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03 August 2014

The Search is on!- Researching at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Pt. 2

Our series by Daniel Spelce continues with his exploration of the collections and various resources at the main Family History Library, and a wonderful find. The FHL has an incredible collection of materials- 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, 727,000 microfiche, 346,000 books, serials and other formats, 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources, mostly for individuals born before 1930. Planning a trip with CGS enables one to go with fellow members and embark on your family history research.

Jane Lindsey presents an orientation to CGS researchers. Photo: Daniel Spelce

This morning provided orientation and introduction to the library, its collections and resources. Jane Knowles Lindsey, seen in the photo above, to the left, is our trip organizer. We gathered in one of the computer lab classrooms for a walk through of the online program.

Wall display of traditional Native American arts, FHL stairwell. Photo: Daniel Spelce

One of the benefits of genealogy and family history research is that the activity fosters a realization that our wandering ethnic tethers ultimately connect in a shared common ancestry, allowing us deeper occasions to appreciate one another’s humanity and rootedness in the rest of nature. This beautiful wall display in the first floor-second floor stairwell of the Family History Library recognizes the vibrancy, elegance, and wisdom of indigenous Americans.

Nancy Petersen (left) and the CGS group on the 3rd Floor, FHL. Photo: Daniel Spelce
Throughout the day the FHL fills with people, from the door opening in the morning to the key turning to lock it closed for the night. Many of us in the CGS group worked on the third floor, using the exceptional collection of books usually beyond our reach. Nancy Peterson works at the end of the table, near a window, in the lower left foreground of the photo (dressed in green). She’s joining Jane as genealogical sage for our week here. She and Jane have been co-leading these trips to the FHL since the 1980s.

Among my favorite Pete Seeger ditties, one sings out “Just when I thought all was lost…” Today passed with difficulty for me. After the morning orientations and lunch I felt ready for some discovery, some breakthroughs that would make me want to get up and shake a leg and call out with elation. Alas, the hours pressed swiftly past, quietly, intently, as I sought out the birth date, birth place, death date, place of death, and (just maybe) a cause of death for my great grandmother, Emma Buck Spelce, who died before reaching her 25th birthday. After searching, searching, searching, and scrolling through the catalog (serving as the FHL online catalog) imagining varying possibilities for finding evidence or record of Emma’s birth and death, I noticed the sun was throwing longer shadows. I leaned back in my chair to draw in a refreshing breath of air. 

While casting a gaze about the large room full of busy genealogists at work, I glanced at a mother and two daughters researching their shared history together. The young family historian using a cell phone to snap photos of pictures she found in books first caught my eye. She was using her smart phone exactly how I imagined myself using one-- which led me to buy into the cell-phone century in January. Then, there her sister historian drawing maps she found in the book she was using. Their mother was none other than Sarah Ahlstrom from San Jose, who worked alongside the growing scholars amidst their inspired concentration. Refreshed from this inspiring encounter, I resumed my own research.

A pair of young family historians at the FHL. Photo: Daniel Spelce 
As the afternoon waded further into the dimming sunlight, I noticed more and more young people of middle school-, high school-, and college-age showing up at tables and computer stations. A few with parents, but most working away with relaxed, confident but dedicated rapture on their own. I reflected on my experience as a high school classroom history teacher, the thick books weighing heavy with alien names, dates and places. I thought about how so many young people wandered, mentally and physically, in search of an engaging connection with their experience, with who they are.

Soon after leaving formal classroom teaching in institutional school settings, I found myself wondering just how could one foster a love of history and writing, share the knowledge, and develop the skills and wisdom to rouse that marvelous youthful exuberance to willful, broadly satisfying embrace of self, family, neighborhood, community, and nature. The people coming to the FHL to find pieces of their family stories are not a massing of the valedictorians of the school system. These are regular folks undertaking essentially academic initiative for its own profoundly meaningful resonance with who they are and who they want to be and who they’ve been, collectively, communally, spiritually.

From a growing store of conversations, I appreciate that these academic commoners think critically, wonder sometimes deeply, and imagine possibilities. Gradually over the months since my parents died, I’ve devoted time to seeking out my family story, including both my parents and grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, whom I've known personally, and also for ancestors and relatives beyond awareness, drifting aloof in some vague, ethereal void. I’m grateful for growing to appreciate people and nature for the vast webs of connections and experience our individuality embeds us in. 

The afternoon at the library drew toward closing, a library staffer counting off the fleeting chunks of time, as clocks neared the five o’clock closing hour. At 4:30 pm, Nancy looked across the table to me, asking how I was doing. I mumbled my continuing befuddlement. Rallying my spirits she said, earnestly, “Just go find a McHenry County (Illinois) history. Just go find the McHenry County section and scan the books. See what you find. You’ve still got time.” With renewed vigor and a call number in hand to guide me, I dashed into the middle of library stacks.

Soon I stood before the collection of books about McHenry County where I think Emma Buck was born. Voilá! My racing eyes settled on the Biographical Dictionary of Tax Payers and Voters of McHenry County, 1877. Organized alphabetically by surname, I found George Buck, Emma’s father (my great grandfather), married with Elizabeth Milledge (my great, great grandmother), living on 91 acres. The entry tells the value of the real estate and describes the farming activity and more. Emma was five years old at the time. I didn’t find Emma’s birth date, but I learned about the family farm I think she was born on. Tomorrow I’ll return to copy the entry onto my flash drive and continue looking over the books in this section. Perhaps I’ll find books describing church, school, and civic involvement of Marengo (McHenry County, Illinois) area residents. I also decided I’d use my cell phone to call the McHenry County assessor, the clerk, and the recorder to ask about the nature of the birth, property, tax, and voter registration records that might be on file.

View of the Rockies from the FHL window. Photo: Daniel Spelce
Ah, now I can rest. Isn’t the afternoon sun on the Rockies a magnificent splendor?

Enjoy lifting voices up and singing,

Thinking of going to SLC with us in April 2015?  Watch our quick and fun video from a past trip---We can't wait to see you in 2015!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.


Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Great story, Dan. It's nice to see young people coming into the library!