Preparing for a visit to the Family History Library

fhlIn a few days, I will be traveling to Salt Lake City to conduct genealogical research at the Family History Library,[1] the largest collection of genealogical material in the world.  If one spends the money to travel to SLC and does not have a plan for the research you wish to conduct, you will 1.) be overwhelmed, 2.) miss problems that should be researched and 3.) prioritize poorly.

I prepare for the trip by planning to maximize my efficiency.

First, I identify all problems I wish to work on.  For each of the many genealogical problems I identify, I check the catalog to see if there are online resources or if the FHL does not have the information I seek.   If the resources are available online or if FHL does not have the records I seek, I set the problem aside and do not consider it for further work related to the trip.  If, on the other hand, there are resources available at SLC that are available nowhere else or in disparate locations, I keep that particular problem “in the pool”.

Secondly, a small research plan is developed for each of the problems that are still “in the pool.”[2] This research plan, about one page long for each problem (I have one that is 15 pages long with all attachments), will be narrowly focused and will include a statement of what I am trying to solve,  summarize any background  information, description of known information, and a list of some of the resources I wish to use at FHL to answer the research question.  If applicable, I will also attach copies of the documents I have already gathered.  This makes a “problem packet”–one problem, one packet.  I may have 5-6 or even more of these for a three-day visit.

These problems can be a simple look up which might take an hour or can be more complex or even require successive conversations with a consultant. These can take multiple days to complete.  There is also no guarantee that a problem will be resolved while I am there and instead might result in a new research plan which identifies other repositories to visit or contact to obtain information.

But, I am not done yet.

Thirdly, I develop a schedule for each day.  This prevents me from ignoring one problem at the benefit to another or missing an educational opportunity.

I check to see if there are any lectures at the library I wish to attend. (January Lecture Schedule)[3] Working around the class schedule, I anticipate the amount of time each problem will take and then place them on the schedule.  I usually put the most difficult problem first and then fill in with the simpler problems towards the end of my research time.  Of course, I am not always right in my estimate but I will then adjust the schedule with full knowledge.

I always take more problem packets than I think I will resolve for two reasons–historically, I have finished early on one or more of my problems and I like to a backup to fill in my time. Sometimes, I can do no more work on a problem until I go visit another repository or if the film is in the vault resulting in a delay until I can access the film (hopefully, I have identified these in step 1.). I then use the other packets to fill in.

So far I have identified 5 problem packets.  These are not in order:

  1. Frederich Eilers: Mr. Elusive, the second husband of my great-great grandmother, seems to have shown up for the wedding in 1862 and then- poof!–disappeared.  I do not know his birth year, his residence at the time of the wedding, his occupation or when he emigrated from Germany.  I do know his place of birth in Germany, that he must have died/ disappeared/divorced by 1871 when gggrandmother and  the family moved to Iowa. I have only one document where she  used his surname and he was not mentioned in any of her three obituaries.
  2. Swedish Tax records:  I wish to compare two of the three copies of the taxation records taken between the years of 1748 and 1815 to see if there are any differences for a particular person I am researching. This will take about 4 hours. I am not anticipating big differences and in fact there may be none.  One is supposed to be a copy of the other.
  3. Swedish Farm Registers: Again, I need the expert translators to look at the documents and interpret some of the esoteric marks on the diagrams.
  4. Comprehensive review of all Illinois, Michigan, Iowa records for my Bode clan: This will take the most time with the (probable) least return. Since Hendrik Bode was a minister, I have many locales to research. Each locale will be a separate problem packet because the resources are so different.
  5. Daniel Suhm and his probable daughter, Anne Kirstine Danielsdotter Suhm: This is a perpetual “problem packet” for me. I always check with the consultants to see if there are any new Danish methodologies which might help me answer the question concerning this military man. The goal is to find Daniel’s location of military service in Denmark just prior to his retirement and (hopefully) tie Anne Kirstine with direct evidence to Daniel and his wife Zidsel. If not, I probably need to write this up as a proof argument based on indirect evidence and get on with it!
  6. Uphusen (Germany) film: I have much derivative source information on my ancestors that I would like to update to primary.  Since the Bode clan (my mother’s patrilineal line) lived in the Uphusen area back to the beginning of extant record keeping, there is a lot of direct lineage and collateral line work to do.  This is basically a fill-in problem packet.  This will be low on my list of priorities as I can order the film and do this in Seattle.  This work also takes me away from work on my portfolio.

The development of the problem packets must be completed by 17 January when I leave for SLC!  I will be giving updates on my travels on Facebook.  You can find me there.  Twitter might also be another place to look

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: retired!!  I am not doing too well with it yet.  I am doing a few things for the office to wrap up–not much tho’. Attended a lovely party this pm and had coffee with my next door neighbor which I have never done before. Worked on the registration form for the Swedish genealogy classes at the Swedish Club.

[1] Family Search ( : accessed 22 December 2015).

[2] I also do a research plan for the other problems as well, but it is not my highest priority prior to the trip to SLC.

[3] I am interested in the class on indexing Italian records, tips and tricks to using the FHL Record Collection, and will definitely attend the Norwegian class on using Digitalarkivet.


2 comments on “Preparing for a visit to the Family History Library

  1. This search plan is seriously scary, but Bon Voyage and Happy Hunting to you, anyway.

  2. Barbara Mattoon says:

    Your research plan is so well developed. It shows the results of previous visits to the FHL. Hyperlinks to the classes you are interested in attending would have been helpful. Your progress reports will be interesting, I am sure.

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