Find My Ancestor Blog

Family History Library: Getting Started

The following post is the first in a series on the Family History Library located in Salt Lake City. This new series will teach you all you need to know about the library and how to make the most out of your research trips to Salt Lake.

Have you ever been to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? If you have you know that you could spend all day, every day for a week and not even scratch the surface of completing what you had originally wanted to accomplish. There are so many books, rolls of microfilm, maps, and many other resources available at the Family History Library it is hard to know where to start.

To start off, let's get a little information about the library and what it contains. The following comes from the website:

Family History Library Building:


  • Founded in 1894 to gather genealogical records and assist members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with their family history and genealogical research
  • Largest library of its kind in the world
  • Open to the general public at no charge
  • An estimated 1,500 daily visits

Records Collection:

  • The collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals; 3,725 electronic resources.
  • The Ancestral File database contains more than 36 million names that are linked into families.
  • The International Genealogical Index database contains approximately 600 million names of deceased individuals. An addendum to the International Genealogical Index contains an additional 125 million names. These names have been patron submitted or extracted from thousands of original birth, christening and marriage records.
  • The Pedigree Resource File database contains over 100 million names that are linked into families.
  • Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
  • A majority of the records contain information about persons who lived before 1930.
  • Approximately 200 cameras are currently digitizing records in over 45 countries. Records have been filmed in over 110 countries, territories, and possessions.

Patron Resources:

  • 475 patron computers
  • 408 microfilm readers
  • 36 microfiche readers
  • 24 digital microfilm and microfiche copiers
  • 14 book copiers
  • 375 Seating capacity at tables
  • 4 book scanners
  • Orientation and research classes


  • Currently 100 full-time and part-time professional staff
  • Approximately 700 trained volunteers

Family History Centers:

  • Family history centers are branches of the Family History Library.
  • Over 4,500 family history centers operate in more than 100 countries.
  • Local family history centers are staffed by helpful volunteers.
  • About 100,000 rolls of microfilm are circulated to family history centers each month.
  • Click here to locate the nearest family history center, or call 866-406-1830 in the United States and Canada.

(updated: 3 Jun 2010)

As you can tell, the Family History Library is quite an amazing place. Are you planning a research trip to Salt Lake in the next year, but aren't quite sure what to expect or how the library works? This new series will guide you through exactly what you need to know about the library and how to search the catalog, work a microfilm reader, digitize a record found on a microfilm or microfiche, and all of the other great resources and services the library has to offer. 

Also be sure to subscribe to the Find My Ancestor Blog to always be up-to-date with the latest postings, news, and genealogical goodies.


Family History Library Catalogue Down

For those of you who don't know, the Family History Library Catalogue is down and will be for a few days. I am currently at the library, and let me tell you, it is a pretty sad day here for people.

For those people who were expecting to come here tonight or the next few days will be disappointed to find that they will not be able to do much with the catalogue unless you look at the decade old microfiche catalogue. I just spent some time trying to use that and it was quite difficult. Isn't it amazing how dependent we get on the simplicity and easy access of the internet? 

For those people who are from out of town who came to do research at the library, I hope they came prepared with a list of microfilm rolls, call numbers, and other information so they can find what they are looking for. I bet there are a few people here who just learned that lesson.

If you listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast, you would probably heard an interview Lisa Louise Cooke did with Irene Johnson about the Family History Library and their tips and tricks on making your Family History Library visit the best it can.

The following is from the Genealogy Gems Podcast show notes for Episode 80 where Lisa interviews Irene Johnson:

"Irene’s Tip:  Do your homework before you visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. 

Do Your Homework Before You Come:
- Scour the online catalog
- Decide what you need
- Ask for help when you visit

Lisa’s Tip – print out the items you want from the catalogue and prioritize them.  Determine which items are available only in Salt Lake City."

Both Irene and Lisa have other great tips in the interview, so if you haven't listened to it yet, I highly recommend it. I noticed when I went to the page where Episode 80 is, the little audio player widget on the right hand side says Episode 84. You can either scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the download link to download the episode and listen to it on your computer, but to listen to it in your browser you might have to follow a couple extra steps - at least until the player gets fixed.

For now, click the play button, and then click the information button in the bottom right corner. Then click by where it says done and it will give a list of episodes. Scroll down to Episode 80 and click on it. That should play the episode for you. 

Even for someone like me who lives in Salt Lake City, it is always smart to "do your homework" before visiting the library because you never know what will happen.