Thursday, November 10, 2016

My First Visit to the Family History Library

Last April, I went to Mecca for genealogists: the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The world’s largest genealogical library.  Drool.

My badge
My husband Scott and I were among the 38 members from the South Orange County California Genealogical Society (my home society), who came for a week of research and group activities.  This was the Society’s second annual trip to the FHL. It was loads of fun.

It’s all in the Prep
Prep is everything for any research trip no matter where you’re going or how much time you’ll spend there.  My group’s fearless leader, David Flint, held advance-planning meetings to help us get our research organized and start researching the minute we entered the library.  I was a believer.  My research plan was going to be a thing of beauty that would keep me busy all week.

Binder, tech bag, water,
microfilm, notebook
I decided to organize my materials in a 1” binder.  I learned from a previous research trip to a library that I didn’t like relying totally on digital or cloud-based materials – I want paper.  The binder turned out to be just the right size to hold what I needed and not tip over the airline luggage scale.

What surnames/families should I research?  After considering David’s suggestions, I decided to concentrate primarily on Eisenman (just starting research in Germany; Hübsch (just starting research in Prussia) and Hutson (brickwall for this “the disappearing dude” in U.S. records).  If time permitted, I’d look for Brown and Clark (both brickwalls in U.S. records).

Next, I updated the data in my Legacy Family Tree genealogy software program.  Missing, incomplete or weak data became a To-Do item in my software program.  Then I spent hours scouring the Catalog for more records and books to look for at the FHL. These too were added to the To-Do List.

My binder was full with these research materials:
  • Pedigree Charts, Family Group Sheets, and To-Do Lists by surname, all printed from Legacy Family Tree
  • Timeline for ancestors
  • German-English lists in German Gothic and Frakturs script:  common words, the alphabet and family names and locations.  Knowing what the alphabet looked like in German wasn’t enough. I also needed to know what the words birth, marriage and death looked like as well as names such as Andreas Eisenman and Johann Ernst Hübsch.
The Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, next door to the FHL, was home for the week.  I was literally 90 seconds from Mecca. What a commute!

Temple Square was abloom in April
We arrived a day before the rest of the group to sightsee.  The four hour City Grand Tour of Salt Lake City history picked up at the hotel.   It included the State Capital (gorgeous), Heritage Park, historic mansions and a no-host lunch at Lionsgate Pantry, part of Brigham Young’s house.  Period food was served – we had the delicious chicken pot pie.  Good tour and guide, highly rcommend it.  The temperature was 45ish and windy.  NOT my kind of weather.  Also, I was huffing and puffing because of the 4,300’ elevation of the city so walking to other nearby sites was crossed off the list.  Grr.  Happily though, we went to the library instead.  I downloaded a few books (two in German, uh-oh) to my USB drive. The books were downloadable only at the FHL so this task was at the top of my To-Do List.  I also bought a $2 copy card.  I was ready for the week of research.

Game On
Before I hit the aisles and aisles of books and microfilm, I needed to get oriented to the FHL.  Sure, general information was available on the website but the floor experts identified the extras, like the gems in a small bookcase along a wall or behind the information desk.  The stuff I needed.  David Flint arranged an orientation on each floor just for our group.  I attended each one.  My ancestors were waiting for me to find them so I needed to know what was where.

My ancestors are in this microfilm drawer
As hopeful as I was to have success from the get-go, all that I thought of at the end of day one at the FHL was the lesson my first genealogy teacher, Glenda Gardner Lloyd, taught me:  negative results are good too.  In other words, I didn’t find anything about my search target,  2nd great-grandfather Ernest Hübsch.  The German experts I consulted at the library said there was only one microfilm in which my family might be mentioned. Nope, not there.  (I’ve since learned that the Polish Archives may be a better source.)  For hours, I searched using a digital microfilm reader on my own after getting a few lessons from mission staff.  On the bright side, I didn’t get motion sick which was remarkable since I forgot to take the meds.

One of many stacks of books reviewed
The rest of the week was more fruitful.  Book heaven, aka the 3rd floor, had aisle after aisle of books even with the FHL’s huge, ongoing book digitization project.  The shelves had real books to hold, touch, turn the page, smell the dust...and happily download if it was already digitized!

In composing this post, I inventoried my findings at the library for the first time.  Mentally I knew but listing the information by category and surname revealed the comprehensiveness of my findings.  I'd say the research trip was quite successful.  Here's what I found:

  • Clark, Ogle, Swearingen and Van Pelt of Adams Co., Ohio: deaths, deeds, marriages
  • Eisenman of Fillmore Co., Minnesota and Germany: baptisms, plat book
  • Hübsch of Calumet Co., Wisconsin and Prussia: church records book, county/town histories, plat book and map, newspapers

The Happy Dance prize went to the baptismal records found for siblings Valentin and Catharina Eisenman born in Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 1762 and 1764 respectively.  This was by far the oldest record I have found.  Wow!  The discovery almost didn’t happen on this research trip.  When I discovered the information about my Eisenman ancestors might be on microfilm, I was about to give up and defer to a hired researcher.  You see, operating a regular microfilm reader on my own was physically impossible.  Not so fast said a mission staff member who was advising me on the microfilm.  He stood and scoured the room.  Within moments I was introduced to Sister Ludema. She cheerfully took on the task to help me.  We exchanged some information about ourselves and then we began.
Sister Ludema (r), Denise Hibsch Richmond
 and Valentin Eisenman baptism record 
Sister Ludema threaded the film into the reel spindle and rotated the knob to advance the film.  She didn’t know German and I knew “ein bisschen”. (Did I mention that the film was in German?)  Luckily, my research binder had examples of the Eisenman names in German script as well as the words for birth, marriage, death, etc.  We closely studied how the letters were formed.  As the search began, we happily breathed a sigh of relief because the quality of the microfilm was good and the handwriting clear, not heavily Gothic.  Search and search.  Rotate and rotate that knob.  And there it was.  Two baptismal records for the Eisenman children.  Wowzers!  One of the German experts was nearby and offered a basic translation of the record.  Next, Sister Ludema made a copy of the records.  I couldn’t thank her enough for spending nearly 3 hours with me. Shall we dance!

It's Not all about the Research
We didn't starve during the trip.  Many of us participated in the group meals.  We shared research successes.  We got to know each other better.  The camaraderie was high.  Besides the research, these were the other advantages for going with a group.  Let's visit.

  • Lunch with the group at the Church Office Building cafeteria (we had passes; good food, reasonably-priced, noisy seating area)
  • Evening banquet and speaker Luana Darby
  • Lunch at the Garden Restaurant on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith building.  Beautiful view of the mountains.  Afterwards, we met some members of our group for a complimentary, sepia-tone photo at the local Family History Center.  We posed in front of a replica of New York Harbor as if we were newly-arrived immigrants.  My Hübsch ancestors arrived there in 1872 from Prussia.
  • Evening wine and cheese party with the group at the hotel
  • Dinner with the group at a restaurant/brewhouse
  • Farewell breakfast at the hotel
  • Many meals on our own at nearby eateries often happily joined by others 

I'm already reserved for the 2017 research trip.
New arrivals in New York Harbor


  1. Denise, I think I was there at the library the same time. I'm leading the research group from California Genealogy Society again in late April 2017.

    Love your write-up about the research and trip. I love Salt Lake City.

    1. Lisa, thanks for your kind words. Looks like our groups will be in SLC at the same time, end of April. I'll look for you.


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