Why I Skipped Going to the Family History Library

writing-828911_640I recently took a trip to Provo, Utah. (Yay! Utah!) Provo is an easy 45-minute drive south of Salt Lake City. (Yay! Salt Lake City!) And guess what — one day of my trip had nothing scheduled. No meetings. No conference calls. Just freedom.

I had a rental car with unlimited miles and a schedule with nothing on it. It’s easy to imagine what any red-blooded genealogist would do in this situation: Jump in the car and head north to world renowned Family History Library.

But that isn’t what I did.

What I Did Instead

Caught up on email. Wrote. Reviewed some genealogy files that I brought with me. Wrote some more. Worked on an upcoming presentation. Wrote some more again.

Why I Didn’t Go

Frustration avoidance. The Family History Library can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a plan. (It can be overwhelming even with a plan!) Honestly, real life hadn’t afforded me the opportunity to sit down and make a research plan. I didn’t want to set myself up for frustration.

Quiet Time. Just because I didn’t go to the FHL doesn’t mean I didn’t do some genealogy. The time that I spent reviewing the files I brought with me was quite productive. I noticed some things in my ancestor’s probate file that I hadn’t caught before. I also made good progress on his timeline that I’ve been meaning to work on forever.

Didn’t Want to Add to the Piles. You know the piles I’m talking about. Those piles of photocopies that you bring home from any trip to the library. The piles that seem to grow exponentially. The piles that when you go through them later you’re on an archeological expedition. Those piles in my office are big enough already.

Why I Don’t Feel Guilty

My friend and colleague Mark Lowe has a wonderful theory about the need to “mull and ponder.” While we need to gather information, we also need to take the time to really go over what it says, to think about the implications, to consider what new paths of research it opens up for us.

I knew that if I went to the library for a few hours without a plan and without a clear goal in mind, I would simply be adding to the documents. It wouldn’t further my research and wouldn’t be a productive use of my time.

Instead of just adding to the documents, I spent some hours reviewing, analyzing, writing.

Yes, I had a free day in Utah and didn’t go to the Family History Library. And my research is actually better off because of it.

Have you ever felt guilty about not going to a genealogical hotspot?

Family History Library, Salt Lake City
The Family History Library (where I didn’t go on my free day in Utah).
Posted: July 15, 2015.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Excellent post Amy. I recently spent 4 days at the FHL. It was my second trip there. I went four years ago. I had months to prepare and did exactly that. However, I feel as if two of those days were spent in frustration. I found nothing of real worth and wasted hours and hours looking. I too would have been better served doing some of what you did. That’s not to say that the other two days of my trip weren’t wonderful. They were. But, I can totally see the value of not going.
    Diane at http://www.michiganfamilytrails.com

    • Thanks for the kind words, Diane! I think sometimes we put too much pressure to not “waste” the opportunity to go to a research spot like the FHL. And for someone like me who doesn’t make it to Utah all the time, it was tempting to go. But all in all, I’m glad I didn’t this time.

  • If I’d known you were coming I’d a baked a cake!

    Several months ago I was asked to volunteer at the FHL for a few hours to help some people who had traveled quite far to take some classes and do some research. I spent most the afternoon helping them use and understand websites they could have accessed at home. Occasionally someone would find something that would lead them to a book or microfilm that wasn’t online yet. But I couldn’t help but feel sorrowful that they hadn’t had the opportunity to learn the internet resources before making the trip so they could make the most of their time there. Even being close enough that I can run over on my lunch hour to look at a film, I tend to keep a running list of “to do”s to save me some trips and maximize my time. But next time you’re in Provo with some free time…I’m right up the road. 🙂

    • I will definitely let you know the next time I’m in town!

      I, too, feel sad when I’m at the library (any library, but especially the big “destination” libraries like the FHL or Allen County) and people spend it looking up things they could have done at home. I understand that not everyone has Ancestry at home, but FamilySearch…? And you can tell that if they had taken the time to prepare a little bit, they’d have a much better experience.

  • Even if you had wanted to visit a family history center while in Utah, you wouldn’t have needed to drive to Salt Lake City. The BYU Family History Center is one of the largest of the branch libraries in the system and could have afforded you a very rewarding research day with a lot smaller research crowd. http://sites.lib.byu.edu/familyhistory/

    • You’re right, Lee! They do have a fantastic collection there! And I opted not going there for the same reasons I skipped going to the FHL 🙂

  • You’re so right, Amy. The reason that I’ve had to deal with ancient piles of papers in what should be my work space is that urge to acquire data — even when I haven’t processed the data that I have. Discipline!

  • The past few years I have often gone *to* the FHL when I am in Salt Lake City for a BCG board meeting or other event like Retreat, but haven’t actually used FHL materials. Instead, I have used the time to write & analyze. I am soaking up the motivation from those around me and using the time I don’t have at home to do some concentrated analysis. At some point, I stopped feeling I had to get there at library opening & leave at closing, with frantic research in between. I think it was when I finally realized I would always have a chance to come back.