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

Friday, June 2, 2017

LDS Genealogical Resources at Brigham Young University -- Part One

From time to time, family history researchers who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wander into the Brigham Young University Family History Library looking for information about one of their ancestors who joined the Church. Most of the time, they are searching for membership record information or information about ordinances done in the Church's temples. Occasionally, they are looking for information about the ancestor's mission for the Church. on occasion, these patrons are overwhelmingly surprised at the resources available in the Library.

Because of the way that books and other materials are cataloged by major libraries, such as the Harold B. Lee Library, the main library on the Brigham Young University campus, LDS genealogical resources are scattered throughout the library but are concentrated in the BYU Family History Library and the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library. Both of these sections of the Library are integrated into and located physically in the larger Harold B Lee Library.

Even individuals who attended Brigham Young University are often unaware of the resources available for family history in the Harold B. Lee Library. It is also natural through its association with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Library should also contain extensive resources for LDS research and particularly research into LDS families. Surprisingly, however, because of the history of the Church and its worldwide membership and influence, the collections relating to the Church are surprisingly eclectic and contain other information of genealogical and historical interest beyond pedigrees.

In order to understand these resources, it is important to view our family history in its historical context. Historical research involves a vast complex of sources often overlooked by those focusing primarily on genealogical issues. Many family history researchers fail to connect their family history with its overall place in the national and local history of the areas where their ancestors lived. Much of the confusion and inaccuracy of what passes for genealogical research can be traced back to ignorance of this historical context.

Equally important, is the geographic information associated with genealogical research. Another major part of the sometimes obvious mistakes made in family history research is attributable to a lack of awareness of the geographic context of the events in our ancestor's lives.

From my own experience, it is very likely that most family history researchers, even those living in close proximity to a major university, are entirely unaware of the resources available at those universities. This is particularly true of the library's special collections departments. Unless a researcher has become acquainted with the special collections section of their library while attending a university, it is unlikely that they would become aware of the resources of those special collections libraries.  Special collections libraries are like huge vacuum cleaners sucking in manuscripts, books, and all other types of records. In some cases, these libraries concentrate on a particular geographic area or subject. But over the years of collecting, a special collections library might have items of general interest unassociated with a particular geographic location.

For example, my great-grandfather lived in a small town in northern Arizona. However, the largest collection of history about my great grandfather and the town where he lived his house in the Special Collections Library at the University of Utah, many hundreds of miles away from the town where my ancestors lived.Yet another important fact about this particular collection is that it would take a diligent search online to even suspect that information about a researcher's ancestor who also lived in the same small town would be part of this rather extensive collection.

For these reasons, it should not be surprising that the L.Tom Perry Special Collections Library might contain valuable information about your own family and your own ancestors. You can start by searching the library catalog using a variety of search terms associated with your family's heritage.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series.

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