Pre-Introduction: Shortly after my 2001 trip, I gave this account of it on the first version of this website. Although the SLC Olympics have come and gone, the TRAX line has extended its lines, and prices raise over the years, much information here is still useful while planning a SLC trip to the FHL.
Introduction: While planning my trip, I tried to find online personal accounts of a genealogist’s trip to Salt Lake City and the Family History Library. While I could find genealogical groups mentioning a planned group tour, there was nothing as far as hints for planning a trip and personal experiences. As a result, I’m writing this article not only to tell of the great time I had, but also as a guide for anyone else planning a first time trip to the Family History Library, whether alone as I did, or with a group.
For years I had been dreaming of someday going to the “Disneyland of the Genealogist”: Salt Lake City, Utah. After summer classes at college, I knew I could use a vacation before Fall classes resumed the last week of August. So, armed with my student discount card, I found the best Greyhound rates. I had pretty well concluded the travel dates and shopped for a hotel by the discount ads in the free Southwest Traveler guide. (Note: Besides picking up the guides free at the local restaurants, coupons are also available online.) I called and reserved a room for a week, which was actually cheaper than a 4 night stay at normal price, and started really planning my trip. At that time I was also searching the Internet for any kinds of articles on travel to Salt Lake City. About the only truly informative site I could find was that of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. Not only is their website informative, but they also have the Salt Lake Vistors Guide, which is given out free in the area, or can be ordered online for a small postage fee. There is another guide which can also be purchased online, which includes coupons; that guide isn’t free, though, and prices are listed on the site.
I don’t think anyone could ever get lost in SLC. All the streets and house numbers are based upon their location from the Temple. My hotel was at 48 West 3300 South, nearly half of a block west from the TRAX 3300 South stop. The “3300 South” means 33.00 blocks south of the Temple. The same holds true for east and west streets. The Family History Center is just across the street from the Temple, between North and South Temple streets, and the TRAX has a stop on this corner of Main and South Temple, so it’s very easy to get around. Since the Greyhound station was also on South Temple, I didn’t have very far to wheel my suitcase to the TRAX stop. (One hint, when going South on the TRAX, don’t go with baggage during the weekday times people are getting off work and the cars are “standing room only.” The same holds true if leaving from your hotel and going North on TRAX between 7-9 AM weekdays, when people are going to work.) The airport is on North Temple, so all incoming transportation is very close to UTA lines.
One thing I learned about the visitsaltlake.com site is that the city has excellent public transportation, through the Utah Transit Authority. The full extent of it I didn’t realize until I actually saw it myself. As a result of their bus and trolley systems, despite the largeness of the city, I noticed the streets and area highways weren’t congested as compared to other cities of the same population, even with construction going on. And no smog! One of the most enjoyable ways to travel is the UTA TRAX system, which is a lightrail electric trolley. In the early 1900s, the city had electric trolleys, but in the 1930s were replaced by the bus system. In 1941, the last line was put out of service. Then in 1998, the system was revived, using some of the original tracks but new streamlined cars. The line goes north to south, from Delta Center, which is downtown SLC, to Sandy, a town approximately 15 miles south. Once leaving the city, the trolley tracks turn into railroad tracks, complete with lighted railroad crossings, which is used by the actual railroad during the “off” hours of the TRAX. To encourage workday commuters, about every other stop is a “park and ride” lot. With ample free parking, it is a perfect way to travel to work without having worry about getting a parking space. (By the way, the many public parking lots in town charge anywhere from $3 to $5, besides the streets having parking meters, so I would suggest the UTA system over renting a car for travel in town. And if you bring your car, leave it at the hotel.) The savings in gas is also a boon to potential travellers, versus the price of a ticket. While I was there, an all day pass (which is good on the TRAX and UTA bus lines) cost only $2.00. A one-way pass, which is actually good for up to 2 hours, is $1.00. Senior citizens can ride for 35¢. Of course, monthly tickets are also available. Tickets are purchased at the stops, with a machine that accepts dollar bills and change.
Once a ticket is purchased, the commuter only needs to wait for the next trolley, either “Delta Center,” going north downtown, or “Sandy,” going south to Sandy. The cars come every 15 minutes, so there’s never a long wait. Once aboard, passengers don’t have to show their tickets unless asked. It’s on an honor system, but should a UTA worker request proof of ticket purchase and the passenger has none, there is a penalty. The first time offender has to pay full fare, but a second time and it’s “serious.” Of course, I didn’t have to worry about this, since I paid my fares. In the week I was there, only once was I asked for my ticket. The TRAX had stopped in the middle of its route to the next station and two UTA uniformed men boarded. They went from passenger to passenger, requesting to see tickets. Then when the trolley reached the next stop, all who boarded had to show proof as well.
One thing I noticed right away is how many bicycle commuters there were. At the TRAX stops, there are bicycle logos painted onto the platforms. This is so bike riders can know where to stand when boarding with their bikes (no extra charge for bringing a bike, too!). The bicycle entrance/exit is at the front and back of each car. All the other entrances have hand rails in the center, but the bicycle entrances have just handrails at the side. That is so there will be more room to carry in the bike. Most of the bicyclists stand with their bikes, but if there aren’t many people in the front of the car, they will sit down on the first row of passenger seats and hold their bikes. These first row seats are also reserved for the handicapped and elderly, who get first priority over other passengers. For those who are in a wheel chair, there is a special ramp made on the platform, which is level to the trolley, and allows an easy entrance. The first row seats fold up so a chair can fit.
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the “Free Zone.” For about four square blocks downtown is the “Free Zone.” Anyone can get on and off either the bus or TRAX in this zone without having to pay. Although the current system runs only north to south, there are UTA buses that have stops at all of the TRAX stops, so a commuter can travel in other directions. While I was there, the UTA was in process of building a 2 1/2 mile east to west TRAX route, which will go from downtown to the University. The project is scheduled to be completed this Fall 2001, to be ready for the time they host the Winter Olympics.
In no way is SLC modest about its role in hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics. Everywhere I went, I saw some kind of Olympic statement, whether it were the payphones, a Coke machine, a Seiko clock at the Delta Center TRAX stop, or even the two sewer covers in front and behind the Salt Palace Convention Center. I don’t think any shop is without some kind of Olympic souvenir for sale. One place that sells SLC and Olympic souvenirs is Salt Lake to Go, which is in the Salt Palace Convention Center. I bought a couple of T-shirts there, then after I got back home discovered that if I had only looked in the Visitors Guide, there was a coupon for 10% off of anything at Salt Lake to Go, which would have saved me about $3.
The plate that holds the coins on this payphone at the South Temple TRAX stop has Olympic insignia.
The Coke machine at the Crossroads Plaza has a bright Olympic theme.
The Seiko clock at the Delta Center TRAX stop features both the countdown to the Olympics (when I took this shot, it was 179 days) and the regular time, 6:08 PM.
Even the manhole covers have Olympic insignia.
There are so many good hotels in the area, with a range of prices. I found many lower price ranges were past the UTA Free Zone. One thing I noticed on the TRAX was there was one hotel that was right next to the line, offering a discount for TRAX passengers. (These TRAX passenger promos aren’t limited to hotels, as you will see other business signs while riding the trolley.) Although it seems as if the city should be crowded, with the Olympics coming up in February 2002, the Visitors Guide features a letter from the SLC Mayor and the Salt Lake Convention and Vistors Bureau President/CEO, saying research indicates before and after the Olympics area hotels will have low occupancy and the ski slopes will be nearly empty as well. As a result, the letter continues, there will be big discounts on hotels and ski packages during those times.
Food and Sightseeing
All I can say about places to eat is just look around: they’re all over the place. If you’re not into fancy restaurants (or, like Jack Benny, don’t want to have to leave a tip!) there are two malls downtown with food courts. These are the ZCMI Center and the Crossroads Plaza, which are across the street from each other, and on either side of the TRAX stop. ZCMI (Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution) was started by Mormon officials as a co-op store to support local manufacturing, and keep the Mormon settlers self-sufficient. This was just after the Civil War era, and once the railway connected the rest of the U.S. to Utah, many non-Mormon competitors could come in and take away the local business. With the ZCMI, church members were encouraged to boycott those merchants, only shopping at ZCMI. All that remains of the original building was the cast iron facade, the largest of its kind in the state.
Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center
ZCMI Food Court and ZCMI Historical marker, telling the history of ZCMI Facade.
Clock at the TRAX stop, between Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center.
A little trivia on the TRAX platform–the X reads “…in 1917 Greeks were the largest ethnic group in Utah” and “9 out of 10 workers who built the railroad were Chinese”
On the lower food court level at Crossroads Plaza, I passed a genealogy store,
“Family History Discovery Shoppe.” They sell everything from genealogy t-shirts to genealogy “how-to” books.
The Visitors Guide gives an extensive listing of all kinds of restaurants in the area, along with price range and credit cards accepted. If you’re in search of a quick lunch while visiting the Family History Library, J.B.’s is right on the corner of Main and South Temple. They offer buffets during the lunch hour. I ate there one time, but with it being next door to a hotel, it was always bustling. Especially at breakfast time.
Dee’s is another restaurant on North Temple, just across the parking lot from the Family History Library. This year they’re celebrating their 70th anniversary, so while I was there they ran one week (Mon., Tues., Wed.) of a slice of Strawberry pie for 70¢. The next week, their sundaes were that same price for those days. There never seemed to be a big crowd there, as compared to J.B.’s, and Gina, who was often my server there, was very friendly.
The middle building (behind the dark colored car) is the Family History Library.
If you take the TRAX south, towards Sandy, there are many restaurants, including McDonalds and Taco Bell, all along the route. While going sight-seeing, I took advantage of my all day TRAX ticket and ventured to Sandy. On the way there, at the Ft. Union stop, I saw a Shanghai Garden Restaurant, a Chinese buffet. When I made my return trip, I stopped off at Ft. Union and had supper there. Their prices are similar to Hometown Buffet, but nearly all the food is Chinese. (Besides fortune cookies, there is a variety of desserts, including peach pie.)
Shanghai Garden Restaurant.
Just before I left Utah, I took a walk from the Convention Center all the way to Chuck-a-Rama Buffet, which is on 400 South, near the University, just to see SLC on foot and to try the buffet. While returning on 300 South, I came across many scenic old houses, as well as a monument to a cedar tree. In 1960, according to the plaque under the little “shrine” erected by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers:
Although willows grew along the banks of the streams a lone cedar tree near this spot became Utah’s first famous landmark. Someone in a moment of thoughtlessness cut it down, leaving only the stump which is a part of this monument. “In the glory of my prime I was the pioneer’s friend.”
Then, a plaque in front of the shrine from 1933 also by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers gives more detail:
The Cedar Tree Shrine–The street to the north was originally Emigration Road, the only approach from the east. Over this road, the pioneers of 1847 and subsequent years entered the Valley of the Great Salt Sea. They found growing near this site a lone cedar and paused beneath its shade. Songs were sung and prayers of gratitude offered by those early pilgrims. Later the cedar tree became a meeting place for the loggers going to the canyons. Children played beneath its branches. Lovers made it a trysting place. Because of its friendly influence on the lives of these early men and women we dedicate this site to their memory. Erected July 24, 1933 by Daughters of Salt Lake County.
Downtown the buildings are over 14 stories high, and more were being built.
Delta Center and Temple Square
The two last stops on the TRAX line north is Temple Square and Delta Center, just blocks from each other. The Delta Center houses a sports center, which will be used during the 2002 Olympics. While I was there, there was a big “doings” on the Delta Center grounds, sponsored by a radio station, which included a live music and games for kids. There were attractions there, such as a vintage fire engine and a humongous basketball.
Across from the Delta Center is the Devereaux House, portions of which date back to 1855. According to the plaques in front of it, it was SLC’s earliest mansion and was the most elegant in its day. Due to the railroad, this section of SLC became commercialized and industrialized, so the house fell to neglect. In 1971, the house was listed on the Register of Historic Places. Not many years later the Utah State Legislature purchased the property and the house and grounds were restored. The plaque shows photos on how the house looked at various times in the past, including before restoration.
The house and the garden fountain in front.
Plaques Telling About the Devereaux House; and William Staines and William Jennings
Temple Square sits on 35 acres. There is free admission to the grounds, including guided tours in 38 different languages. The Square includes the Museum of Church History and Art; the Family History Library [see details below]; North Visitors Center; Conference Center; the Mormon Tabernacle; Assembly Hall; Relief Society Building; Salt Lake Temple [for which there are no tours or entrance to non-LDS]; Church Office Building; South Visitors Center; Brigham Young Historic Park; Joseph Smith Memorial Building; Church Administration Building; Lion House; and Beehive House. I went on a tour of the Historic Park, and went on a tour of the Tabernacle. In the park, in front of the Temple, is a shallow pool with just enough water to reflect the Temple and the surrounding buildings.
Horse drawn carriage rides from Temple Square are available most of the day. I didn’t go on any, but each ride costs $35, no matter how many people ride together. A view of one of the entrance fountains.
Street view of Temple Square, and close up with monument.
The Assembly Hall and the Temple.
Reflecting pool by Temple. At the time I was there, a wedding had just taken place.
Fountain near the South Visitors’ Center.
Some of the many flowers throughout the Square.
A reflection of the Temple from a building on South Temple.
Inside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
On the 4th floor is the Family Search Center and on the 10th floor are two restaurants.
The Family History Library
The Family History Library
The Pioneer Log Home, next to the Family History Center.
Most of the information about the holdings and layout of the Library can be found at their Family Search Website. Also, upon arriving at the Library, you can go through a free orientation, which explains all the features of the Library. I stayed for about half of the orientation, but the speaker’s native language wasn’t English, so it was hard to understand through the accent. Though she was friendly enough, I decided it would be better just to “jump in” to the records and ask questions later as they arose.
It can’t be said enough that preparation is the key when visiting the Family History Library. One thing for which I wasn’t prepared was the effect the construction would have on my research time. Having a week to visit made a lot of difference. Had my visit been for only one day, my trip wouldn’t have been as fruitful. Besides some areas being closed off, many microfilm rolls were being re-filed into new filing drawers. Thus, when I needed a certain roll, I would go to the old drawer marked with its number and find it empty. Fortunately, the census area was still intact, and I spent a much time there, finding stray cousins who had moved to different states since the 1910 census. The census roll files are the same as I was accustomed to at the local Family History Center. Self-serve in getting out and self-serve in putting the film away.
Then there was the power outage. A man at the reader next to mine commented that this has happened several times, where one of the construction workers will get the wrong wire and all the electricity goes off. The one time it happened to me, it was about half an hour, so I decided to go on downstairs and look at the books. Though the lights were off all over the building, the main floor still had some light from the large windows. I went through some books for about 15 minutes, then heard on the intercom that all the lights were back on except for the main floor that I was on. I hurried back upstairs, and got back to my reader, surprised that no one had taken it. I had left the microfilm in it (I had been told to leave it, since there’s no way I could re-file it in the dark), and was glad I hadn’t rewound it, since it had been right at the page I was going to read when the lights went out.
I quickly found in order to get a film reader, I had to be there no later than an hour after the Library opened. There is an advantage of not going alone to the Library–a friend can help watch your machine while you’re visiting the restroom or making copies. It’s a general rule if a person leaves a reader for more than half an hour, it’s given to someone else. When it’s “crunch” time and the readers are at a premium, then the time limit is ten minutes before someone else gets the reader. Yet, sometimes people don’t even wait ten minutes before taking it. One day I had gone to get a new roll of microfilm, gone only two minutes, and someone had taken my reader, despite my things being at the reader and the table light being on. (We are asked to turn off the microfilm reader light when there is no film in it, to save on the expensive bulbs, but the side table light can remain on while we have our reader.) I was able to reclaim my reader, but then another time I’d used the restroom for less than three minutes (I timed myself that time!) and when I came back, someone was moving my things and about to use my reader. I was able to get it back after letting them use it “for just five minutes.”
As for the readers themselves, on the U.S./Canada census floor all are projection readers, of high magnification. It makes it handy when reading soundex cards, but hard when wanting to read the entire census page at a glance. There is a row of readers in the very back which is even higher than 42 X, so all that shows up is about 25% or less of the census page, magnified, making it nearly impossible to browse. The best readers, in my opinion, are in the first row, near the census cabinets. Not only is less time involved in getting and exchanging micofilm, you don’t have anyone backing into you from a chair on the opposite side. Another thing I liked was the ceiling lights were on in that row, making it easier to check my notes–all the other rows of microfilm readers didn’t have any ceiling lights on. As an experiment, I had my digital camera with me — I thought I’d try to see if I could photograph the projected census images. I did and the images came out great. But the next day I tried more shots and the pictures didn’t turn out well. I realized that the ceiling lights had been turned off and had taken away the quality. They remained off for the rest of my time in Utah, but at least I know my “experiment” worked.
Since I knew I would “lose” my reader during my lunch break, I learned to keep my California lunch schedule (1 PM California time=2 PM Utah time) and upon returning from lunch, to do research on the main floor with the books, or go back to the U.S./Canada census floor and go through the census index books there for an hour or two. Sometimes I’d go back to the hotel at lunch time and return around 4:30 PM, when the crowd had lessened. Even though the main floor had enough books for everyone, chairs at the tables were sometimes as rare as the microfilm readers upstairs. At those busy times, I had to find a desk chair (the kind like in high school, with the folding arms to use as a desk), which still made it awkward when transcribing from a large book. I finally got to the place I’d find a book and just stay in the aisle, sitting on one of the step stools, as there were several there per aisle.
The limit of books (or microfilm rolls) a person can take out is five at a time. The first and last shelves on an aisle have one shelf that is red. Returned books are placed on the red shelves, which the volunteers will put away. I was told by one of the other patrons that it is preferred for us to return the books to the red shelf on the aisle we got the books, such as returning a KY book back to the red shelf on the KY aisle. I noticed some were doing this and some weren’t, but it is good courtesy to do so to help out the volunteers.
The way to get copies has improved since the last time I’d read how things were done at the library. I’d heard before that it was needful to bring as much rolls of quarters, dimes, and nickels as possible for the copy machines, as there were long lines at the Library change machines. Now the copy machines are run by a card, which can be recharged for more copies. The card costs 60¢ and any other money you put in the machine goes toward copies. The volunteers told us that when recharging the card, be sure to stick the card into the machine first, or else the money for recharging the card will instead go to buy a new card. After purchasing the card, I had to go to another volunteer who had me to sign my card and wrote down my info in her book. I don’t know the reason for this, unless in case a card is lost, there’s more chance of it getting recovered. I was told to always remove my card before leaving the machine (sort of like trying to remember to remove your ATM card from the ATM machine: most don’t forget). Yet once when I went to copy a book, I did find someone’s card left in the machine, which I immediately gave to a volunteer.
Copies from microfilm rolls costs 23¢ each, while the regular copies from photocopy machines are only 5¢ each. Volunteers are always around to assist until you get the hang of how the machines work. The microfilm copier was the hardest for me, in knowing which way to pull the levers to center the film for printing. Once the card is inserted into the copy machine, a readout tells how much money is left on the card for copies. Before and after each copy is made, the balance is updated on the readout. The cards never expire, so they can be used for future trips. Even if all the money has been used from it, it’s good to keep the used card so it can be recharged “next time” without having to buy a new card.
Three last things to summarize: lockers, backpacks and the lunch room. The Library does have lockers, which are 10¢ each to use, for storing whatever you don’t want to keep with you, such as a packed lunch. I kept all my notebooks, charts, etc. in my backpack and ate out, so I didn’t need a locker. At first I wondered if I could carry my backpack inside, and asked at the information desk. I was told that they are allowed and nearly everyone uses them here. I was greatly surprised, as at some places backpacks are discouraged unless they are clear see-through. For security, there are detectors at the exit, to ensure no one leaves with any of the Library’s items. A sign reads that if the detector goes off, the person in question will be subject to a search. As for a lunch room, there is a room on the main floor (if I remember right, it’s near the lockers) where people can eat their packed lunch.
In all, it was a very fun vacation, both for genealogy research and sight-seeing. I’m hoping to return by next year and see what I missed during the construction in both the Library and the downtown streets. What would really be neat is if some of us could get together and meet there to do research together from all over the U.S.
I hope this “tour” has been informative for you and has whetted your genealogy-bug appetite to either make a visit for the first time, or return and see all the new things since your last trip.