Periodical Resource Index

by Dae Powell

The Periodical Source Index (PERSI) is one of the more important resources available,
but often ignored by family historians.


Take a few moments and check PERSI every time you research a new family.

The Periodical Source Index is a subject index for over two million articles in roughly 6,000 English-language and French-Canadian genealogical periodicals.   It is absolutely the most comprehensive, largest index of genealogical periodicals available.   PERSI was developed and is updated by the Allen County Public Library Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

PERSI began in 1985 and was originally published in book and microfiche formats.   Both versions were under-used for two main reasons:

  1. Few researchers had access because most libraries considered the cost (about $2000) too expensive.   However, the Fort Worth Public Library has the book form.
  2. Most researchers found searching PERSI inconvenient because it took too many search steps.   A thorough search for one family required looking in at least 17 separate volumes to cover 1847 through 1997.

PERSI is also available on CD-ROM and online through a few services.   These formats overcome the above objections.   First they are inexpensive and are regularly updated.   The other major advantage of both PERSI CD and Internet editions is that they are easy to use.   The computer search takes only a few seconds and convers all volumes.   With a tool this easy to use, it should be as much a part of the preliminary survey as the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, or the Pedigree Resource File.   What census indices do for the Federal census records, PERSI does for family history periodicals.   Once properly understood, the computerized editions of PERSI may revolutionize the way genealogical research is done.

PERSI Is Strictly an Index

Please be advised that PERSI does not display a copy of the actual magazine article.   It is strictly an index of those articles.

PERSI Does NOT Index Every Personal Name in Every Article

Why not?  Consider indexing 5,000 periodicals per year.   Then assume all the journals are bi-monthly.   Simple multiplication renders up to at least 30,000 issues per annum.   Now assume an average of 6 articles per issue and you have 180,000 or more eligible articles a year.   Approximately 700 articles would need to be indexed every business day!   Chances are only the table of contents of each issue gets indexed, so search for words that are likely to appear in the title rather than in the text of the article.

PERSI does not index personal names in queries, ancestor charts, family group records, book reviews, society officers or membership, surname journals, or newsletters.   At first glance that seems like a lot to omit.   Still, there are many useful articles that are included.

PERSI does not provide page numbers, just journal name, volume and issue.   Although this may seem a bit limiting, it is quite easy to find the page number in the table of contents of the issue, or by browsing most genealogical periodicals.

Okay . . . PERSI's a great resource with Limitations.  When should we use it?

There are two situations when researchers should definitely use PERSI.

To understand the kinds of records and articles likely to be listed in the PERSI locality search, think about genealogical periodicals' content.   They may include articles about biography, cemeteries, census, church, court records, deeds, directories, history, institutions, maps, military, naturalization, obituaries, passenger lists, probate, school, vital, voter and will records.   These types of records are usually associated with a place such as a town, county, state, province, or nation.   In many ways the periodicals are a library within the genealogical library.   Now we have a convenient way to get access into this special set of records based on their locality.

Curt Witcher, Allen County Public Library, said, "Without checking genealogical periodicals, researchers miss out on arguably 25 to 30 percent of available knowledge on a given topic."   Would you be willing to tear up and throw away a quarter to a third of your genealogy research?   No! but you might be doing just that if you overlook the Periodical Source Index.   Get into the habit of regularly searching PERSI.

Book and Microfiche PERSI Searches:

  1. Locality Searches (first by place, then by record type)
    1. US Places
    2. Canada
    3. Foreign Countries
  2. Research Methodology Search ("How To" Articles)
  3. Families Search (Surnames)

At the Family History Library (FHL), PERSI has over 17 sets of book searches in a retrospective 1847-1985 index and annual indices 1985-2000 and beyond.   There are two sets of microfiche: from 1847-1895, and from 1986 on.

Compact Disc Searches:

The CD-ROM version spans all years together.   It is usually faster to use the compact disc than any other format.   The CD-ROM version has eight kinds of searches on the main menu:

  1. General Keyword Search (includes every citation)
  2. Article Titles Search
  3. Surname Search (Families)
  4. Location and Record Type Search
  5. US and Canadian articles by Location and Keyword Search
  6. Foreign Articles by Location and Keyword Search
  7. "How To" Articles by Record Type and Keyword Search
  8. Periodicals by Title, Topic, and/or Publisher Search

PERSI on the Internet Searches:

  1. Surname Search
  2. US Locality Search
  3. Canada Locality Search
  4. Foreign Locality Search
  5. Methodology Search

Search Strategies:

Use the correct search.   Searching on "Coryell" in the surname search resulted in 16 hits.   The same word in the general keyword search resulted in 483 hits.   Most of the extra hits are a result of the Coryell County Texas Genealogical Society.

Add keywords to filter results lists that are too long.   For example, if "Coryell" produces 483 hits in the general keyword search, add a state or proviince.   "Coryell New Jersey" narrows the results to just three hits.   Using dates as a filter does not work well.

Search for alternate spellings if you do not find enough hits in the surname search.   Your ancestors may have always used a certain spelling, but record keepers did not.   The compact disc edition has a "Soundex" button on the tool belt to identify possible alternate spellings.   Also look for alternate spellings in the Pedigree Research File.   (Covered in a previous GENTREK presentation.)

Search for in-laws.   Sometimes an article about an in-law has enough clues to help you find more about your direct ancestors.   Look for articles about families that married into your line.

Change jurisdictions in the locality searches if records of an ancestor are elusive.   You can change jurisdictions by looking for ancestors in records of neighboring towns, counties, or states.   For example, if you do not find your ancestor in records of Knox County, look next door in Jefferson County.   Change jurisdictions by looking for ancestors in records at the town level (for example, Knoxville), county level (Knox), state level (Tennessee), or the national level (United States).

When using the book or microfilm version, be sure to search all the supplements.   Remember, there is a retrospective index prior to 1985 and annual addenda after that.

When an interesting looking article is found, note on your research log (also discussed in GENTREK previously) or make a PERSI printout of the following:

The book and microfiche indices show this code with each citation.   On the computerized PERSI, double click on the "Periodical" for more information including this four-letter code.

Print and Copy Strategies:

When using the compact disc edition of PERSI, either highlight (click and drag the mouse) or tag index citations to select and printout on paper, or copy to a diskette.   The screen showing details about the periodical can also be tagged.   There are three ways to tag a citation or periodical:

Clear tags frequently (on the edit menu bar).   Sometimes researchers will do a search, tag something, and print it.   Then they will do a second search and tag.   When the second tagged item prints, so does the first one again (unless the first tag was cleared, or exited PERSI).

How to Locate Useful Articles

There are four ways to retrieve articles listed in the Periodical Source Index:

The Family History Library has nearly two-thirds of he periodicals cited in PERSI.   There is a small three-ring binder called PERSI Codes with Corresponding FHL Call Ns at each PERSI computer.  This notebook lists all four letter PERSI codes, the periodical title and the FHL call number for each code.  You can also look up the periodical title in the Family History Library Catalog to find the library call number.

Researchers may also obtain photocopies of articles from the Allen County Public Library.   Print their Periodical Source Index (PERSI) Order Form from the Allen County Public Library Internet site.   It costs $7.50 per copy (prepaid), and $.20 per page (billed) for a copy of an article.   Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.

The periodical title screen of the computerized versions of PERSI lists some libraries which have each periodical.   If you click on the name of any library, the address will be displayed.   You can visit that address, or try to obtain a copy of the article through inter-library loan.   Oh!  And did you know you can "inter-library loan" from the Library of Congress?  <G>

The periodical title screen also gives the address of the periodical publisher.   If the word "OPEN" appears in the APCL Call Number field, the periodical is still published and the address is current.   Otherwise the periodical may be defunct and the address void.   If needed, write to the publisher of "OPEN" periodicals to obtain a copy of the article.

Are there other Periodical Indices?

Aye, there are.  

Although PERSI is the largest, it is not the only genealogical periodical index.   Here are two more:

Genealogical Periodical Annual Index, Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1961 forward (FHL book 973 B22gp.)

Indexes over 200 periodicals including book reviews and surname journals.

Boyer, Carl, III. Donald Lines Jacobus' Index to Genealogical Periodicals, Newhall, CA: Boyer Publications, 1983.

(FHL book B22j 1983.)  This is especially good for genealogy periodicals prior to 1952.


  1. The Periodical Source Index opens the collections of genealogial periodicals which can be considered a "library within a library."
  2. PERSI is one of the more important tools available to genealogists and should become as much a part of the preliminary survey of easy to use sources as the Pedigree Resource File.
  3. It is an important way to find records that are not listed in a genealogical library's catalog, but which are available in the library's periodical collection.
  4. The computerized versions of PERSI are so easy to use there is no longer any excuse to ignore them.

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