Periodical Source Index (PERSI)
The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. Created by the staff of the Allen County Public Library Foundation and the ACPL’s Genealogy Center, PERSI is widely recognized as a vital tool for genealogical researchers. PERSI indexes articles in 11,000 periodical titles (including 3,000 defunct titles) published by thousands of local, state, national and international societies and organizations, arranging 2.25 million entries by surname or location and 22 basic subject headings. An important tool for genealogists looking for new avenues of investigation, PERSI’s usefulness is not limited to family history researchers. Local historians and academics, archaeologists and demographers, as well as students from elementary to graduate school and beyond, will all find PERSI an important asset in their research.
The PERSI project began in 1986 with efforts directed at indexing both “current” issues, to be published in annual volumes, and “retrospective” issues, to be published in a 16 volume set covering 1847-1985. The Family History Library made the 16 volume set available on microfiche for its branches, but the print volumes provided the principal access for researchers until Ancestry began to briefly issue CDs containing the entire retro set, all annual volumes, plus additional pre-1986 material.
In 1997, the last year for which an annual print volume was produced, PERSI was made available as an online database at Ancestry.com. PERSI is now regularly updated and fully searchable at both HeritageQuestOnline.com and Ancestry.com, although updates to the Ancestry version of the database are sometimes delayed. Under the auspices of the ACPL Foundation, the project currently employs a staff of eight, including a full-time supervisor and assistant supervisor, as well as part-time encoders (indexers), editors, and request fulfillment personnel.
Understanding a few things about the contents of PERSI will help produce maximum success with minimum effort.
- PERSI is a subject index to articles, not an every name or every word index. Entries are by:
- Location and record type;
- Surname as subject; or
- How-to topic.
- PERSI does not cover surname periodicals and does not normally include queries, charts, fiction, cartoons, or poetry.
- The article title listed in the citation may not be the actual title as it appears in the periodical. Article titles are not always descriptive, so encoders sometimes alter them to include the actual subject or time period.
- PERSI has evolved over the years. Originally limited to 50 characters, article title entries can now be 150 characters, allowing for a fuller description that can assist the researcher in identifying useful sources.
- Abbreviations are used often, but not always. States are abbreviated by their postal codes; religious dominations may be abbreviated by standard three, four or five letter designations; and organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic are identified by their initials.
- Terminology and spelling can change with location. For example, a “railroad” in the United States may be a “railway” in Canada. Similarly, a large group of working people in England may be identified as “labour,” instead of the American “labor.”
- An article title in French, Spanish, German, Dutch, etc., indicates an article in that language.
- More than 60 people have been employed by the project over the years. Although guidelines have improved in this time, the encoding process remains a very subjective one. Encoders and editors strive to make citations as user-friendly as possible, but researchers must also exercise creativity in their searches.
Conducting a Search
PERSI is one of the featured databases at Heritage Quest Online, which is available in many public libraries. To access PERSI in any Allen County Public Library facility, click on “Genealogy” on the main webpage <www.ACPL.Info> then click on “HeritageQuestOnline.com” and select “Search PERSI.” Many public libraries offer access to HeritageQuestOnline from home. Check your local public library's web page to see if they offer that service.
To search for articles on People, enter the “Surname” in the appropriate box. There are more than 126,000 surnames included in the PERSI database. “Keywords,” such as a first name, spouse’s last name, or location, may be added to narrow the search, but please remember that PERSI is not an every name index. Every person mentioned in an article does not appear in the title, so searches combining a surname with a locality keyword may yield better results. Soundex searching is not possible. A specific “Periodical” title in which to search can also be indicated. Once the surname and any keywords, or a specific periodical, is entered, click the Search button.
To search for articles on Places, select one of the three place search forms. Places can be searched:
- In the “United States,” by state, or state and county;
- In “Canada” as a whole, or by province; or
- In “Other Countries,” by the name of the country, continent or “World” as a whole.
After selecting the place, a search can be done immediately using the default record type “All,” or the results can be limited by selecting a specific “Record Type.” PERSI Record Types are listed below with what they include. Each record type will also include indexes to related material.
- Biography: more than three main people
- Cemeteries: listings, history, lot owners, plot maps, photos
- Census Records: federal, state, municipal
- Church Records: histories, records, directories, photos
- Court Records: civil, criminal, licenses
- Deeds: only deeds (can include slaves)
- Directories: city, county, atlas directories, business or manufacturing
- History: narratives on localities, companies, houses, ethnic groups
- Institutions: orphanages, hospitals, poor farms, prisons, photos
- Land Records: anything pertaining to land that is not a deed
- Maps: migration trails, county boundary changes, plats
- Military Records: muster rolls, regimental histories, troop movements, photos
- Naturalization: declarations of intent, petitions, naturalizations
- Obituaries: full obituaries, death notices
- Other Records (Misc.): archaeology, extracted local newspaper items, photos and other articles not belonging to another record type
- Passenger Lists: ship histories, travel experiences, lists
- Probate Records: administrations, guardianships, apprentice documents
- School Records: attendance, student lists, histories, teams, photos
- Tax Records: personal, property, income
- Vital Records: births, marriages, deaths, coroner inquests, funeral homes
- Voter Records: lists, elections, election procedures
- Wills: indexes, abstracts, transcriptions (can include slaves)
Periodicals-- Search periodicals by title. The PERSI Bibliography lists the various publications referenced in the other three main PERSI sections. The section also lists the organizations responsible for publication, to enable researchers to obtain copies.
- As a note, most methodology articles are encoded "Other" because the study of genealogy goes well beyond the 23 record types in PERSI, other areas are: Documenting your genealogy, Writing your family history, Photography, Heraldy, Preservation, Computers, etc.
PERSI citations often include the name of a locale – such as a town, township, or region – or another keyword or phrase – such as preservation, Native American, or Revolution – as part of the article title. Using “Keywords” like these as part of a place search can help focus the results. A bit of experimentation, practice and creativity will help. Once the place has been selected, and any keywords added, click the Search button.
The How-tos selection searches thousands of citations about research methods, ranging from long, detailed articles to short tips or hints. The “Record Type” and “Keywords” options are the same as those for the Places search.
The Periodicals search option provides access to detailed information about a specific periodical title, including publisher and address, subject focus of the periodical, the international standard serial number (ISSN), previous titles, frequency of publication, ACPL holdings, other known repositories of the title, and PERSI code. Used by project staff, PERSI codes often begin with the two letter postal abbreviation for the state of publication, thereby indicating the geographical focus of many titles. PERSI codes can also help in determining whether project staff members have established previous, current and subsequent titles of the same periodical. An ACPL call number may be provided on the “Periodical Details” page, but the call number field is often blank or says “Open,” even though almost all titles now have call numbers in the ACPL catalog. Finally, each periodical’s individual “Details” page also provides browsing access to a list of articles appearing in every issue, even through title changes. Simply click on the volume, number or date of the issue of interest.
What PERSI does not index
- Every name in every article
- Queries, ancestor charts, family group sheets
- Society officers, membership lists, meeting notices
- Book and computer software reviews
- Surname journals and newsletters
- Page numbers
Access to PERSI
Online. PERSI is searched via HeritageQuestOnline. This subscription-based web site is available for free through many public libraries throughout the United States and Canada. Some libraries provide patrons to access from home to HeritageQuestOnline and PERSI by using their library card number like a password. The Family History Library and some larger Family History Centers also have access to HeritageQuestOnline.
An older PERSI version on the Internet is still available on Ancestry.com, a subscription Internet site. Some public libraries and the Family History Library, and some larger Family History Centers have a subscription to Ancestry.com with access to its older PERSI.
It is currently accessible for free at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana and in over 200 other library locations throughout the world. There is also the option of purchasing the PERSI Index on CD-ROM.
Finding a LDS Family History Center with PERSI
To find a LDS Family History Center that does or will offer PERSI Index for free, go to www.lds.org. Move your mouse over the "Family History and Temples" option on the left and click on "Family History Centers". From there, select the country you live in and fill in the remaining blanks more specific to where you live. Since access to this service will be limited to 1,400 family history centers in North America, patrons should contact their local family history center to see if this service is available. Family History center directors should contact Family History Center Support with questions.
Finding a library with PERSI
There are more than 200 libraries worldwide that offer free access to the PERSI Index. To find a library location nearest, go to http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/15689202&referer=brief_results or go to http://www.worldcat.org and type in "Periodical Source Index" and click Search. A list of results will come up and you need to choose the link with the "Periodical Source Index" tile by the Allen County Public Library, Genealogy Department.
Then, while under the library tab, you can enter your location information (this can include your city, state, zipcode, or country). I have found the search to be most effective when I have entered both a city and a state or just a zipcode for a location. (That way if there is more than one location that has this service available in the state you live in, the answers will be in order by those closest to you.) Then, click the "Go" button to the right. A list of the closest libraries, historical societies, and any other place that offers free access, will be ranked in order of proximity (distance from your location). A city, state, and zipcode will come up for each location, as well as the approximate number of miles each site is located away from the location that was entered. An address and other contact information regarding the site that you are interested in visiting can be obtained under each site by clicking on the "Library Information" link.
Obtaining a copy of articles found in PERSI
After having done a search, click on the title of the periodical article that you would like a copy of. Details such as the periodical title, publisher, PERSI Code, and the other known repositories will be on the screen. If you scroll down to the lower section fo the page, you will see all of the different volumes of that periodical that are available. Carefully copy all of the necessary information for up to six articles that you would like a copies of. A copy of the order form as well as the photocopy fee schedule can be printed off by clicking here.
Put your name and address on the form where indicated, include your $7.50 and send the form and check off to the address given. When the Allen County Public Library Foundation has photocopied all the pages, they will bill you for them at 20 cents per page.
- "Ask a Genealogy Librarian" Service, Historical Genealogy Department, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2010.