Published October 31, 2017

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Seeing my family free graphically presented at the Family History Library’s Discovery Experience center.

SALT LAKE CITY – As someone who was a first-career journalist (and an “old school” journalist at that!), I do love the occasional times I can put a dateline on a “Roots & Branches” column.

I’m not quite old school enough to have worked when datelines actually had dates (the original usage, in the days when news traveled more slowly, was to show both the location and date of the report’s origin … but with the advent of nearly all news stories being reported the same or next day, the date was dropped but the place is still listed when the report comes from a distance).

And over the years, what with closing in on 20 trips to Salt Lake City and its genealogy jewel, the Family History Library, I’ve used the “Salt Lake City” dateline on this column more than any other.

In 1998, when I first started visiting the library, situated on one side of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Temple Square, FamilySearch.org was still in the testing stage.

Not quite 20 years later, the Mormon website – along with other big hitters such as Ancestry and MyHeritage – has eclipsed the library in many ways, allowing those interested in genealogy instant desktop access to digital image of so many original records that many no longer visit the library.

This is something I continually re-examine (studious readers of “Roots & Branches” will recall this topic at least a couple of times before in the last few years) because I don’t like thinking that I’ve reached “old fuddy duddy” status with a “stuck in the past refrain.”

Despite the progress that FamilySearch has made to meet its goal of digitizing its entire microfilm collection by 2019, I’m still a fan of the library.

One reason is that half of me remains a “Gutenberg man” who’d much rather look at something in print or even scrolling through microfilm as compared to scrolling digitally.

I like getting as close to an original document as possible – you lose some smaller or greater amount of contact with that original with each generation away from it (Related to this is that a lot of times in digital collections, it’s tough to determine whether you’ve looked at an entire record set or volume or just a part of it).

But even more importantly, the expertise of the paid staff at the Family History Library is without peer.

Whether it’s translating German script … or giving granular detail about a subject such as tax records … or showing research aids for British Isles genealogy – the library staff members are the ticket to genealogical knowledge.

Until I can duplicate that sort of interaction from my desktop, I’ll heading to Salt Lake every now and again.

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy. Contact him either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042 or by e-mail to james@beidler.us. Like him on Facebook (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.