Tyler S. Stahle | Dec 5, 2016

Using PERSI for Genealogy Success

So you’ve hit a brick wall in your genealogy research? Perhaps you feel like you’ve searched every record and uncovered every document, and there’s still a missing link. Maybe that missing 1890 census is throwing a wrench in your research. Whatever the case may be, brick walls can leave each of us with feelings of frustration and confusion.

So you’ve hit a brick wall in your genealogy research? Perhaps you feel like you’ve searched every record and uncovered every document, and there’s still a missing link. Maybe that missing 1890 census is throwing a wrench in your research. Whatever the case may be, brick walls can leave each of us with feelings of frustration and confusion.

Before you call it quits, however, professional genealogist D. Joshua Taylor suggests turning to PERSI.

“PERSI is one of the most incredible, one of the most amazing data sets that has ever been created for genealogy and family history,” said Taylor in his 2016 address at RootsTech. “What it offers you, as genealogists, are local periodicals—genealogical periodicals, historical periodicals, publications that might be produced by a lineage organization, or an ethnic society, or other topics.”

What Is PERSI?

PERSI, an acronym that stands for the “periodical source index,” is the largest subject index in the world for genealogy and local history periodical articles.

“It literally is your world into thousands and thousands, if not millions, of pages of published family historical work,” said Taylor. “PERSI includes all sorts of databases and data sets that have been produced by societies and other organizations for many, many years.”

PERSI currently offers more than 2.5 million subject level entries and is updated on a quarterly basis. As more and more publications are indexed and as newer publications are added, the PERSI database grows.

“And PERSI isn’t just for the United States,” says Taylor. “It covers society publications in Canada, in Ireland, in Great Britain, and all over the world. So it’s a fantastic resource for you, even if you’re looking beyond U.S. genealogy.”

Originally created by the Allen County Public Library Foundation staff in Fort Wayne, Indiana, PERSI can now be accessed in its new digital home at findmypast.com.

How Do I Access PERSI?

To access the most updated version of PERSI, navigate to the homepage at findmypast.com. From there, click the Search tab on the top menu bar, and then click Newspapers and periodicals from the drop-down menu. On the next screen, click PERiodical Source Index in the left margin.

Before you try to search for names and dates, Taylor recommends a different strategy.

“Remember, PERSI is a catalog of articles. It’s a catalog of different titles,” said Taylor. “So we have to keep our searches very, very broad as we’re approaching a search within PERSI. I recommend that we should browse before we actually start searching—see what we’re searching before we actually dive in and look with specific keywords and click that search button. Less is sometimes more.”

It’s important to remember that you’re not likely to find an article about an ancestor named John Earnest Douglas, unless someone has written an entire article about him and his name is in the title or subject line. Rather, you’re more likely to find an article about Mercer County, Pennsylvania, where John Douglas lived.

“Think of this as a library catalog entry, not necessarily as a sort of every name index level relationship when you’re looking with PERSI,” counseled Taylor.

Why Use PERSI?

For most genealogists, using PERSI is vital when searching for ancestors who moved or migrated frequently.

“The misconception we have is that if I’m researching a family from New York, I’m only going to need to look at New York based organizations and New York based societies,” said Taylor. “Well, what happens to the daughter of the family in New York that ends up all the way in California for the gold rush? Where do their records end up? It could be in California. It could be in Missouri. It could be in a number of places where the family stopped along the way.

For that reason, PERSI is a great resource for tracking families who moved across the nation or across the ocean.

Using PERSI is also a great way to look at the process and methods to learn how to do genealogy and find documents and other family compilations.

“You might not find an article that’s all about your John Smith that was a blacksmith. It might be about a man named John Gordon who was a blacksmith in the same town as your relatives,” noted Taylor. “Learning how to do that research, learning about their life, can be a great way for you to know how to trace your own family history.”

What Can You Find in PERSI?

One of the reasons many genealogists enjoy searching PERSI is the diversity of content they find.

“You’ll get all sorts of looks at history from PERSI,” said Taylor. “Sometimes you get great maps. You get great things that were published in periodicals over the years that we might forget about.”

Before you get too deep into PERSI, however, Taylor offers this suggestion:

“Make sure that you view recent additions from the transcripts,” he advised. “There is an option within a transcript view to scroll down and see recent periodicals that have been added from a digital image perspective into PERSI. It’s very possible that the periodical you were looking at a month ago, or two months ago, didn’t have an image then, and now it’s been added.”

What tips do you recommend for using PERSI for research? Tweet us @RootsTechConf.

Tyler S. Stahle

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