just before and after RootsTech2015:

If you locate a microfilm that is cataloged as “Vault,” order it beforehand, as it may take three days to retrieve.

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