A Fresh Look at the Family History Library - A Library without Walls

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The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

Syllabus for class taught by Alan E. Mann, Manager at FamilySearch, presented at NGS 2010 Conference.

Learn all about the Family History Library, its history and its future. Along the way, learn practical, must-know hints about the Library to help you better plan your trip to the Library and maximize the usefulness of your time while there.


The Family History Library is the flagship location of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of hours and millions of dollars have gone into creating the world’s best collection of family history resources, including microfilm, microfiche, books, classes, and access to world-class experts.

Physical Space and Equipment[edit | edit source]

The Library consists of five floors with 142,000 square feet devoted to family history research. The staff consists of 125 full-time and part-time professionals, who are assisted by approximately 700 trained volunteers. Equipment includes:

  • 314 computers
  • 408 microfilm readers
  • 36 microfiche readers
  • 28 film and fiche copiers
  • Over 20 book copiers
  • Seating capacity for 375
  • Four classrooms
  • Hands-on computer lab

Image adjustment tools for scans; copies can be saved, e-mailed, or printed.

Records Collection
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The collection includes over 2.5 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 730,000 microfiche; 360,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals; over 4,400 electronic resources and access to many Internet-based records and services.

Education and Learning Opportunities
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The FamilySearch Web site links to conference Websites and other educational opportunities. In addition, the library staff regularly teaches classes on numerous subjects. The schedule for these classes is posted on the FamilySearch Web site under Library→Education→Family History Library Classes. In addition, the Library has started making some classes available on the FamilySearch Web site.

World-class Expertise[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library employs over 40 professional genealogical research consultants. These consultants are available for consultation at reference desks on each floor of the Library. Library experts offer assistance based on language, subject, and geographic area as follows:

Main floor: Computer programs, general

2nd floor: US and Canada (microfilms)

3rd floor: US and Canada (books)

B2 floor: United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and East India Company

B1 floor: Non-English language and all other countries

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The Family History Library is the successor facility of the Genealogical Society of Utah Library established in 1894 in the Historian’s Office of the TChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (shown here at right).

Over the past 116 years, many changes have been made to the facilities, the collection, and the direction of the Family History Department. The timeline shown on the next page illustrates the progress made.

Along the way, shifts have occurred. At first, the facilities attempted to serve those needing help. The Library grew in size and attempted to collect records to help people research their family history. Microfilming was introduced in October 1938 to improve availability of records. Seeing the need to reach out to people who couldn’t physically come to Salt Lake City, the Library sought to reach out to people by:

  • Providing education through genealogical conferences starting in 1963 at BYU.
  • Establishing branch libraries starting in 1964 (now family history centers).
  • Creating publications which provided guidance starting in 1977.

Using FamilySearch, the Church expanded family history efforts to reach more people by:

  • Distributing family history data and the FamilySearch Catalog on CD-ROM starting in 1988.
  • Giving access to family history data over the Internet, starting in 1999.
  • Digitizing books which would not otherwise be available (historical books).
  • Indexing records so people can more easily find ancestors through FamilySearch indexing.
  • Digitizing records and placing them online (FamilySearch Record Search).
  • Providing the genealogical community with the Research Wiki and Research Forums to provide help from wherever they might be.


1894–Genealogical Society of Utah established, 58 E. South Temple

1917–Library moves to the Church Administration Building

1933–Library moves to 80 N. Main Street

1938–Microfilming of records by GSU began

1962–Library moves to 100 S. Main Street

1963–Granite Mountain Records Vault opens

1963–BYU Genealogy conference founded

1964–Branch Libraries established(Logan 1961)

1972–Library moves to Church Offices

1977–FHL publications begin

1985–Library moves to Church Offices

1988–FamilySearch on CD-ROM released

1989–Non-LDS Libraries allowed to partner in film circulation

1999–FamilySearch Internet launched

2005–FamilySearch indexing, FamilySearch Research Wiki, and FamilySearch Forums start

2010–National Genealogical Society in Salt Lake City; Library without Walls

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Before coming to the Library:

  • Do your homework. Gather your information, organize it, record your sources, and compile logs of sources searched (including unsuccessful searches). This will make things go faster for you and help library staff give you needed assistance more quickly.
  • Check the FamilySearch Catalog .
  • If a film says “Vault,” ask the Library by e-mail to have the film available for you by the time you arrive. Otherwise, you must wait for it to be ordered in for you.
  • Some items are available online. If so, it will say so in red. Check those from home before coming to the library.
  • Make a note of any books or electronic sources which do not say “available online.” Once at the library, search these first because they are available only at the Library..
  • Check the Research Wiki for suggestions specific to your research needs.Wiki
  • Check  to make sure the library is open, see floor plans, resources, and more tips and information on local arrangements (parking, eating, accommodations, etc.).
  • If you have a computer, bring a flash drive or be prepared to buy one at the library.
  • Consider getting a web-based e-mail so you can check e-mail while at the library.

Once you get to the Library:

  • Purchase a “copy” card (cost 60¢). Have some change or small bills on hand (credit cards not accepted). This can be used to pay for prints, copies, and misc. items.
  • Ask for help at the reference counters. Library staff are willing and usually able to help.

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The Family History Library’s future is to continue to provide quality research help, but also to reach out to a broader audience through using technology. It also includes partnering with the community and other libraries and societies to improve the quality of research conclusions, to share the results of those conclusions, and to provide timely and accurate help along the way.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki and FamilySearch indexing are the first attempts to reach out to the genealogical community to help provide assistance to people tracing their family history. The Research Wiki, FamilySearch indexing, and the Research Forums are the result of recognizing the fact that one organization cannot do everything that is needed to help everyone. Rather, these products are an attempt to give the genealogical community tools which they can use to provide the help needed. The community can get it done and will likely do it better.

Future tools and initiatives will include:

  • A community-based Education and Learning Center.
  • Cooperation with societies and libraries to provide help and education jointly.
  • Other tools to help individuals work together to share knowledge and experience.

Keep an eye on http://labs.familysearch.org to see what’s in development as future plans.