For people tracing their roots, the Family History Library on Temple Square In Salt Lake City qualifies as a holy place.
It’s really quite remarkable. The library’s five floors contain more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; and over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources. Staff members and volunteers can help you find books and records, analyze what you uncover, identify your next research steps, and translate non-English documents. They can even help you decipher old-fashioned handwriting. You can bring your own computer and use their WIFI as well as their subscriptions to websites such as Ancestry.com. (You can also search many of their records from home via www.familysearch.org.)
The reason why the LDS Church is so strong on genealogical research relates to the practice of proxy baptism. Here’s what the LDS website has to say about this practice:
Many people have died without receiving a valid baptism, and they cannot undergo this precious ritual as mere spirits. “Because all on the earth do not have the opportunity to accept the gospel during mortality, the Lord has authorized baptisms performed by proxy for the dead. Therefore, those who accept the gospel in the spirit world may qualify for entrance into God’s kingdom.” . . . One thing that should be made perfectly clear about Mormon baptisms for the dead is that each deceased soul has the personal choice to accept or reject it. There is nothing in Mormonism that states that the person who is being baptized by proxy must accept this ordinance; he or she is simply given the opportunity to choose.
Good for them, I say, especially since they make all these wonderful resources available to non-members.
When I visited the library, I first watched a brief orientation video and then was guided into the main room of the library. There I was matched with a woman who became my personal guide, sitting next to me at a computer as she taught me the basics of searching records. Within a short period of time she helped me find pages from the 1930 census that showed information on my father and grandfather and the rest of my family. Seeing their names written in long hand on that sheet of paper was oddly moving. I could begin to see the thrill of the chase experienced by genealogy fans.
An hour later I emerged, having hop-skipped my way through ten different websites until I came across the information I had most wanted to find. I now had the name of the town in Norway from which my grandfather’s parents had immigrated: Hadeland. A quick Google search gave me a map of its location south of Oslo. It’s a farming community, and there’s a famous Viking burial site there. Hmmm….methinks there is a trip to Norway sometime in my future.
(And to think it’s a journey that will have started at a library computer in Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.