Hello, and welcome to this brief tutorial on using PERSI (the Periodical Source Index) for genealogy. I am Sunny Morton, a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine, a curriculum contributor at Family Tree University, and the author of hundreds of genealogy how-to resources.
PERSI is your portal to a lesser-known but invaluable genealogical resource. And this is hundreds of thousands of articles published over the decades in the newsletters, journals and other periodicals of thousands of genealogical and historical societies.
PERSI, the PERiodical Source Index, is a subject index to all of those articles. Indexers at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind.—where the indexes were created—extract essential information from each of these articles in each issue they process. The essentials they extract include both the publication information and the subject and location data that you need to identify a particular article as relevant to your research.
For example, in this article on the Sacred Heart Orphanage and the Franciscan Sisters in Pueblo, Colo., the title would be extracted, as well as the author; the publication information; and other data like the place and a subject (church records and institutions) and other keywords that would help identify this article for researchers.
PERSI is ongoing and growing. It now has over 2.5 million entries from thousands of historical, genealogical and ethnic publications.
It’s a subject index. These are the subjects that they are paying attention to these—the subjects that they’re indexing. And that helps you to get a sense of the kind of material you’ll often find in these periodicals
One of the things that I look for most frequently via PERSI are printed indexes, which we used to have before we had online indexes. Societies would print up versions of the names that they extracted from their local records.
These are records that, themselves, maybe weren’t in print. But they would put out lists of the names that were in these records so that people could find them—all different kinds of records: cemetery records, naturalization records, obituary records, all kinds of school and tax and church and court and land records. Anything that might be there locally that the society knows about that wants to avail you of.
For example, the Reed Creek Baptist Church minute book was printed up in an issue of the Savannah River Valley Genealogical Society several years ago. And on a recent trip, I found this through PERSI at the Allen County Public Library because they printed up this index. I was able to find members of this church dating clear back to August 1867. That was a really happy moment for me, so I love PERSI.
It’s not just these index kinds of articles that you can find with a typed-up lists. Of course, those are really important, but you can also often find great local history articles that are written in periodicals that are indexed by PERSI. Maybe it would be a history of a particular institution or business or school or neighborhood—anything like that that might affect your ancestors.
Also: Sometimes your ancestors migrated to places that you’re not aware of. And so you might end up finding information on them in what we call orphan content, meaning that it ends up in a newsletter in a place far from where you expect it to be—only because your ancestor or that particular institution or business, or whatever also had an affiliation with that locale. So it’s a great place to find information about your wandering ancestors and also to find sometimes brief biographical sketches or short family histories—all kinds of things that are available in PERSI.
My easiest way of finding PERSI: I’m a subscriber at Findmypast.com, where PERSI is held. That’s the official online resource for finding or searching PERSI. But anyone can search PERSI, so you don’t have to be a member at Findmypast. Just create your own free guest login. But when I just want to go search PERSI, I can log in to Findmypast or I can just Google search PERSI findmypast and click on the very first search result, which will take me right into that database.
Let me show you what that looks like. So here’s what it looks like when you start to search PERSI. If I’m searching here, then I often skip this field—since I often don’t know the name of a periodical I’m looking for. Sometimes I do, and I can use that.
There’s all kinds of helpful things here, but when I’m just starting a basic search in PERSI, I’ll often just go down to the states and I’ll enter the state. And that is one of my search terms, and then I’ll often just go down to the optional keywords. I’ll enter—because the town or the city or the county I’m looking for may not have been indexed in the same way—I’ll often, in my very first search, just put the place in as a keyword. And then do the same if I’m also looking for a specific kind of record. For example, if I’m looking for an orphanage in Pueblo, Colo.
It gives me real-time updates here. As you can see, it’s already giving me six results that I would find in PERSI. And when I go to view those results, you’re going to see that, as a matter of fact—I’m going to minimize this a little bit, so you can see the whole thing there—as a matter of fact, now I can do some more search variants here, if I want to. But I have found the article that I just showed you a few minutes ago: Sacred Heart Orphanage and Franciscan Sisters.
I can click on there. They don’t have the digitized version of this article—they do have the digitized version of a growing number of articles, but not this particular one. So this gives me the information that I need: the volume, the page number, the year, the name of the publication, and all the information I need to find that article—to track it down.
Even if I’m going to be researching at the Allen County Public Library, I have the call number there. Because the Allen County Public Library is the master creator of this index, they also have the holdings of all the articles you need. And that is really relevant, because, as you come down here and learn more about PERSI, you’re going to want to scroll down further: “How do I get copies of the articles” gives you information on how to order these through the Allen County Public Library with this “Download an Article Request Form.” This is this is how you’re going to follow up and get copies of the articles that are not available to you online, either because you’re not a subscriber and can’t view it or because they don’t have the digitized version of it.
I have a couple more tips for you. And the first is that, because PERSI is a subject index and not a full-text index for searching that entire article (Wouldn’t that be awesome?! Maybe in the future.), the search interface is kind of limited. So it feels kind of clunky and cumbersome.
To me it almost feels like using a Magic 8 ball. I don’t know if you remember these from the 70s and 80s where you’d have to ask a question and shake the Magic 8, ball and see what answer it gave you. The key to using the Magic 8 ball—and the key to using PERSI, I have found—is asking the right questions so that you can get the answers you’re looking for.
Often, when I’m working on a new ancestor and I want to see what I might find in PERSI, I’ll go and brainstorm all different kinds of keywords that might apply to that ancestor: the locale, the institutions, the businesses, the neighborhoods, the ethnicity—anything I can think of about a particular person—and then run those searches through PERSI.
But then I definitely follow through, and I think that’s the most important thing. You never really know if this article is going to help you unless you order a copy of it. You can download that article request form and fill it out. You can put up to six articles in a single request, and even with the photo-copying fees, it only comes out to a couple bucks per article if you wait until you have six of them and send them in.
Another tip that I use is that I actually research at the Allen County Public Library over a couple of years, and sometimes I’ll just save up my requests for the next time I’m there if they’re not urgent.
The other thing is I can use PERSI in a really interesting way. If I know I’m going to be at a major research library that’s going to have a lot of these periodicals, I will sometimes just use the PERSI search filters to search for the name of the society newsletter that might be of interest to my ancestors’ locale.
And then, when I’m at a major research library like Allen County Public Library, I’ll just go ahead and pull all the issues of that particular newsletter. And I’ll browse the issues, because I may not have thought of something in my brain storming sessions that, in fact, is in that newsletter. And I won’t find it unless I really go through each page.
Thank you for watching I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips on using PERSI for genealogy. I’m Sunny Morton with Family Tree Magazine.
Step-by-Step PERSI Search on Findmypast.com
We’ll show you around the PERSI search, step-by-step.
A. Find other Findmypast databases to search.
B. Use these fields if you know the journal or article title you need.
C. Want articles about how to do genealogy in the places you type in the place fields? Type Y here and select Yes from the dropdown menu. Otherwise, ignore this field.
D. These fields search subject terms and keywords ACPL librarians have assigned. Start typing and choose from the dropdown menu, or click Browse to view available terms. (We found the Optional Keywords field easier to search with.)
E. Use these fields if you know about when the article you need was published, or the organization that published it.
F. Start here if you just want to see what’s available. Begin typing the place, then choose from the dropdown menu. Resulting articles are from periodicals published in that place.
G. Despite the “optional” label, this field is quite helpful, especially used along with the place fields. Enter a surname or topic (such as Civil War, German or church).
Tip: Findmypast subscribers can link from PERSI search results to the transcribed articles. Otherwise, request a copy from ACPL or search for the publication at other libraries.