Unearth Genealogy Treasures With PERSI: Part 1Jan 26, 2022
Genealogical and historical society periodicals can provide a wealth of information pertinent to your research, from short family history articles to instructional articles, to transcriptions and abstracts of records. But, if you’re like me you can’t afford to be a member of all the societies tied to the places your ancestors lived. And, what about all those back issues that could hold must-see treasures? There has to be a way to find these wonderful gems, right? Why, yes there is! It’s called the PERiodical Source Index, or PERSI for short. In this 3-part series, I’ll show you how to use PERSI to find genealogical and historical society journal and newsletter articles relevant to your research. In this particular article, I’m going to show you what PERSI is and why you need to add it to your genealogy toolbox.
What is PERSI?
PERSI is a subject index that was developed in 1986 by the Allen County Public Library in an effort to catalog the articles found in their vast collection of genealogical and historical society periodicals. Initially published in print, and later CD-ROM editions, PERSI eventually found its way to Ancestry and HeritageQuest. Today, PERSI is available for free through Findmypast, however, the Allen County Public Library recently started hosting the database on their own website, with some new search features that are really a great addition. I have not been able to find out if the database will remain available at Findmypast or not.
Again, PERSI is a subject index, not a surname index. Therefore, unless the person’s name is in the title of the article, they will not be indexed. However, there are plenty of articles about a specific person or family, where surnames and even full names are part of the title, so don’t neglect this type of search.
Here are a few examples of articles where the title contains the name of the main person(s) of the article:
- “Agnes Smith Webster Ancestry,” The American Genealogist (29:2)
- “Eli Wbster, County Gentleman, b. 1856,” Carroll Cousins (24:4)
- “Cahill Ancestry, Calvin Price Webster-Betsy Parks, 1825+, NY, CT, NY,” Acorns to Oaks (32:3) Fun Fact: This article was written by the editorial staff based on my family group sheet submission.
In fact, Allen County Public Library’s new database is making it easier to search for articles that contain surnames in the titles as opposed to general words. For example, searching Webster in the surname search gives me 924 entries, whereas a keyword search gives me 1,602 entries, including those 924. The other articles mainly include titles where Webster is a place name.
Why Use PERSI?
Let’s talk about why PERSI a valuable tool and how it can help you with your research. With nearly 3 million articles from more than 8,000 periodical titles from the nineteenth century to the present, you’re bound to find something that can help you with your research. Whether it’s an article about a family in your tree or an article teaching you how to use tax records, there’s something for everyone. Here are seven different article types that you may want to look for.
Note: Even though PERSI does contain index entries from mainstream periodicals such as Family Tree Magazine and Internet Genealogy, as well as surname and family association periodicals, the types of articles covered here will focus on the periodicals of genealogical and historical societies.
Transcriptions and abstracts. Typically you can find transcriptions or abstracts of various records including wills, deeds, tax lists, journals/diaries, letters, court proceedings, and cemetery, church, vital, and Bible records. Local genealogical societies tend to produce the bulk of these mainly to preserve the records and aid their members in locating hard-to-find or one-of-a-kind records. Keep in mind that oftentimes transcriptions or abstracts were prepared for a set of records and could be part of a multi-part series of articles over several issues or volumes. Over the years I have found several articles that feature Bible records for my New York families, as well as other types of records for my colonial ancestors.
- “Aaron Burt Revolutionary War Pension Application Abstract, 1759-1843, OH,” Ohio Records and Pioneer Families (49:4)
- “William Hamilton Letter to Hannah Steele, Transcription, Family Notes, 1891,” British Columbia Genealogist (46:4)
- “Tuscaloosa Memorial Park Cemetery Headstone Transcriptions,” Roots & Branches (25:2)
Indexes. Oftentimes genealogical periodicals contain indexes to record sets. Local societies compile and publish these indexes as finding aids to local unindexed records, again with a goal of preservation and helping researchers. I have come across a few indexes to various record sets, the best of which was an index to a manuscript collection of family papers.
- “18th Judicial District probate index, 1887-1897,” Midwest Historical and Genealogical Register (42:2) (This is actually part of a series over several issues.)
- “County Tax Book, Index for 1839, A-Z,” Knox County, Kentucky Kinfolk (19:2)
- “Inquest Index, 1910-14,” Kinfolks (8:3)
Repository holdings. Many genealogical and historical societies have libraries or archival collections. Oftentimes they will keep members up to date by listing new acquisitions. Typically you will find these types of articles among a society’s newsletter, but they do appear in journals as well. Some periodicals also publish information about the holdings of other relevant repositories. Not all repositories have an online presence, let alone a comprehensive online catalog of their holdings, so these types of articles can be invaluable for learning what might be among a particular collection. Even if the article/listing is outdated, you have a place to start if you come across a record set of interest. Contact the repository to learn more, and if they no longer have the records, they can usually tell you where the records are located now. I have found a few helpful articles in this category, one of which was a multi-part series that covered all the church records available in a German repository.
- “German Records at the Stettin Archives,” Pommerscher Verein Freistadt Rundschreiben (series, December 2004 to September 2013)
- “African American Resources Available in Texana-Genealogy, Includes Microfilm Holdings,” Explorer (17:3-4)
- “Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives Holdings and Artifacts, 1879+,” Manchester Genealogist (52:2)
- “Archdiocese of Chicago Archives, Holdings,” Illuminator (10:3)
Genealogies, family histories, and biographical sketches. These types of articles are very popular in many genealogical society periodicals. You’ll typically use them for background information or a starting point for your own research related to the person or family discussed. Depending on the periodical, these articles are usually well researched and heavily footnoted. The footnotes alone can aid in your own research of that family or of the place or time period covered. Historical society periodicals don’t typically run genealogies or family histories, but you can usually find biographical sketches (often for notable persons, but not always). I have found several helpful articles that focus on my Webster and Treat families.
- “Chaplin Ancestors of Plumb and Parke Families, 1600s, England; CT” The American Genealogist (82:4)
- “John Webster (Gov.) Fam., 1660s, MA,” Americana (29:4)
Research articles and case studies. Also popular in genealogical society periodicals, these articles present the findings of a specific research objective. Oftentimes they are written in a manner that demonstrates the use of various research techniques, methodologies, and records. Although these articles may not focus on your family or a location of interest, you can learn a lot by seeing how other researchers tackle a project. And, as with genealogies, family histories, and biographical sketches, the footnotes can lead you to new resources for your own projects. I typically like to read articles that present research related to a particular location of interest. When I encounter a new location in my research, I head to PERSI to find these types of articles because I can quickly gain an understanding of the researcher’s thought process and the resources available. I also like to read articles that deal with research problems I’ve found among my own projects, such as separating same-name individuals, because the methods illustrated give me plenty of ideas to try.
- “William Clifton Son of Allison Clifton, Documenting Evidence Case Study, 1818+, MO,” Missouri State Genealogical Association Journal (37:2)
- “Asylum Records as a Source for Missing Ancestors, Stephen and Honora Gavin Case Study, 1889,” Progenitor (29:2)
- “Namesakes and Name Changes, Case Study of Search for Mother of John Little Crow, 1890-1930s, SD,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly (94:4)
- “Identifying the Father of Abner Wisdom Using Indirect Evidence, 1777+,” North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal (32:2)
Informational. Most genealogical and historical society periodicals, as well as mainstream genealogy periodicals, have informational pieces among their articles. These could provide information on resources, places, events, people, and a variety of other topics such as customs, migration, military, and law. I have unearthed all sorts of gems including articles related towns and counties of interest, German customs (both in the United States and abroad), the War of 1812, church histories, and westward migration. I even found an article about the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad, where many of my relatives worked in the roundhouse in Aurora, Illinois—there was even a map of the grounds included!
- “Old Lutherans in Pomerania, Why Did They Emigrate,” Die Pommerschen Leute (10:7)
- “Old Irish Customs and Superstitions,” Cois Deirge (Winter 1978)
- “Picton & Hallowell Twp. History,” Searchlight (1:3)
Instructional. These types of articles appear in genealogical periodicals, both society and mainstream, and present how to do something related to a particular topic. Some examples include: how to use a research methodology, how to use a record type, how to research in a particular location, or how to use a tool. I have found articles that explain how to research Irish ancestors, how to use the cluster (or FAN Principle) methodology, and how to find and use bounty land records.
- “War of 1812 Research Tips, Resources, Search Strategies, Brief History, 1812+,” Crossroads (7:2)
- “ABCs of School Records,” NGS Newsmagazine (32:4)
- “How To Use Evernote To Be a Better Genealogist,” Lorain County Researcher (29:3)
Note: The article titles in PERSI are not necessarily the exact article title found in the periodical. Titles are often condensed or provide extra details for indexing purposes. For example, “Governor John Webster and His Family,” is the full title for the PERSI entry “John Webster (Gov.) fam., 1660s, MA.” Keep this in mind as you search PERSI so you can try different word combinations and abbreviations.
I hope that you can see that there are many treasures that can be unearthed in genealogical and historical society periodicals using PERSI, and how they can help you with your research and your overall genealogy education.
So, now that you know how PERSI can aid in your research endeavor, I want you to take action on what you just learned. Think about a current research project you’re working on. Of the seven articles types, would any be helpful? For example, if you are researching in a new-to-you location, perhaps you could find some informational articles that can guide your research in that area. Or, maybe you know you need to look for military records but have never used them before. There may be informational or instructional articles that can point you in the right direction. And of course, it can’t hurt to search for articles where a family surname appears in the article title—who knows, maybe your brick wall has already been solved!
I want you to spend about 15 minutes generating a list of places, topics, and surnames related to your current project. Then, in Part 2 of this series, I’ll show you how to actually conduct various searches, and you’ll have your list all ready to begin your search.
I hope you enjoyed this article and that you’re ready to make your list so you’ve got a head-start when we get to Part 2 of the series. If you found this article helpful, be sure to add the Genealogy In Action blog to your favorite RSS reader.
© Julie Tarr. This article was first published at Genealogy In Action; appearance of this article elsewhere, without my permission, violates copyright.