Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Unique records at the BYU Family History Library

Most genealogists sooner or later become aware of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. What might not be quite so obvious is that there is another major family history collection in a huge library just 45 miles to the south in Provo, Utah. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah is probably the largest such facility in the world. It is very likely that the Family History Library at Brigham Young University in the Harold B. Lee Library on campus, is the second largest such library in the world.

What are the factors that make a library useful? More particularly, what are the factors that make a great family history library? As a subject, genealogy sections in both public and private libraries are not all that common. Genealogy or family history is a very broad subject. It involves many academic and practical disciplines. The places where pertinent records can be found include such diverse repositories as libraries, archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, court houses, warehouses, union halls, corporate record departments, cemeteries, churches, and a myriad other locations around the world. When we look at a facility that is dedicated to family history research, we need to consider exactly what the facility has to offer concerning a core selection of records dedicated to family history and how many other records that might be of interest are also available.

Brigham Young University is one of highest ranked universities in many academic areas in the United States. It has over 28,000 full-time undergraduate students and over 3,000 graduate students. It was founded in 1875 and is one of the oldest such institutions in the western United States. I have written about the library in other blog posts, but it bears mention that the main Harold B. Lee Library is a major research facility and ranks in the top 50 of spending of university research libraries.

It is important to realize that the BYU Family History Library is sitting inside of the main library on campus and patrons have full access to the entire university's library resources; maps, books, manuscripts, digital records, microfilm and so forth. The BYU Family History Library also has approximately 130 volunteer and Church Service Missionaries plus the paid staff of the Library to help with research. The Library also offers an expanding schedule of classes. See the BYU Family History Library Facebook Page.

What I think is interesting is that compared to the crowds at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the BYU Library is mostly used by students (which is natural and expected) but what I think is surprising is how few of the people living right here in Utah Valley know about the facilities of the BYU Library. I am always talking to people about the library and they are often unaware of its existence.

Now a few words about both the Salt Lake and Provo libraries. These two facilities are both owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its wholly owned corporation, FamilySearch International, Inc. The FHL in Salt Lake is located in a dedicated building on West Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. The Provo Library is in the middle of the large BYU campus. Parking is at a premium and visitors must walk from the available parking areas to the library. However, except for the distance, the BYU Library is handicap accessible. From my experience, parking at the BYU campus is not a whole lot different than finding a parking space in downtown Salt Lake, most of which is fee based. BYU parking is free. The BYU Library is open from 7:00 am until midnight Monday through Friday. It is open from 8:00 am until midnight on Saturday and closed on Sunday, except the Family History Library is open from 10:00 am until 7:30 pm on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month. The Salt Lake FHL is open on Monday from 8:00 until 5:00 pm, from 8:00 am until 9:00 pm on Tuesday through Friday and on Saturday from 9:00 until 5:00 pm and closed on Sunday.

Both libraries are closed on major holidays and BYU Library is closed between semesters. It is always a good idea to check the library schedule when you are planning a visit. The BYU FHL is staffed by volunteers and missionaries until until 9:00 pm or until the library closes on other days when it closes earlier.

Many of the records at the BYU Family History Library are unique. It is a research facility and there is assistance in finding the available items, but the library, other than the Family History Library, is mainly for experienced researchers and students. My personal experience is that both libraries have a lot of people to help, but finding a specialist in any particular area will depend on the schedule of those with that particular experience. You may wish to investigate the availability of help in any specialized area by talking to the library staff before coming.


  1. Nice! I bookmarked the site, but Provo, UT is not exactly close to where I live. Did you post articles on the libraries on-line resources, or are you planning to do so? I may have missed some because I hadn't checked the site yet, and the library is way too far for a visit.

  2. I completely agree about the BYU Lee Library being underappreciated. I was an employee at the genealogy reference desk in the early 1990s while earning my masters degree in library science at BYU.

    The Marriott Library at the University of Utah also has underappreciated genealogical value. I wrote an article for the July/August 2000 issue of Ancestry Magazine about doing genealogical research at the Marriott Library.

    This article is now dated, but a lot of what I wrote then is still valid.