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Why genealogists are thrilled and grateful to be back in the Family History Library

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Alison Lowe, from McKinney, Texas, celebrates as Lynn Turner, assistant director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library, hands her a welcome gift for being one of the first 50 people through the door as the library in Salt Lake City reopened on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The library was closed for 16 months.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

More than 50 people were lined up outside the Family History Library in Salt Lake City Tuesday shortly before 9 a.m.

The first 50 in the door each received a FamilySearch water bottle full of treats and other small items. FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood and others also greeted each visitor like they were an old friend.

A small cheer went up as the doors finally opened. Alison Lowe, from McKinney, Texas, triumphantly raised her arms in the air as she walked through the doorway.

There was an obvious buzz of excitement and feeling of appreciation as the Family History Library came to life following its 16-month closure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was just exciting,” Rockwood said. “There were primarily expression of gratitude — they were grateful that we’re able to open up again.”

Seeing the enthusiasm on patron’s faces has been the best part, said David Rencher, the library’s director and FamilySearch’s chief genealogical officer.

“We made a lot of people happy today,” Rencher said.

For Marilyn Shoemaker, of Holladay, and her cousin, Karen Cox, of Bountiful, the long closure was “painful.” The two 83-year-old women have been researching family lines at the library for 30 years. They were among the first 50 Tuesday morning and looked forward to becoming “reacquainted” with the library.

“There are some things you can only do at the library,” Shoemaker said with a smile. “We have seen miracles happen in our research here.”

“Family history work keeps us going,” Cox added.

The reopening of the Family History Library served as the first day for senior missionaries Terry and Donna Colyar of Peoria, Arizona, who serve as part of a large stuff throughout the library.

“We’re very excited. This is the first day we get to help people in person,” Sister Colyar said. “That’s a game-changer.”

Daniel Fotheringham was sporting a Los Angeles Dodgers hat as he sat at one of the new workstations, examining some Latin family history records. The 32-year-old from Salt Lake City was another of the first 50 into the library Tuesday. He liked what he saw with the new technology.

“It feels good to be back, to see this up and running, bring some life back to Temple Square,” Fotheringham said.

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People line up for the reopening of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The library reopened after being closed 16 months.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

There were young people lined up as well. Robert Clements, a 13-year-old from Laramie, Wyoming, used a large screen to read about the origin of his name. He and his family enjoyed seeing the changes in the library.

“I think it’s changed for the better,” he said.

Brice Newton, 10, of Nashville, Tennessee, came to the library with his parents as part of a family vacation. It was the Newton’s first trip to Utah and the young man wanted to know more about his grandmother.

“I want to figure out all about our family history since I don’t really know barely anything,” he said.

Returning to the library was meaningful for Trish Thompson, who is from the Bryce Canyon area, and her sister, Rosemary Pearson, of Spanish Fork. The two women had several books spaced out on a third floor table. The library has added 40,000 more books to its collection, Rencher said.

One book was opened to a page showing a map of Rutherford County, North Carolina, where the sisters were “hunting for the Hunts.”

“This is a place I want to go — Rutherford,” Pearson said. “It’s on our bucket list.”

Pearson’s eyes became moist as she talked about her passion for family history work.

“Just the opportunity to find my family for Heavenly Father, that’s my goal, to find his children so they can have their work done,” she said.

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Vanessa Newton, left, Lee Newton and Brice Newton get help starting a FamilySearch account for Brice from Diane Gomm at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The library reopened after being closed 16 months.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

How has the Family History Library changed?

Those who entered the Family History Library Tuesday found a remodeled building full of the latest technology. Crews used the prolonged closure to create new floor arrangements, add more lighting, bring in new workstations with adjustable desks and two or three monitors per computer and other technological upgrades. The library has more resources available, as well as a new break room and bathrooms on the main level, among other changes.

Thompson was clearly impressed.

“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” she said. “They have everything you could possibly need. It’s fabulous and so clean.”

What Rockwood is most excited about is the online resources available through the library. Patrons can access library materials remotely through the library lookup service, which is available in multiple languages, as well as the virtual genealogy consultations.

“The Family History Library is truly a global library now,” Rockwood said. “The online consultations ... are available to everyone. I hope this opening means as much for our patrons in Seattle and in Stockholm as it does for those in Salt Lake City.”

Rockwood also acknowledged the service and efforts of everyone on the FamilySearch team who made the reopening possible.

“A tremendous job,” he said. “I love the innovation. ... I hope the patrons will see and appreciate that.”

When will other buildings around Temple Square open?

The Family History Library was one of five buildings around Temple Square that reopened Tuesday. The list includes the Assembly Hall, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Church History Library and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

The Beehive House and the Church History Museum are scheduled to reopen on Aug. 2.

The reopening of the Lion House and the Relief Society Building will be announced at a future date.

To learn more visit templesquare.org or ChurchofJesusChrist.org.