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)
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.
Using the “Keywords” box, a search may be created with Boolean operators (and, or, and not) and with wildcard substitutions. A keyword may be truncated, with an asterisk (*) replacing any number of letters at the end of a word, while a dollar sign ($) can substitute for a single letter anywhere in a word. In addition, quotation marks (“ ”) can group words into a single phrase for searching.
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
Anatomy of a Citation
Once a search has been performed, up to a thousand citations will appear on the “Article Results List” in increments of fifty citations at a time. Article title, periodical title, publishing location, date, volume, and issue number are provided. Clicking on the article title will yield the full citation on an “Article Details” page that will also include all surnames and subjects under which the specific article can be found in PERSI. Clicking on the periodical title on this “Details” page will provide additional information, which is described in the Periodicals search section above.
To print selected citations from the “Article Results List” click the box next to each article title of interest. A check mark will appear. Once relevant citations are checked, select “Notebook” at the top of the page. From the Notebook, options to Email, Print, or Download the list of checked citations are available. A title for the list, as well as notes concerning each entry, can be added as desired before the process is complete.
Searching PERSI at Ancestry.com
Ancestry is available at many libraries, including the Genealogy Center, and is also available by personal subscription. In any Allen County Public Library facility, search PERSI by clicking on “Genealogy” on the main webpage <www.ACPL.Info>, then click “Ancestry.com.” On the Ancestry main page, click the “Search” tab, then under “Dictionaries, Encyclopedias & Reference” select “Periodical Source Index.” After selecting the “Surname” option, type in the last name and any keywords, then click “Search.” Or choose U.S. Locality, Canada Locality, Foreign Locality, or Methodology. With a U.S. Locality, search by state, or by state and county. For a Canada Locality, search by province. Foreign Locality searching requires the name of a country or region. When searching any of these localities or for Methodology articles, a Record Type can be selected and Article Title Keyword(s) added to focus the search. Keywords may include year of publication. Results provide article title, locality, record type, periodical, volume, number and date. The bibliographic record for the periodical is similar to that in the Heritage Quest version of PERSI, but browsing by issue is not possible. Updates to PERSI at Ancestry sometimes lag, while the database available at <HeritageQuestOnline.com> is always current.
Finding the Article
Since PERSI is created at the Allen County Public Library, the Genealogy Center has a copy of every periodical issue covered by the index. Periodicals are bound into volumes and cataloged, usually acquiring a location-based call number, but occasionally one assigned to an ethnic group or other subject focus. This puts bound periodicals on the shelves beside other books on the same subject, making it easy to find many of them simply by browsing the shelves. For example, periodicals published by a particular county historical society will be on the shelf with other books about that county. The call number and location of books on any county can be readily determined by referring to the Genealogy Center’s stack guide. The call number for any periodical title can also be identified, even in advance of a research visit, by checking the library's catalog online at the library’s website. A few keywords from the periodical title entered into the box next to “magazines” on the advanced search screen will usually find what you want. Periodical issues that are not yet bound are filed in alphabetical order in cardboard boxes along the east wall of the Eastern Reading Room. If a periodical title cannot be located in the catalog, or if a specific issue cannot be found on the shelf, please contact a staff member for assistance.
Article Copy Service
The ACPL Foundation offers an article copying service for those unable to visit or access the periodicals elsewhere. To use this service, print an Article Request Form available on the Genealogy Center's webpage. For each article requested, include Title of Article, Title of Journal, Volume (if cited), Number (if cited), Month (if cited) and Year. A pre-paid handling fee of $7.50 (check or money order to “ACPLF”) covers up to four articles and should be sent with each form. Multiple forms may be submitted, accompanied by the appropriate handling fee (e.g. for 10 articles: $7.50 X 3 = $22.50). An additional copying fee of 20 cents per page will be billed when the copies are sent. Please allow up to 4 weeks for delivery.
- "Ask a Genealogy Librarian" Service, Historical Genealogy Department, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2010.