Looking Back on a Fabulous Trip to Salt Lake City

Posted by:

by Evan Wilson

CGS’s first research trip to Salt Lake City in four years was a resounding success. We formed new connections, strengthened old ones, made significant progress on our research projects, and had a great time.

Though we had “met” over Zoom several times and some attendees came with a friend or a spouse, the opening dinner was the moment when we really got to know each other as a group. The energy was electric. We quickly made new friends and bonded over our genealogical projects and life experiences.

people seated around table

Clockwise from front left: Susan O’Brien, Judy Janes, Roger Janes, Vanessa Wood, Joan Loftus, Sterling Kinnell, and Diane Fishburn

people seated around table

Clockwise from front left: Ann Claesgens, Kathy Hill, Jean Pawek, Robin Crawford, Patti Melvin, Evan Wilson

On our first morning at the library, a FamilySearch employee gave us a thorough orientation and tour, where we all learned something new. Many found a favorite spot in the library and stayed there the rest of the week (with breaks for sleeping and eating, of course!). As always, I zeroed in on the third floor, home to the main collection of U.S. books. Others quickly got to know me as a constant scanner of books and a fervent advocate of that process. (During my time at the library, I scanned about 99 entire books). Others focused on microfilms they couldn’t access from home; worked with FamilySearch experts in foreign languages to cross national borders; made use of the high-tech workstations to access unique digital resources; or had detailed checklists that took them all over the library and through space and time. Through it all, we gave each other tips or tech help and the kind of emotional and mental support that we so rarely get when doing genealogy alone.

At our final dinner on Friday, we looked back over the past four days and shared our success stories. One participant, Vanessa Wood (who came all the way from Connecticut!), noted that she was able to do at least two things at the FamilySearch Library that she could not have done elsewhere: first, she was able to use LDS records that have restricted access. Even though her own ancestors weren’t members of the church, a distant cousin of hers from 1888 was, and had done ordinances for over forty ancestors; in many cases, the information she provided back in 1888 has not survived anywhere else. Another point Vanessa made was that the library is incredibly useful for studying ancestors who moved around, or who lived in places with complicated histories of political change. After all, where else can visitors so easily cross geographical and historical boundaries in their research? Here are her words:

Before heading to Utah, I had started looking for a man who was in Louisville, Kentucky in the late 1700s. Records pointed to him living in Baton Rouge (now in Louisiana) by the early 1800s. This area is difficult to search because it was French Territory, then Spanish Territory, then it was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, then it became part of Mississippi Territory, and finally it was part of Louisiana where parishes were formed and partitioned into more parishes. While at the library I was able to explore books and microfilm from multiple areas, but when I pulled a book of the Baton Rouge Catholic Diocese records–I found him! The ability to search through multiple areas and through multiple sources was a big boon of traveling to Salt Lake City.

Another attendee was able to extend her Hungarian line further and confirm a family story about her great-grandmother’s death, thanks to a Hungarian expert at the FamilySearch Library. Before coming on the trip, she had spent time building trees for her distant DNA matches, which led her to the possible parents of this great-grandmother. When she found her great-grandmother’s death certificate during the trip, it named these parents and suggested that a tragic family story about her death may be true.

Though I was maniacally focused on scanning books to add to my PDF library, even I had a small breakthrough on a brick-wall line. Thanks to the large amount of abstracted land records from multiple counties that I was able to scan and search, I was able to find a link between two “mystery ancestors” indicated by my DNA matches. The case isn’t solved, but every link in the chain leads to the next one and opens up new paths. It’s why I love brick-wall research!

Working with my co-organizer, Stewart Blandón Traiman, was a joyful collaboration. Having two of us present meant that we could respond to the inevitable surprises and challenges much more easily. We relied on each other’s strengths to create a unified team.

We look forward to you joining us as we continue this tradition next year and beyond! We are more successful when we work together.

More photos from the trip can be seen in the online album.