The Toolkit: The Power of PERSI

By Rick Crume Premium

Most genealogists make ample use of census records, vital records, wills and deeds, but they overlook periodicals — treasure troves of transcribed records, carefully researched family histories and genealogical case studies. The thousands of genealogical and historical periodicals published in the last two centuries just might mention your ancestors. And the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), an enormous subject index created by the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) <> in Fort Wayne, Ind., helps you find those articles in a flash.

The ACPL first published PERSI in a series of printed volumes. CD-ROM and online versions followed, making the index much more affordable and easier to use. Now the ACPL is collaborating with online-content provider ProQuest to make PERSI an even more valuable tool. ProQuest recently released a brand-new version of PERSI on HeritageQuest Online <>, an extremely useful collection of US census records and 25,000-plus family and local history books, which genealogists can access at subscribing libraries. The PERSI database contains more than 1.6 million citations to articles in 6,300-plus titles published in English or in French (Canadian periodicals only) and daring back to 1800. The index is updated annually, and ProQuest will add about 70,000 new citations by early 2005.

If you’ve searched PERSI in the past, you probably wonder what’s special about HeritageQuest Online’s version. After all, < > already offers an online version of PERSI as part of its US Records Collection ($12.95 per month, $79.95 per year), which individual researchers can access from home — not just through subscribing institutions. To begin with, searches on HeritageQuest Online turn up more spelling variations, including plurals. The really exciting part will come later this year, when HeritageQuest Online begins linking PERSI citations to digital images of the articles. You’ll be able to view the original articles right on your computer screen, instead of having to send for photocopies from the ACPL. Initially, more than 196,000 articles — encompassing 1.2 million pages — gradually will be linked to citations. That’s about 12 percent of the articles indexed in PERSI, and more articles will follow. Libraries will have to subscribe to a premium service in order to get access to the digital images.

You can search PERSI by surname, place name, how-to topic or periodical title. When searching on a common last name, add a place-name keyword to your query to reel in the most relevant results. Usually, searching on a state’s full name doesn’t work, so be sure to use its two-digit postal abbreviation instead. HeritageQuest Online’s version of PERSI lets you use wildcards and Boolean operators (such as and and or) in your search. And its list of journal publishers conveniently shows which volumes and issues have been indexed.

PERSI citations include the article’s title and the name and date of the periodical in which it appeared. That’s enough information to find the article, but it’d be nice if citations included authors’ names and page numbers, too. Once you find promising references, you can request photocopies of up to six articles at a time for $7.50, plus 20 cents per copied page, from the ACPL. (First find out if your local library subscribes to the journals or can borrow them on interlibrary loan. That might be cheaper than getting copies from the ACPL.) And of course, you’ll be able to view many articles online soon.

HeritageQuest Online is available only through subscribing institutions, so check with your local library. Your library card will get you free access to the service on site — and possibly even from home (if your library purchases remote access). PERSI is no longer available through AncestryPlus, an institutional version of’s databases.

Not long ago, you had to travel to large libraries and archives to research your family history. Now you can view actual images of many family and local history books, census records and manuscripts on the Internet. HeritageQuest Online’s enhanced version of PERSI gives genealogists easier access to yet another important resource — periodicals — and it will only grow more valuable as it expands.


Like PERSI, the Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (GPAI) catalogs journals and is searchable by surname, place and topic. Although the GPAI indexes fewer periodicals (300-plus), it’s still an important family history tool because it can turn up references to your ancestors that you might not find in PERSI. The CD-ROM version for Macs or PCs includes all volumes from 1992 to 2001 from Willow Bend Books <>.
From the October 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.