A First-Timer’s Take On Salt Lake City

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Finally…my first visit to Salt Lake City.

The new year was but 10 days old when I found myself in the air and on my way to a place I’d only heard about in genealogy circles, but knew I would  someday visit.

This was the time.

It was Sunday, January 10, 2016 and I was on my way to SLIG–the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

I was headed there to take a much longed for course in genealogical writing: Writing a Quality Narrative by renowned author and family historian, John Colletta and his co-presenter, Michael Hait.

Among the topics covered by Colletta?  “Principles of Good Storytelling”; “Creating a Narrative from Biographical Facts”; “Using Historical Newspapers and Maps for Historical Context”;  and “Publishing your Genealogy or Family History as a Paper Book”.

Among the topics addressed by Hait:  “Editing & Proofreading”“Writing for Scholarly Journals & Magazines”;  and “Electronic Venues for Publishing a Family History”. Writing assignments, and in-class critiques of our own writing were also part of this content heavy course.

But all schools have their extra-curriculars, and SLIG was no exception.

With Laurel Baty, ProGen 18 coordinator, mentor and friend at a SLIG social.

With Laurel Baty, ProGen coordinator and mentor at a SLIG social.

From the Welcome Reception on Sunday night when I finally got to meet Facebook friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson in person for the first time, to the closing banquet Friday night where I sat with Laurel Baty, ProGen-18 Coordinator, mentor and  friend, who was kind enough to show this SLC first-timer around town all week–this was a week of non-stop learning, networking and simply nirvana.

With Joan Steiner, classmate and fellow midwesterner who came to Salt Lake for the writing class by John Colletta.

With Joan Steiner, classmate and fellow midwesterner who came to Salt Lake City for the writing class by John Colletta.

Little did I know that by the end of that week,  Joan Steiner, a fellow Midwesterner and classmate, would become my companion at the weekly, free, Thursday night “rehearsal” of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Thursday evening choir practice for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Free Thursday evening choir practice for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Don’t miss it if you’re in Salt Lake City.

(If only other musical programs I’ve paid dearly to see over the years could compare to this free performance by this world renowned choir–nothing  short of amazing!)

And of course, no trip to this genealogical mecca would be complete without a visit (actually multiple visits) to THE Family History Library–the largest genealogical library in the world housing over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books; 4,500 periodicals,  3,200 electronic resources, and much, much more.

Enjoying a bit of Italian fare with FB friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson one evening after class.

Enjoying a bit of Italian fare with FB friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson one evening after class.

What more could a genealogist ask for?

Don’t know where to start?  No worries. Mormon reference consultants and missionaries are more than plentiful helping you every step of the way, pointing out lockers and coat closets; restrooms and snack areas; and ultimately, escorting you (if you need it like I did) from one station to another.

Sister Phillip helped me acclimate to the Family Search computers, and Sister Brennan sat with me for 4o minutes (one-on-one!) showing  me the ins and outs of some Irish research (and yes, I found another marriage record for my Donar great-grandparents. Whoo Hoo, baby!)

Catching up with Georgia Sanders, a fellow genealogist and buddy from Florida whom I first met at the Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in 2014.

Catching up with Georgia Sanders, a fellow genealogist and buddy from Florida whom I first met at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in 2014.

And on SLIG night, when the library was overrun by new FHL researchers like me (doing research, taking classes, and having consultations), a young elder whose name I never obtained–as  it was just 10 minutes til closing when I approached him–well, he put a smile on his face and treated me like it truly WAS his pleasure to help me out, even though I knew darned well he was probably chomping at the bit to get home after a long day of helping others.

Now that’s what I call “service”.

I have to admit though, I was a bit anxiety stricken before hopping that plane to Salt Lake City, feeling unprepared, not sure what research to bring, or even knowing if I’d have much time at the library to work.

That’s when I called in the troops–former ProGen classmates Carole Ashbridge and Eva Goodwin who’ve researched there in the past. They put me on the path to less stress, basically saying “all is good–just go with it–help is just a smile away.”

A few titles found at the Family History Library in Salt lake City. Used to research Irish Desmond ancestors who emigrated to St. Lawrence County, New York, during the Famine era.

A few titles found at the Family History Library in Salt lake City. Used to research Desmond ancestors who emigrated from Ireland to upstate New York, during the Famine era.

They were right.

So for my colleagues heading to Salt Lake City next week for Roots Tech–the largest international genealogy conference in the world which is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees for the conference itself  and 30,000 on Saturday alone for a Family History Day–I offer these few bits of advice:

  • Lotion and lip balm–bring it, LOTS of it, you’ll definitely need it. (Thanks for the tip, Eva. You were right.)
  • Eye drops–bring that too. You won’t want to drop ten bucks in the hotel gift shop (like I had to) for a microscopic bottle. It could just turn out to be the best investment in personal comfort you’ll make all week.
  • And of course, water–don’t leave your hotel room without it.

You might even consider running the shower in your room for 10 minutes a day to increase the humidity in your home away from home. (A tip from Juliana Szucs, an Ancestry.com employee and  fellow midwesterner whom I was lucky enough to sit with on the plane both to and from SLC. She should know, as she’s been to that town so often over the years in the course of her work.)

Bottom line: If you’re not accustomed to exceedingly dry mountainous air (and this flatlander certainly wasn’t),  you’ll need all the humidity and moisture your body can suck up–trust me.

And finally, if the non-stop learning, networking, and nirvana get to be a bit too much at some point next week, do what I did one morning at SLIG–step back, slow down and treat yourself to a little room service for breakfast.

It will totally re-energize you as you take on another day in the city that’s synonymous with Family History.

Now, go!

IMG_0594Copyright © 2016 Patricia Desmond Biallas

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8 Responses to A First-Timer’s Take On Salt Lake City

  1. janinea says:

    I really enjoyed reading this and found myself envious of your going to SLIG. Thanks for writing it up! I was just noticing that the Midwest Genealogy Center’s spring conference is on Irish research. Maybe you should attend!

  2. Great post- from one first timer to another: you captured the experience perfectly!

  3. Lorene says:

    Sounds like a blast, Pat. You were already a good story teller, so looking forward to reading more posts to see if you’ve improved!

  4. Oh, Pat, if only I had known you were in that sea of faces at SLIG! I would have LOVED to meet you…maybe already had, but didn’t realize it??? I, too, was a first timer and found it a splendid opportunity in many ways.

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