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Take a trip to trace your roots

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By Jennifer Dobner
Associated Press
  • More than 700,000 people use the Family History Library in Salt Lake City each year to research family records.

    Associated Press/Mike Stark

    More than 700,000 people use the Family History Library in Salt Lake City each year to research family records.

When Jan Gow makes her annual pilgrimage from New Zealand to Salt Lake City, it’s not to enjoy Utah’s ski resorts, red rock canyons or five national parks. It’s for the ribbons of microfilm and endless volumes of maps, cemetery and property records tucked inside the Family History Library.
The library, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1894, is visited by some 700,000 people annually and is widely considered the world’s largest repository of genealogy records. It’s a favorite destination for “genealogy tourists,” a devoted breed of traveler bent on tracing family trees.
The Family History Library’s catalog of resources — free for use by church members and nonmembers alike — includes more than 2 billion names of deceased people, 2.2 million rolls of microfilm, 300,000 books and 4,500 periodicals.
These resources make the library a “must visit” destination for anyone who does genealogical work, said Jan Alpert, who heads the board of the 10,000-member National Genealogical Society.
But it’s also far from the only place to go, Alpert said.
“In addition to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and its regional archives across the United States, there are a number of exceptional genealogical collections across the country including the Library of Michigan in Lansing,” Alpert said.
Also on Alpert’s list is the Allen County Public Library of Fort Wayne, Ind., where the collection of some 10,000 digital volumes includes extensive military history records, along with American Indian and African-American records. The library markets extensively to historical societies and other genealogy groups.
Web hits to and, two of the largest online databases, are also climbing.
Some research can be done online from home, but Gow, who heads the New Zealand Genealogical Society, said there’s no substitute for packing your suitcase and seeking out your ancestral home.
“To walk down the aisle of the church where you know your family ancestors were married, that’s really something special,” said Gow, who has traced her family to the 14th century and claims both Charles Darwin and William the Conqueror as distant relatives. “To walk through villages and sometimes you’re able to find their homes ... just even to see their headstones in the graveyard is really something.”

If you go
National Genealogical Society, Washington, D.C.:
Family History Library, Salt Lake City:
Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Ind.:
Library of Michigan, Lansing, Mich.: libraryofmichigan.
Libraries in many U.S. cities also offer access to genealogy records and make great places to visit on your hometown ancestor search.
Story tags » TravelFamily

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