Columns Events

My week in Salt Lake City – part 1

For many years I said, as a genealogist I should at least once in my life visit Salt Lake City. This city in the state of Utah is seen as the center of the genealogical world. The LDS church (also known as the Mormons) has its headquarters here and supports genealogy in an extraordinary way. For this reason, Salt Lake City hosts each year, since 2010, the biggest genealogy conference in the world: RootsTech.

In 2017 I had plans to go to RootsTech. When these plans became more real, I got excited but scared too. The thought of being on a plane for eleven hours literally made me sick. So, I decided it was not the right time. One year later, the idea came up again. I thought about it, doubted very much if I should go or not. This time major changes in my life gave me the idea that I could not leave my life behind for almost two weeks to go to the United States.

Then on October 31st I received an email from Sue McNelly. I had won her competition and received a free pass to attend RootsTech 2019. At first I could not believe this to be true, but Sue confirmed me that all was for real. It had to be like this, I had to go to Salt Lake City. Now or never. The next day I booked my plane. I would leave Amsterdam on February 22nd and fly back on March 4th, eleven days or ten nights.

There were four months to go, but all these weeks went by so fast. And before I knew it, it was time to fly to Salt Lake City. For some reason I was more relaxed on the plane than I had imagined. Okay, ten hours is a long time but I survived. I arrived in my hotel on Friday afternoon, at 3.00pm. I did not feel too tired, so I walked a few blocks to see where I had to go to find the convention center, Temple Square and other buildings.

Homewood Suites by Hilton, my hotel in Salt Lake City

Saturday and Sunday were reserved for sightseeing. The first day of the weekend I walked to Temple Square, visited the South Visitor Center and spoke with two sister missionaries about the Temple. Then I walked to City Creek Center, a large shopping mall, where I bought a new charging cable for my iPhone. I met Marie Cappart from Belgium. We visited the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and had lunch together.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Before I left the Netherlands I was already very sure that I wanted to attend a LDS church service and to hear the famous Tabernacle Choir. I was advised to go to the Tabernacle on Sunday morning to be part of the weekly live broadcast ‘Music and the Spoken Word’. And so I did. I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the music and the message. The theme of this weeks broadcast was ‘Embracing Civility’. It later inspired me to write a Facebook post about it. This Sunday had only begun. By the time I left the Tabernacle, the sun was shining and it was lovely weather for a tour. Several sister missionaries were out on Temple Square taking visitors for tours. I joined one of the tours and learned more about the history of the LDS church. At the end of the tour I asked the two sister missionaries if they could take me to the right entrance of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to attend the service in the chapel of this building. They brought me there and while we were talking about what I could expect, people suddenly raised and one man was entering the chapel. It turned out to be President Russell Nelson, the prophet. I had no idea what all the commotion was about, until I learnt that his position in the LDS church is comparable with that of the pope in the Roman Catholic church. This way the service became very special for everyone attending, me included.

The Tabernacle Choir

Salt Lake City is not only known in the genealogical world for the RootsTech conference, but mostly for the huge Family History Library with genealogical sources from all over the world. I spent two days in the library, the first day working on case of a German-Dutch family and the second day on case with an Indonesian family. It was good to get a tour from Luana Darby, a local genealogist who knows everything about the Family History Library (FHL). There are five levels: one general visitor center on the main floor, two floors with US and Canadian sources, one floor for the British Isles and one for international sources. I spent all my time on the international floor. Here I also met Sue, the fellow genealogist whose free RootsTech pass I won.

Sue McNelly and me in front of the Family History Library

Attending RootsTech also means meeting other genealogists. One may call it networking, but to me it was more meeting people in person who I had known through the internet for many years. In those first days of the week there were a couple of moments where I shook hands with or hugged those fellow genealogists. On Sunday I had dinner with a group of sixteen people, organized by Pat Erickson aka Dear Myrtle. On Monday I had lunch with a couple of genealogists that took part in a special edition of the weekly broadcast Mondays with Myrt (see video, scroll to 1h:27m:50s). I was also invited to the Commonwealth dinner, that evening. Those days were a wonderful experience. The good things was, RootsTech still had to begin! Read more about that part of my trip in a second post.