Learning from Others

Learning from Others

The other day I presented a lecture on searching newspaper websites. During my hour-long presentation, I discussed different tips and methods for using digitized newspaper search engines. I talked about tools that these websites provide that filter results to reveal relevant hits. All of the information I presented was vital to understanding how to use digitized newspaper websites for genealogy research. But, even after all the techniques, I discussed there was one thing I left out—the importance of learning from other genealogist’s experiences.

Can Anyone Help?

The great thing about genealogy in an age of technology and massive amounts of online information is that genealogists, whether researching for clients or themselves, utilize social media, blogs, and websites to document their research experience. Their articles and posts include what they found or didn’t find, as they review the steps and tips they use to search genealogy search engines.

One example of a free newspaper website is Fulton History (also known as Old Fulton Postcards). This free digitized newspaper website provides various search options beyond just entering a name in a search engine. Options include using stemming, fuzzy searches, and synonyms that help you expand your search and find ancestors even if their names are misspelled.

As I searched for more information about the Fulton website, I noticed blog posts that described users' search experiences. For example, Cliff Lamere's web page titled Using the Fulton History Newspaper Site provides some valuable tips, including how to adjust for OCR errors. Vital information for searching any digitized newspaper website.

The Genealogical Society of Bergen County's web page provides information about Boolean searches as well as proximity searches. Once again, helpful for the Fulton website but also significant when searching others.

Look for Help Outside of the Website

Genealogy relevant websites provide FAQs and educational tutorials to help their users make the most of their search. However, there is a benefit to learning from the experiences of independent users who have navigated the website successfully and make that information available online. By conducting a Google search with the name of the website or database, joining a Facebook group for website users, or asking other genealogists via your social media web page, at a genealogy event, or in a genealogy society, you may learn more about how to search a website successfully.

That's the type of information we all need to find our ancestors in online databases.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How Do You Make Family History Interesting?

How Do You Make Family History Interesting?

I recently had a genealogist write to me about a dilemma that many of us face. He was the organizer of a recent church-sponsored event and wondered how to make family history interesting to the community. He had suggested that maybe asking event participants to tell stories about their ancestors might help, but he wondered what other suggestions I had.

Good question. As the keepers of the family history, we are charged with not only remembering our ancestors but making their stories available and accessible. But this can be a challenging task. After all, not everyone likes history, let alone family history.

The idea of storytelling, which has been stressed in the last decade or so in the family history world, is good. After all, everyone likes a good story. Making family history less about words and numbers on a chart and more illustrative is vital.

I’ve had this issue of making family history interesting come up anytime I’ve been asked to teach family history to a non-family history group such as the Boy Scouts or church groups. How do you get people interested in family history? How do you get your family interested in their family history? (which can be just as challenging.) When I brainstorm how to do this, I think in terms of types of activities, games, art, interviews, food, and technology. Yes, giving a talk is an obvious way to teach family history to those not initiated into our pursuit, but what other ways can you interest people of all ages?

Some ideas I have are:

Games: Cards with an ancestor’s names/bio on them, Family history inspired bingo cards, scavenger hunts.

Art: Large family history wallcharts and markers to color branches, add information and drawings. Family history inspired decorations, photo albums, coloring books made from family photos.

Interviews: Offering the space and equipment to allow people to interview family. Include prepared questions to help get the conversation going. Also, encourage individuals (even children) to tell their stories and document their lives.

Food: Let's face it, we all eat, so sponsor a potluck, food contest, or a bakeoff using ancestral recipes. Teach participants how to create a family cookbook, pass out recipe cards, swap family recipes, and offer cooking lessons with grandma.

Tech Center: Have computers set up and teach how to find a relative in the 1940 census. Make available pedigree charts, family group records, and blank census forms. Hold contests for the most exciting occupation, the most family members in the same household, or the youngest/oldest family member in the 1940 census.

I believe that people like not just to hear stories; they want to see images, interact, and try something new. Engaging in only storytelling can be difficult, so having a variety of activities, whether a community event, a family reunion, or Thanksgiving, can be helpful.

So readers, what do you suggest? I want to hear your ideas about how do you make family history "fun" for the non-genealogist? 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Your Ancestor’s Many Names

Your Ancestor’s Many Names

This is not a blog post about cookbooks or food history. But it does use a cookbook as an example.

This is a blog post with an important search reminder. That reminder is: You need to search for your ancestor using more than one name for that ancestor.

Whenever I give presentations, I stress the importance of searching websites using name variations for an ancestor. These name variations could include initials, creative spellings (misspellings), abbreviations, and nicknames. If it is a married female ancestor, you must consider not only her birth name but also variations of her husband's name/s. During certain time periods women, but not all women worldwide, went by Mrs. [his name].

Sometimes as we search one database or record set and find our ancestor, we assume that’s it and there’s no need to continue our search. After all, we found what we need. But in reality, when we think of a database that contains something like court records or historical newspapers, it’s possible that our ancestor could be mentioned more than once and in different ways.

A cookbook that I’m studying reinforced the need for exhaustive searching when we conduct genealogy searches. The 1916 Eastern Star Cookbook from Huntington Park, California includes the names of women and men who contributed recipes.

As I went through the cookbook, I noticed that some women were mentioned multiple times and by different versions of her name.

Consider recipes submitted under these names:

  • Laura Brewer
  • Laura M Brewer
  • Miss Brewer

Now Laura and Laura M might very well be the same woman or it could be two different women. Miss Brewer is still a possibility for Laura. But I would need to research all three to verify. If it’s not the same woman, it could be a relative. That too would need to be further researched.


One woman is listed four different ways in this cookbook:

  • Ollie Cowdin
  • Ollie I. Cowdin
  • Mrs. Ollie Cowdin
  • O. C.

One name variation that is missing is her husband’s name, Mrs. [His name] Cowdin. Now if I were to continue this research on a genealogy website, I would also want to search for her using these and her other name variations based on her maiden name.


Why does this cookbook example matter? Although most of us for the most part go by one name throughout our lives we need to consider that a name can appear in any number of ways for various reasons or no reason at all. Taking that into consideration, we need to keep a list of name variations for our ancestors and use that to search for them in genealogically relevant records.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


5 Online Genealogy Freebies You’re Missing

5 Online Genealogy Freebies You’re Missing

There is no doubt that genealogists like free stuff. While not everything is free in genealogy (nor should it be), you can access some excellent guides, articles, and other genealogically relevant items at no cost.

Aside from free genealogy websites, there are other freebies that you can download or view online to enhance your genealogical education or provide tips and resources to find that brick-wall ancestor. Most of us are familiar with free websites such as Cyndi’s List and Linkpendium but what else is out there that you might not have considered? Here are a few items I’ve found that you might want to bookmark.

1. The National Genealogical Society Free Resources



Are you a member of NGS (the National Genealogical Society)? If you are, you know that they provide membership benefits including their publications. But do they offer anything for free to the genealogy community? Yes! And those free resources benefit all genealogists. First, go to their webpage, Free Genealogy Resources. Two items to pay special attention to are the NGS Magazine Complimentary Articles and the NGS Monthly Complimentary Articles. These articles can help you with everything from research methodology to learning more about reading an NGSQ article.

2. The Ancestor Hunt QuickSheets

Ancestor hunt

The Ancestor Hunt is a great place to find links to online newspapers, but in actuality, the man behind the website, Kenneth R Marks, offers more than just links and videos about newspapers. Check out his Quick Reference Guide link for "quicksheets" on genealogical records such as probate, pensions, naturalization, and cemetery records, to name a few, as well as lots of historical newspaper information. He currently has 40 of these guides to help you with your genealogy.

3. The National Archives Palaeography Tutorials


One aspect of research that can be difficult is reading older handwriting. If this is one of your stumbling blocks, you'll want to check out the National Archives (UK)'s palaeography tutorials. Their webpage explains that “This web tutorial will help you learn to read the handwriting found in documents written in English between 1500 and 1800." Tips, tutorials, practice documents, and reference sheets for money and measurements make this a must-have for genealogists.

4. PhotoTree One-page Guides


Have vintage photos that you are trying to date? Not sure if they show great-grandma or her mother? PhotoTree.com's Identifying Photographic Types webpage includes 1-page guides to identify 19th-century photographs. Scroll down to the Photograph Characteristics section and click on the photograph type to learn more. This page with information about Daguerreotypes includes the various components of the framed photo so that you can understand everything about it, including what you can’t see in the photograph case.

5. The Newberry Library Research Guides


Make sure to check library websites for guides that can benefit your research—case in point, Chicago's Newberry Library's Research Guides. Although the library is in Chicago, these guides are a variety of genealogically relevant topics from Adoption records to Catalog Search Strategies, Germanic Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, and Royal Lines. Most likely, a search through the approximately 80 guides will reveal at least one guide you could use to enhance your research.

Yes, there's no such thing as a free lunch, but some generous genealogists and organizations provide free content that benefits the genealogy community. These five examples are just a few to explore.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Learning More About Genealogy Sources via Historical Fiction

Learning More About Genealogy Sources via Historical Fiction

I am a big fan of historical fiction stories set in the 19th or 20th centuries. I think the way that the authors incorporate historical research with invented dialogue can teach us as family historians interesting ways to tell our ancestor’s stories.

These historical fiction accounts might also uncover genealogically rich sources that we hadn’t considered before. Most of these novels have been researched by using genealogical databases and historical newspapers. In some cases, they are inspired by a specific source. That’s the case with the book, The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate.

The inspiration for this novel comes from “lost friends” advertisements placed after the American Civil War. These advertisements were placed by the formerly enslaved who were looking for family members that they had been separated from, hoping to reunite their families.

Lost Friends 3

From https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/index.html

These advertisements appeared in various newspapers but The Book of Lost Friends is based on one newspaper, in particular, the Southwestern Christian Advocate. According to the book,

In their heyday, the Lost Friends ads, published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper, went out to nearly five hundred preachers, eight hundred post offices, and more than four thousand subscription holders [in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas]. The column header requested that pastors read the contents from their pulpits to spread the word of those seeking the missing.

The newspaper encouraged those that had found family via the advertisements to report back. As Lisa Wingate writes, these advertisements “were the equivalent of an ingenious nineteenth-century social media platform.”[1]

Lost Friends 1
The author was introduced to the Lost Friends ads via the Historic New Orleans Collection which hosts a searchable database of the ads with digitized copies courtesy of the Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries. The database introduction explains that it includes 2,500 advertisements that appeared in the newspaper between November 1879 to December 1900. Researchers can search the database (https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/search.php) by name, year, or location.

Lost friends 2

For those interested in reading the Southwestern Christian Advocate, it can be found online via the institutional subscription newspaper databases offered by Gale. To learn more, see the Library of Congress Chronicling America’s newspaper directory.


[1] Wingate, Lisa. The Book of Lost Friends. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2021)p. 378. Additional information about subscribers comes from the database homepage at https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/index.html.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How To Read


I know you read the title of this blog article and probably rolled your eyes. After all, most likely, you know how to read, and you might do a lot of reading. I know that, but much of what we need to read for genealogy requires more than a mere skim. It requires an in-depth study of the materials.

Maybe the better question for me to ask is, “how do you read?”


Now I know this subject might seem odd for me to write about. However, I think we have all faced times when we let our minds wander while reading or where we just couldn’t understand the point of the text. I think this often happens because we treat reading as a “passive” pursuit instead of actively engaging with what we are reading. When we actively read, we engage with the text and ask questions, make notes, and maybe even look up facts or sources. When reading non-fiction for genealogy (books, journal articles, thesis, dissertations), you must do more than just “read” the text.

Gather your Tools

Yes, reading requires tools besides your reading glasses and the material you are reading. When I read, I have a highlighter, a pencil or pen (I prefer those pens with five different colored inks), and post-it notes (tabs or notes, whichever you prefer).

True confession time. Yes, I write in my books.


Now, obviously, I don’t do this to library books or books I borrow from friends. But if it’s my book and I own it, it’s fair game. After all, it’s MY book. Since childhood, we are taught “don’t write in books” “don’t dog-ear pages in books.” All good advice for borrowed books or the family heirloom book in your home, but it doesn’t matter for others.

If you can’t bring yourself to do this, they sell clear post-it notes that you can write or highlight. That might be an option. Other types of bookmarks (such as metal book darts) might be an answer for “marking” what you read. You can also choose to take notes in a notebook or via a computer program. 


You Don't Always Have to Read from the Begining to the End 

Aside from not writing in our books, we are also taught to read consecutively from page one to the end. Some readers find sections of a book optional, such as the introduction, acknowledgments, or index. When in reality, depending on the work, you may be better off skipping around a bit. You may be able to skip around to chapters that have more to do with what you’re interested in.

I recommended that if you’re reading a journal article such as NGSQ or the NEHGS Register, don’t read the article from start to finish. Instead, read the introduction and the conclusion. This tells you what the author sought to do and what they did. Now read the author bio. What is their background? This tells you something about where they’re coming from, their experience, or their take on things. An author who worked as a scientist will address a problem slightly differently than one who spent a career as an artist. Now, finally, read the footnotes or endnotes. Why? Read more about this below.

Study the Footnotes/Endnotes

I admit it, one of my favorite parts of a non-fiction narrative is the footnotes/endnotes. These are the part of the text that tells you the extra. It’s like frosting on a cake. Cake is good, but frosting makes it better.

Footnotes/endnotes provide additional information that may not go into the body of the text but are an important aside. They tell you about the quality of the research. From these source citations, you can see what the author looked at and, even more importantly, what they missed. These sources are additional resources for you to discover that might inform your research.

Related to the footnotes/endnotes is a bibliography. I go through the bibliography, highlight the books I need, and place a checkmark to the left of those I already own. When I was in graduate school, we loved bibliographies because they help us identify what scholarship is already out there on a topic. The same is true for genealogy. A good bibliography can help me learn more about a family, a place, or an ancestor’s life.


One of the techniques my high school-age kids learned in their English class was to annotate what they were reading. They were to take notes in the margins of their books, with the end goal being that when they later flipped through the book and read their notes, they would remember what the book was about. It’s sort of like your own personal Cliff Notes of the book.

So as you read, take time to annotate. Highlight text, underline words or sentences and make notes in the margins. Interact with the text, don’t just passively read it. Active reading will help you learn and retain more.

How Do You Read?

You’ve now heard what I think about reading. There are articles and books about how to be a better reader than you may want to explore. The article Getting the Most from Case Studies in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly by Thomas W. Jones helps to break down how to read a peer-reviewed journal article which is very different than a popular magazine article. You might also be interested in the blog post, Eight Tips for Deconstructing an NGSQ Case Study by Melissa Johnson. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren explains strategies for reading various types of books.

Let me know in the comments how you tackle what you need to read.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Introducing the Second Largest Genealogy Collection in the United States

Summer Research Trip: Allen County Public Library

You already know the one library that immediately comes to mind when we think about genealogical research - the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. But do you know about the second largest genealogy collection in the United States?

My first visit to this collection was this month, and now I'm wondering why I waited so long. The library with that collection, the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is worth your time no matter what location your research is focused on.

First, let me introduce you to this library. According to the FamilySearch Research Wiki, "Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center is the second largest genealogy research collection in the United States and the largest in a public library."[1] The collection includes books, periodicals, microforms, and subscription and local databases. Allen County Public Library's (ACPL) materials are available on Internet Archive and FamilySearch and the ACPL website through a digitization effort. It may seem strange to think about traveling to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to do genealogical research. Still, through the vision of a previous library director, the idea of serving genealogists grew to include this vital collection.

Gena Philibert-Ortega and ACPL Genealogy Manager Curt Witcher
Gena Philibert-Ortega and ACPL Genealogy Manager Curt Witcher

I talked to current Genealogy Center Manager Curt Witcher about this important collection and asked him the question that maybe you were thinking. "Why should people come to Fort Wayne to research?" Genealogy Center Manager Curt Witcher says that it should be your genealogical research designation for three reasons:

  1. An extensive printed collection
  2. Databases
  3. Excited, experienced staff

There's no doubt that Allen County has an extensive printed collection. You can see that as you walk around their location on thesecond story which includes moveable bookcases to make room for all that material. It's easy to dismiss a physical library when so much material is available online. Witcher stressed that although they are actively digitizing content, a large part of the collection is protected by copyright, so in order to research it, you would have to view it in person.


Like other libraries you may visit, the Allen County Public Library has databases, some for on-site use, and others available to anyone. While I usually head straight to subscription databases when I go to a library to research, in this case, I was especially interested in the databases ACPL created that are free for all. From the ACPL website, go to Explore Genealogy > Our Resources to explore both free and on-site databases. Of the free databases, the web page explains: "The Free Databases have been compiled by the library and its various volunteer corps or have been given to The Center to post on the web for free use by all. Each database can be searched separately. "What are these databases? A few include:[2]

  • Microtext Catalog: A searchable listing of microfilm and microfiche available at The Genealogy Center.
  • African American Gateway: Includes information from the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, and well as a few other countries. The links to websites in this gateway are paired with a bibliography of resources for African American research in The Genealogy Center collection.
  • Family Bible Records: Features transcriptions and images from family bibles donated to The Genealogy Center. Details include births, marriages, and deaths, as well as information from items inserted in the Bibles, such as newspaper clippings, photographs, and funeral cards.
  • Family Resources: Unique family histories and family files submitted by researchers who have granted permission for their material to be hosted on The Genealogy Center website.
  • Genealogy Center Surname File: The file can be searched to identify others researching your same surname. Contact information is provided to encourage collaboration. Contributors to this file are Genealogy Center patrons.
  • Native American Gateway: A resource for those exploring First Nations family history. Information on how to begin such research, links to materials from the National Archives and links to popular data are complemented by a continually updated listing of resources held by The Genealogy Center.

Curt Witcher's last reason for researching at the Genealogy Center was the "excited, experienced staff." The librarians at Allen County Public Library know genealogy. They are there to help you find a resource, provide help to answer research questions or even the best place to eat for lunch. Their support allowed me to utilize the library better and to find what I needed. Librarians are an essential asset to any research project, and there is no doubt that ACPL librarians are experts in genealogy and their collection.

Where else can you find ACPL content? The Genealogy Center is working hard to add digitized content online. Digitizing efforts via Internet Archive and FamilySearch focus on materials such as family histories, school newspapers, and manuscript collections not otherwise available. Allen County Public Libary digitized items in partnership with Internet Archive can be found on that website. You can also view ACPL's digitized items on the FamilySearch Digital Library. You can search the Digital Library's entire collection or just items from Allen County Public Library.


I asked Curt Witcher what tip he had for those planning a trip to the ACPL. His response was one that isn't a surprise but is crucial to making the most of your trip, "visit ACPL virtually before you visit physically." Curt added that you'll have a better in-person experience if you come to the library prepared than if you don't. I couldn't agree more. The ACPL website provides ways to plan your visit, from exploring the card catalog, exhausting online sources, and watching videos that answer questions about researching at the Genealogy Center. Don't forget to peruse the online collections at FamilySearch and Internet Archive so that you aren't traveling to view something available and downloadable online. I agree with Curt, but I also want to add that you should speak to a librarian as soon as you arrive at the Genealogy Center. You will find things so much more quickly once you receive a map and location guide for the collection.

I think the one crucial take-away I had from researching at the ACPL was that their collection is "Not an Indiana collection." Yes, they have a lot of Indiana resources, after all, they are located in Indiana. But they have so much more. The majority of the collection focuses on the British Isles and North America, but they continue to add materials that cover other locations. One of the newest additions to their collection is South African materials, thanks to a new benefactor.

During our interview, Curt Witcher kept saying, "everybody has a story." It was apparent that he believed that our work as family historians involves documenting that story, no matter what it is. The ACPL is a place to do that and I look forward to returning.

[1] "United States Archives and Libraries," FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Archives_and_Libraries: accessed 10 August 2021).

[2] "Free Databases," ACPL Genealogy Center (https://acpl.lib.in.us/explore-genealogy/our-resources: accessed 10 August 2021).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Library Essentials: What Do You Take on a Research Trip?

Library Essentials: What do You Take on a Research Trip?

You’ve probably read my previous posts detailing my summer of library research thus far at the Family History Library and the Clayton Library. This summer I will have researched at genealogy libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries in four different states. That’s a lot of research. There are some mistakes I made along the way and things I forgot. My question for you is: what is a must-have for your library research trip?

Going to the local library is a lot different than heading to a neighboring state to research at a major genealogy library. The preparation is different and the things you need to pack and remember can be different. And that can also depend on what is available at that library. For example, I didn’t make one photocopy at the Family History Library but that’s because I used a flash drive and my cell phone camera. In years past I made enough photocopies to need extra room in my suitcase.

When I take a research trip, what I take depends on:

  • What is available (research and technology wise) at the library
  • What I’m researching
  • How I’m getting to the library and eventually returning home (that impacts how much I need to carry)
  • How many days I’ll be researching
  • How I will get there (driving, walking, public transit)
  • What I’m going to eat.

Yes, eating is important. Straying hydrated and eating somewhat regularly (more so if you have health issues) is important and in the case of my latest trip it was an issue since many nearby restaurants were closed (lesson learned, always have some sort of snack on you at all times).

So what did I take? It was interesting to watch other researchers and compare what they brought versus what I brought. Some rolled around small pieces of luggage with their information. Others had 3-ring binders. In my research bag I had:

  • A laptop and charger
  • My cell phone and charger
  • A flash drive
  • A notebook
  • Pens, pencils, and highlighters
  • Removable sticky notes and tags (for my notebook)
  • A list of what I was researching/Research Log

Research Trip Supplies

I also sent myself emails of information I thought I might need such as research logs, to-do lists, charts and GEDCOMs. I prioritized what was the most important and went from there. I assumed that “stuff” happens and there were certain items I may forget but I could purchase at a local office supply store. If my computer died or my research bag was stolen, I still had those emails I could access on my phone or on a computer at the library.

Every night in my hotel room, I went over what I knew, what I found, and where else I needed to look. Sometimes this differed depending on what new-to-me sources I found or a librarian suggested.

Now how did I prepare? Well, I spent time deciding what family lines I would research. I then went through the library catalogs to find items that were not found elsewhere and not online. I made that my priority to research those things. I also chose multiple projects knowing that sometimes things don’t work out. In one case, a microfiche was lost and so I was unable to use that much-needed resource. Always search the catalog before going to the library.

Now it’s your time. How do you prepare for a library research trip? What do you take with you? Has that changed over time? Please share your experience in the comments below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Summer Research Trip: The Family History Library

Summer Research Trip: The Family History Library

You've probably read online that the Family History Library in Salt Lake City re-opened July 6th. During the last year I’d been promising that as soon as the Library was open I was going to travel to Utah to research. I didn’t make it to the Library on opening day but I was there a few days later.


This isn’t just a re-opening after the COVID shutdown, FamilySearch used the closure to make improvements. They aren't quite done with some of the construction but that doesn’t affect your ability to research. As of this writing, the break room that you can use to buy vending machine food is not open (it will be back in August). In addition to that, my experience was that many nearby restaurants, within walking distance, were closed temporarily or permanently because of COVID. To avoid frustration, make sure to call and inquire if a restaurant is open and their hours of operation as well as if they are serving dine-in customers or to-go orders only. Some popular restaurants near the Family History Library are not open including those in the Joseph Smith Building.

Gena Philibert-Ortega at the newly opened Family History Library. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega.
Gena Philibert-Ortega at the newly opened Family History Library.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega.

The Family History Library is currently in "stage 1" of their opening. Meaning that they are only open Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm. So if you’re in town on the weekend, you may want to make other plans. The Salt Lake City Public Library is open on the weekends and it is a beautiful building if you're a library fan like me. You can order a ride service or you can take Trax to get there. Stage 2 of the opening will include Wednesday evenings and Saturdays.

What’s New at the FHL?

So what’s new at the Family History Library? Much of the change is in the “look” and technology of the Library. New technological tools, brighter working areas, computer stations, and table space for researcher use are the most obvious changes. I visited the library months before the COVID shutdown and the changes are noticeable. Technology such as microfilm scanners, book scanners, and multiple screen workspaces are available. If you don’t like technology, that’s ok. There’s plenty of table space to use with electric outlets for your own computer or mobile devices. If you’re like me and would rather use an old microfilm reader, you still can in a special room, but for everyone else, individual computers with microfilm scanners are available. 

New Workstations at the FHL. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega
New workstations at the FHL. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

The ground floor is still the discovery area where visitors can learn more about family history. As you can probably guess, this floor was the busiest during my time at the Library. It was filled with families and tourists looking to discover their ancestors. The 2nd floor holds the US/Canada Microform Collection. Floor 3 is where you will find US and Canada books (they’ve added even more books, 50,000 were added donated in 2020!).


Family History Library Discovery Area
Family History Library Discovery Area.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

For those doing international research, B1 is the floor with the international microfilm collection as well as the map collection (check out the lighted map table and all those maps!). Although this floor is for international collections, all of the microfiche, no matter what country, is also located on this floor. B2 is the International book collection.

No matter what floor you are on you’ll find the technology that you need. But there’s also the old tried and true technology like photocopy machines. Gone is the photocopy area which you probably won't miss considering the other tools like book scanners. Even though there aren't a lot of photocopy machines, if you do need to make a copy, all photocopies are free! I overheard one volunteer state that if you still have a copy card with money on it, just exchange it with them for a flash drive.


Family History Library Discovery Area. Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega
Book Scanner at the Family History Library.
Photo courtesy of Gena Philibert-Ortega

Now, what if you need help? That’s no problem. Use a Family History Library computer (there's a Help icon) or your cell phone to take a photo of a QR code that allows you to summon help. Help, when you need it, where you need it. They come to you and if they can't help they will find someone who can. Each floor also has a resource desk where you can ask for help with research, using the Library, or the technology.

Get Help at the Family History Library
QR Code to summon help at the Family History Library.
Photos courtesy of Gena Philibert-Oretga

Prepare Before You Go

I have a few suggestions for preparing for a trip to the Family History Library.

  • Like all library trips, consult the Catalog before you arrive.
  • Make sure you identify more than one family history research project to work on. That way if you run out of ideas or you become frustrated with one family line you can move on to the next.
  • Prioritize your research using materials only available at the Library (books, microforms, or record images that are restricted to viewing only at the Family History Library or an affiliate).
  • Spend some time at the computers using the subscription websites available at the Library. The Family History Library Portal (available on FamilySearch computers under the Genealogy Websites link) is different than the Family History Center Portal. While they do share some of the same genealogy subscription websites the Library has more subscriptions.
  • If you need a break from research you can take advantage of what the first floor offers such as private interview booths and large family history pedigree chart printing (you must have a tree on FamilySearch to use this service).

I do want to say something about research “success.” Researching at a large library doesn’t always mean you’ll find answers to your research questions. Yes, I did find some materials I needed. One of my favorite finds was a 70 page will, only available online at the Family History Library. But I also didn’t find quite a bit of what I was looking for. That’s ok. I spent time reading articles and books, I searched subscription websites I normally don’t have access to, and I studied records that I’m not as familiar with. No library visit is a waste if you are learning something that will help you in the future. At the very least, you now know what records your ancestor does not appear in. 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Summer Travel and Research Vacation at the Clayton Library

Are you ready to get out of the house and do some research? I am and so I decided to make this a research summer. Fully vaccinated and with a stack of masks, I headed out on a road trip to see what I could learn about my ancestors.

My first stop was the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas. The Clayton began in the former home of William Lockhart Clayton and his family. Today its collections have expanded and reside in that home and a main building on the property.


What does the Clayton have and why should you care if you’re not doing Texas research? Librarian Sue Kaufman, Clayton Library Senior Manager explains “Visiting the Clayton Library is a great place to springboard your research. Our international collection of materials includes books from all over the United States and beyond. You will find answers to your research at Clayton in our geographic collection, our published collection, or with our expert staff.”

Like most genealogical libraries, Clayton is not restricted to materials only about the area it serves (Clayton is a branch of the Houston Public Library system). Clayton curates a national and international collection. Its onsite collections of books and microforms include all 50 states and various countries. This collection consists of

  • 100,000 books
  • 3,000 periodical titles
  • 70,000 reels of microfilm (from National Archives and FamilySearch).


They also have a digital collection that can be explored either from the Houston Public Library Digital Archives website or partially via the FamilySearch Digital Library. One highlight of that digital collection is the city of Houston death certificates from 1874 to 1900.

The library’s main building has two floors. On the first floor you will find U.S. and International book collections as well as computers to access various subscription websites, the library digital collection, and catalog. One the second floor you will find the library’s collection of family history books which includes a finding aid for the microfilm collection.


Online databases available at the Clayton include:

  • 19th Century US Newspaper Digital Archive
  • African American Heritage
  • Ancestry
  • Findmypast
  • Fold3
  • Genealogy Connect
  • Heritage Connect
  • HistoryGeo
  • MyHeritage
  • NewspaperArchive

For those with Texas roots, Texas specific databases can also be accessed. You can view the entire list of databases available through Houston Public Library online. Many of these additional databases are genealogically relevant but are not “genealogy websites” including the American Civil War Research Database and the Dallas Morning News Historical Archive. Probably the best kept secret is while the Houston Public Library My Link library card is free, non-residents can apply for one by paying a $40 yearly membership. Why would you do this? Remote access to many (not all) of the subscription websites available from Houston Public Library. To learn more, see their MyLink card web page.

In addition to everything that can be found in the main building, the original library, the Clayton houses a city directory collection and more microfilm.

Prior to traveling to the Clayton, I recommend that you peruse the online catalog to find what is of interest to your research. The online card catalog is found on the Houston Public Library website. Once you conduct a search, you can limit your results to the Clayton. This search includes all of Houston Public Library’s branches so to avoid frustration, limit your result’s list.


Don’t forget to email the librarians for specific questions about the collection. A great way to plan your trip and make the most of your research time is to connect with a librarian and ask questions and get suggestions for your research. An introduction to the Clayton presented by Sue Kaufman in 2019 can be found on the BYU Family History Library website.

How was my trip to the Clayton? I had two major successes while I was there. I searched a microfilm of court records and found a lawsuit my 3rd great-grandmother lost. She was ordered to pay over $200 in the 1890s to the plaintiff. A hefty sum for a widow with young children. Now I need to keep searching to find out more about that lawsuit and what it was about. I also found a book about the city she lived in. That book was released in a limited printing and the copy originally at the Family History Library was lost years ago. Luckily for me, Clayton had a copy I could look at.

Libraries are important. Checking multiple libraries for information about your ancestor is vital. To continue my research vacation I will next stop at the newly re-opened Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ll let you know what I find!


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.