Story and gallery by PORTER L. ANDERSON
The Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City has for many years been a free and open facility where visitors can come and conduct research about their ancestors. The library is the largest genealogical library in the world and attracts people from all walks of life to travel to Utah just to take part in the work that takes place there.
Recently the library has implemented a new interactive activity for those visitors who come from China. “The Genealogical Society of Utah and the Family History Library have always been working to build an open and informative experience for visitors of our great state,” said Yvonne Sorenson, the library’s administrative representative.
The Family History Library is located on Temple Square, which is the most visited tourist site in all of Utah. Temple Square is a large plot of land with many different facilities that are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Christian church that has a strong following in Utah.
The interactive experience that can be found on the main floor of the Family History Library is meant to be the first look into genealogical work for those who haven’t had much experience before. Visitors are guided by the volunteers that work in the library to several different stations where they are able to learn about famous relatives, facts about their birth, interesting stories about ancestors, and so much more.
The newly remodeled main floor has been open for almost two years but just recently the administration decided to create an experience specifically for Chinese guests who couldn’t take part in the regular activities due to lack of Chinese records in the library.
“We realized that so many international visitors would come to visit Temple Square but, we would often have to turn them away from our interactive activities. We wanted to help reach out to these people in any simple way we could to help the guests get excited about family history work while making them feel welcome to our facilities,” Sorenson said.
The Chinese experience has been in place for almost three months and the results have been nothing short of amazing. One of the translators for the library, Charles Garrett, said, “It is so amazing to see these wonderful people come to the library and be so excited to see that they can learn simple things like the origin of their last name. They just seem to light up and get excited to learn more about their families.”
While the program is still in the testing phases it remains very simple but, with the results that have been observed over the past few months, the administration of the library is really excited to continue building on the experience. “I would love to see the experiment we have created grow to a more substantial point,” Garrett said when asked how he felt about the future of the program.
While the future of the program seems bright, no concrete plans have been made to improve the activities or even keep them up and running after the test period is over at the end of the year. The patrons of the library are very inspired by the activity and seem genuinely excited to revisit the library if they were to visit Utah again.
“This was very interesting for me because it taught me a lot of information about myself that I didn’t know. I only wish the building had the materials for me to do more searching into my past,” said Li-Wei Chen, a visitor who is traveling from Shanghai.
This is the exact result that the library administration was hoping to see from these visitors. “We were hoping that we could build the excitement that we see the locals get when visiting but, we’re a little short on resources to do it. I think the team in charge of the program has done a wonderful job creating this experience and I hope that we decided to put more effort and keep the program for the long-term,” Sorenson said.
The library has access to thousands of genealogical resources but few of those are Chinese, which makes the program that much more impressive. The program being added for the long-term would be a great addition to the library but would also help the state of Utah as well. Creating global attractions like the Family History Library builds the state’s reputation as a place that welcomes all visitors.
With the inclusion of the Chinese experience in the Family History Library, it shows that the LDS church is aware of the importance it holds in building tourism and attending to the growing international attention that Utah is getting.
Sorenson added, “We want to continue to create a global experience here that can be enjoyed by all. The journey may be difficult and we may struggle to find a way but, we are determined to help all find the joys that genealogical work can bring to an individual.”