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My First Trip to the Family History Library (A Genealogist's Disneyland)

Last week was my first trip to RootsTech, the annual genealogy conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was truly a trip of a lifetime. I came in a day early to get some research done at the Family History Library before I started attending classes.

Steve Rockwood, CEO for FamilySearch, was right when he calls the Family History Library "Disneyland". There were so many floors to pick from - U.S. & Canada Books. U.S. & Canada Microfilm, British Isle, and International records. I spent time on each floor as I started going through my family tree. When I first signed onto my computer, I did have the conundrum of which ancestor to start with. I decided to start on the British Isles floor to research my Irish ancestors.

My first few minutes on the British Isles floor wasn't uneventful. I needed to purchase a flash drive as I forgot mine at home. Luckily the library has one on each floor. I purchased the flash drive with no issue after inserting a $20 and receiving the change. I then inserted the change into the machine to get a copy card and nothing would vend. I though this isn't looking good. I broke the machine. Luckily there is an engineer on-site that came and fixed the machine and refunded my money. Lesson learned - use the bill change machine for big bills.

I was a bad genealogist and didn't prepare a list of records that I needed. I used the library's catalogue to start looking up some records for Northern Ireland. I figured I would start with the books since until digitized they are going to be the hardest to get a hold of. There were a number of books published by genealogical societies, the most helpful being the cemetery headstone transcriptions. I found a few references I was missing.  The scanners set up on each floor were very helpful. I was able to save my records to the flash drive and then pull up on my laptop to rename and attach to my Ancestry tree.  These scanners had a lot of helpful features including emailing the files to yourself so you could save on cost and double check your files are clear before leaving the library. I highly recommend you rename the files on your flash drive when you pull on your laptop to something descriptive of the source and ancestor. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to backtrack months later.

I proceeded up to the U.S. & Canada floor to see if I can make some headway on my Prince Edward Island (PEI) ancestors. I found a few references to my Rooney cousins in the book "The History of Vernon River Parish 1877-1977", where my ancestors served as sisters in the local church. I went through some of the indexes to cemetery headstones which referenced their immigration from Ireland as well as some indexes to obituaries from various newspapers. I found a reference to an obituary I'm trying to obtain for my 3rd great grandfather Philip Rooney who came to PEI from County Fermanagh. I'm hoping that it will have more leads to trace his family further back. I found a Patrick Clarkin, a native of the parish of Tydavnet, County Monaghan. That sounded familiar. My 3rd great grandmother Catherine "Kitty" Clerkin married my 3rd great grandfather Francis Dougherty in Tydavnet, County Monaghan. I definitely need to investigate more to find out about Patrick and see how he may fit in my family.

After lunch, I decided to try the International records floor. I've been having a hard time finding information on my Eastern European ancestors. I can get back to the country and sometimes the town based on naturalization records but then the trail starts to go cold. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything new but I was able to help a friend review microfilm record for a German marriage record dating back to 1688. I'm so jealous that she could go that far back! I can only go back to early 1800's/late 1700's if I'm lucky on any line.

Using the microfilm machines was an experience. I read a few blogs beforehand and was advised to try the electric microfilm reader to avoid having to crank as hard to scroll through the film. I found one that wasn't in use but there was barely any instructions. Luckily I was able to get a hold of an elder to help me with the machine. He was learning with me and we used the diagram on the machine to figure it out. I was able to pull up the record easily but it was very difficult to read - a lot of ink spots. My friend was happy that I was able to pull the record. I wanted to try to get a better image of the record so I used one of the manual microfilm readers. I was really struggling with loading the microfilm on the spool - thankfully there was another researcher willing to help me out. I was able to pull up the record after a few cranks (which you can really get arms like Popeye after a while) and it was easier to read.

My head was spinning at the end of the day with all of the different things I was researching all day. It's certainly easy to be overwhelmed when you first go to the library, esp. during a busy time like RootsTech week. I recommend that if you're going to go to the library, you use these tips:

1. Prepare a list of microfilm records/books you want to research (side note - you may not be able to see the catalogue description unless you're in the FHL or another Family History Center).

2. Bring a flash drive (or cash in small bills to purchase one at the library)

3. Use the catalogue to research books on-site

4. Ask questions if you don't know where something is. There are so many people willing to help.

5. Explore - it's an experience just going to a library like this. You never know what you will find.

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