The Baker Street Irregulars of Genealogy

by Lynn Tilton

Associate Editor

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    About 80 years ago the most popular fictional detective was Sherlock Holmes. The notable Mr. Holmes successfully solved complex crimes through his attention to minute detail. Often his tips would come from a cadre of London youth dubbed “The Baker Street Irregulars.” These youth emulated Holmes through their ability to notice what was happening about them.

    Today, from Saint David, Arizona; to Canberra, Australia; from Huddersfield, England; and Johannesburg, South Africa; to Brigham City, Utah, there exists a similar cadre of youth. Rather than searching for clues to solve crimes, they are sorting through mounds of information about their forebears. The search leads them through trunks, family Bibles, faded yellowed papers, and microfilmed copies of legal and religious records from the various lands of their heritage. They are trailing the most elusive of all quarry, the missing ancestor.

    Fortunately, today’s youthful researcher has a valuable tool unavailable 80 years ago, the branch genealogical library. There are some 231 scattered throughout the world, though principally they are located in the U.S.

    Started in 1963, the branch library system has generated so much interest that 5,000 requests a week for microfilmed copies of various records are received in Salt Lake City, according to Katie Boggs, assistant coordinator of the program.

    She further stated that through the branch library, genealogists, members and nonmembers alike may draw on 1.14 million rolls of microfilm stored in the Church’s Genealogical Library.

    “The youth are so enthusiastic it’s neat,” she said, adding, “It’s great to see their interest. They are an asset because they are usually accurate in their work.”

    She said that many youth have completed large segments of their genealogy through their diligence. Much of their researching is done through local branch libraries. The one in Brigham City, Utah, is representative of the libraries in the system. It is located on the corner of Forest and 400 East, just across from the junior high school, and is staffed by local genealogy experts who are able and pleased to offer assistance to earnest genealogists.

    Two typical youth researchers utilizing the library are Joanne Peart and Michele Packer, classmates at the school across the street.

    Joanne reported the first requirement for the new researcher is to verify existing records. For some this can be done through a check of family legal records. Then the search leads through ward records maintained at the library and records from the four-generation program.

    Following those steps the genealogist will wish to check the Computer File Index (CFI). The CFI is a listing of all temple work done from the beginning in the 19th century through 1975. After the CFI has been checked, the search through microfilm begins in earnest, Joanne said.

    Each branch library has a card catalogue for ordering the film the researcher believes may contain the needed information. A nominal sum is charged, but the film may be kept for as long as six months, if necessary.

    Sister Boggs said that it takes about 15 days to process a request. She also noted that some film is restricted for use at the main library only. “This is usually done at the request of the organization that has given us permission to microfilm their records. In that case the patron will need to contact a researcher here and have the search done,” she said.

    Michele noted that in addition to the microfilm available, the branch libraries also stock books offering instruction in research techniques. Classes, too, are scheduled, Michele said. These are usually specialized and teach how to best do research involving specific countries and specific time periods.

    “I like to find people we’ve been looking for for a long time,” Joanne said. Michele echoed the sentiment, adding that reading microfilm is particularly interesting. Their expanding books of remembrance testify to their diligence, and to the diligence of other modern Baker Street Irregulars.

    Photography by Eldon Linschoten

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn