Find Your Family History at Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, Church History Library and Family Search Center

While a choir and a house beckoned me to Salt Lake City, genealogists travel to Utah’s capital to research extensive family history collections in two libraries and one research center. 

Located at 35 North West Temple, the Family History Library collects and provides access to the world’s largest repository of genealogical records. The library provides access to over 2 million rolls of microfilm, land records, court records, and military indexes, among other genealogical resources. 

The Church History Library chronicles the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830 to the present day, as well as the development of the West. The collection includes printed materials; photographs; audio and video recordings; oral histories; and manuscripts, including journals, diaries and letters. The library also provides online access to the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database, which is the most complete listing of LDS pioneer emigrants who traveled to Utah from 1847 through 1868. The database also includes excerpts from journals and letters. 

The Church History Library is also home to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, a documentary editing project that gathers all of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s known surviving documents and publishes annotated transcripts of them, in both print and electronic form. I learned about the project when I attended the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)’s Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents in 2009, but my visit to Salt Lake City renewed my interest in it. The project collects letters, journals and diaries, administrative records, and manuscript and printed versions of Smith’s revelations and translations. It also provides images of artwork, photographs and maps depicting people, places and events mentioned in Smith’s papers. On the project’s website, you can zoom in on images of documents, read their transcriptions, and click on highlighted names and places to read short biographies and reference material. Watch this video to see how easy it is to explore the Joseph Smith Papers online.

Since 2009, the Church History Library has been located on the corner of North Temple and Main Street. Elder Miller took us on a tour.

We began our visit by watching “The Story Lives Here,” an orientation film on using the library. The film also features an historical vignette illustrating that the library is a repository for the records of individual church members. The vignette dramatizes an entry in a 19th-century journal kept by Joseph Millet that shows how this Mormon pioneer answered the prayers of a fellow pioneer whose food was in scarce supply. Millet’s daughter copied the journal entry, which is now in the library’s collection. 

According to LDS Church history, on April 6, 1830, the day the Church was organized, the Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.” (Doctrine & Covenants 21:1). This quotation illustrates how important recordkeeping is to the Church, Elder Miller said as we walked through the entrance to the reading room. 

Pointing to the attractive carpet on the floor, Elder Miller told us that in order to make library visitors feel like they are inside a book, the design for the carpet in the reading room was modeled after marbleized endpaper in one of the books in the library’s collections.

Walking through the stacks, we learned that while the library uses the Dewey Decimal classification system, it has added a special “M” section for Mormon material. 

Elder Miller showed us the first hymnal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was compiled by Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, and was published in 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio. The hymnal contains the texts for 90 hymns, some borrowed from Protestant hymns and some original compositions. He also showed us the library’s copy of the 1611 King James Bible, which includes Adam and Eve’s pedigree.

At the reference desk, we learned that patrons can order copies of 3.5 million patriarchal blessings of LDS Church members. Pedigrees of LDS Church prophets are also available in the library. 

Visitors to Temple Square who are new to genealogical research are invited to find information about their ancestors at the FamilySearch Center, located at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The “Records of Our Lives” exhibit describes the impact of recordkeeping. Computer search stations provide free access to family history subscription websites. While adults are exploring their heritage, children can do tombstone rubbings, design their personal coat of arms, and translate a message written in hieroglyphics. At the “Ellis Island Pier,” visitors can pose for a free souvenir photograph.

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