What to do about PERSI 2

A quick guide to the content and use of a specialized periodical index for genealogy.

Caption: Findmypast PERSI splash page Photo Credit: Screenshot of web site by author.

No, not Percy the person. And not Pepsi, either. The PERSI that I am going to discuss is a large and useful index to names and places in historical and genealogical publications.

Simply stated, PERSI is short for PERiodical Source Index, a name, place, and subject index to periodicals (magazines, newsletters, journals) in the areas of genealogy and local history, published in the last 200 years, in English, and in French Canada.

As a former librarian, the idea of pulling more folks in to the library is quite appealing. Not everything is online for free yet. And the fact that the database was created by the staff of the wonderful Allen County (Fort Wayne) Indiana public library makes it all the better, in my eyes.

Before I describe how to use it, it should be noted that after being part of a number of web sites, and before that having been published in paper format, as of this writing it is available only on the pay web site, Findmypast; however, you can do a search for free and see the results.

But you cannot see the actual digitized item unless you have a subscription. This is one of the sites that are available for free at any LDS Family History Center as a premium offering. So it might pay you to drive over to one if that works for you. You can search for people (there are over 125,000 surnames that are indexed), places (sifting by town, county, state, province, shire, country, etc., or you can put limiters on it, such as only cemetery records, land records, obituaries. Then again, I always advise to try the widest search first.

Why might this be important to your genealogical and local history research? Here's an example. You live on the West Coast of the USA, but your family is originally from the South. Say that your particular ancestor was from Mississippi. You determine that he served in the Confederate Army, but then lose him in Mississippi. But – you check in PERSI and see an article that appears to be about him (let’s say that he has a distinctive name!), and you find an article about him in a journal of an Arkansas historical society – which is just across river from where he formerly lived in Mississippi.

The article gives a long description of his service as a lawyer and judge in Arkansas, and even mentions his origins in the former state, his Civil War stint, and other items that greatly expand your knowledge of him. You might not have though to look in another state, even though it was very close to his place of origin, and perhaps the article is from 100 years ago where he passed away. See where such an index can be of great help?

But you should also be aware that while PERSI can be very helpful it is not a total index to all things in print. Checking the FamilySearch wiki, we see that it does not index every name or every word in an article. It is meant to be a subject index. This means that you can search locations, subjects and even how to topics. It does not cover surname periodicals. It should also be kept mind that various spellings can enter the area – for example, Canadians and English people spell various words in various ways or even use different terms – think color v. colour, or railways instead of railroads, and the like.

OK, you have found something that seems like it might be useful. If you are not in the Allen County library (folks who live near there are so lucky!), a copy can be ordered from their online copy services. Again, check to see if a society (genealogical or historical) has their back issues online. My home society does have ours online at the society’s web site all the way back to 1975, when volume 1, number 1 was published. When I checked, my society had 282 articles in PERSI coming all the way down to 2013. And you can always see if the library in which you look this up has it on their shelves - my home library has the entire run of the New England and New York major publications right there on the shelves.

Findmypast PERSI results page for a society Photo Credit: Screenshot of web site by author

Even though all names mentioned in the journal are not indexed, it can be a great help if you are interested in that area and see articles that talk in depth about the cemeteries, for example. But even if you decide to pay the copy fee, keep in mind that travel costs and other ancillary costs add up. While traveling to an ancestor’s site can be fulfilling, you can do some of the bookish legwork beforehand online. For a few dollars you get something sent to you. As you become more proficient, you will get better at ordering the proper items.

These items can provide access to things that are not otherwise easily available. In another example, registrations of births, marriages, and deaths in my area were not required officially (for all intents and purposes) until 1880. Even then compliance was iffy until World War I. But PERSI found a publication of a large number of church records for the area starting in 1825, many years before official registration started.

Think about what this covers and time it saves. If what you are looking for isn't in PERSI, or you have a bit of difficulty finding it, remember that it is saving you the effort of traveling to read these publications and locate them all.

It's like complaining that the hippo dances badly. It's a miracle that it dances at all.

Findmypast PERSI narrowed search results page Photo Credit: Screenshot of web site by author

Before I run out of column, let's try a practice search. One of my families is the Brooker family of New England. I saw an entry for Joanna Brooker's will, 1763, MA. That appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register published in Boston, MA: Apr 1908. Volume 62, Issue 2. Many libraries own a long run of the NEGBR since it has been published since the 1840s. And I can order it!

The index on Findmypast is updated every quarter, and they are working to add digital images of the publications or articles online as well if various copyright agreements may allow. According to their information, PERSI contains over 2.7 million journal record entries from thousands of historical, genealogical and ethnic publications. Findmypast also has a guide to searching the database.

They state that while the bulk of the materials are from the US and Canada there are also included entries from the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland. The records listed in each periodical are usually associated with the geographical focus of the publication. This can be extremely useful for location-based research - if you're struggling with an ancestor in a particular area, tracking down a local periodical will tell you if there's anywhere else to look.

Hopefully this all-too-brief intro to PERSI will stimulate your desire to find more information in more places!


Larry Naukam

About Larry Naukam

Larry Naukam holds degrees in Geography, Library Science, and Divinity. He has written for genealogical publications for 30 years. He is very interested in the intersection of computers and genealogy research

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