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From the Ancestry Daily News
  by Michael John Neill – 2/13/2002

PERSI--the PERiodical Source Index--Some Initial Thoughts

Old genealogical society quarterlies are a goldmine of information. Unfortunately, the likelihood that they are all scanned and converted to searchable text anytime soon is remote. As a consequence, the information in these journals could easily remain buried for a long time. Searching these journals manually is extremely time consuming. Even for quarterlies that are indexed, the index only covers one issue or a year's worth of issues. Searching thirty years of a quarterly publication could mean viewing as few as thirty or as many as one hundred and twenty indexes. Multiply this times the number of magazines and the time required to search increases significantly. It makes a comprehensive search difficult.

The Allen County Public Library Comes to the Rescue
For over a decade, library staffers have been working on an index to relieve genealogists of the burdensome task of manually looking at each index or journal separately. The library has created a topical index to articles contained in the many genealogical society quarterlies and journals housed in their collection, categorizing the articles by surname, geographic location, and article type. The resulting work is called the Periodical Source Index. Many know this work by the familiar name of PERSI.

Not Every Name on Every Page
Let's clear up a misconception first. PERSI is not an index to every name on every page of every journal. You cannot perform a text search of every article's contents. However, it is important to remember that this source was created before the days of digitization and optical character recognition. It is also worth remembering that to digitize all these journals and put them in a searchable database would require the onerous task of obtaining permission from each and every journal and many individual authors. Many of the periodicals indexed in PERSI are under copyright and will be for some time. Obtaining reprint rights would be a nightmare and a significant additional expense. Consequently, PERSI is limited. However, it is still a wonderful source and provides many genealogists with access to materials they would not otherwise have.

A Note on Surnames
Not every surname included in a given article is included in the surname section of PERSI. The main family being researched is listed. Individuals mentioned in passing in an article will not appear in PERSI.

One Million References and 5,000 Journals
PERSI contains over one million references and includes articles from five thousand genealogical journals from the nineteenth century and beyond. The task is gargantuan. We will discuss some of the limitations of PERSI, however. These limitations are discussed not to minimize the importance of PERSI, but rather to avoid leaving the impression it is a panacea for every genealogical brick wall (although I have used it to break down a few of my own). The limitations are discussed because when genealogists are aware of them they are more likely to use the resource more effectively.

For Instance
There is a PERSI reference to an article I wrote in 1995 for the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly.

PERSI actually lists the article twice. The references are as follows:

Surname: BIEGER
Article Title: Franciska Bieger Trautvetter, IL
Periodical: Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly
Volume: 27 Number: 2 (Summer 1995)

Article Title: Franciska Bieger Trautvetter, IL
Periodical: Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly
Volume: 27 Number: 2 (Summer 1995)

The article appears in PERSI under the maiden and married names of the article's focus person. The article also contains significant information on surnames of other family members. One in particular is HAASE, the stepfather of the article's focus and the father of several of Franciska's half-siblings. The article is not indexed under the HAASE surname or any other surname contained in the article. Why? The reason for this is that it is extremely time- consuming to read every article for every surname and to enter that data in the index. Also (and I'm conjecturing here) because it likely becomes difficult to decide what families to include and not to include based upon the amount of information contained on any given collateral family or family member. Because of this limitation, the researcher should make certain to search PERSI for surnames of extended family members in addition to the direct line surnames being researched. Again: PERSI is not a full-text index to all the genealogical journals included in the index.

Location, Location, Location
PERSI also has a location section where articles are categorized by their locality. It is worth noting that not all articles will get a locality categorization. The articles that obtain a geographic categorization are generally ones focusing on specific records, for example a cemetery transcription, some newspaper extracts, a historical article about life in a certain county, etc. The Franciska Bieger Trautvetter article does not appear in the locality section because it focuses on a specific family, even though the vast majority of the information referenced in the article is from one specific county in Illinois.

Locality entries in PERSI are classified by the type of record the article includes. The more popular classifications are:
--- Biography
--- Cemetery
--- Census
--- Church
--- History
--- Land
--- School
--- Vital Records
These classifications are to provide users with an idea of the content of the article as titles are occasionally deceiving. Those who do not find entries for their specific families in the surname section of PERSI should also consider doing searches in the locality section of PERSI for those areas where their ancestors lived.

A quick search of PERSI's locality section resulted in an entry for a cemetery in which I was interested:

Locality: U.S. States, Illinois, Hancock Record Type: Cemetery Article Title: American cemetery burials, Tioga, Al-Yo Periodical: Yellowjacket Volume: 24 Number: 4 (March 1999)

PERSI can be a great way to locate cemetery transcriptions and other records that have not been published in book form, but have appeared in a serial publication.

Another locality search turned up a reference for an additional location

Locality: U.S. States, Illinois, Knox Record Type: School Article Title: Rio township school, 1852-53 Periodical: Knox County Genealogical Society Quarterly Volume: 21 Number: 1 (March 1993)

If I had ancestors living Rio Township during that time period, the record may be helpful. It might assist me in determining how many children an ancestor had or whether or not a specific child of the ancestor had lived until 1852.

None of My Family Is In There. My Localities Are Not in There Either. Why Should I Bother?
It still may be to your advantage to search the methodology section of PERSI. I found several references to specific areas of Germany where various members of my family originated (and found no reference to my family members by the way). Additionally, I found a reference that may be particularly useful to those searching for members of the Jewish faith:

Locality: Russia Record Type: History
Article Title: Jewish patronymic-metronymic surnames
Periodical: Avotaynu
Volume: 7 Number: 4 (Winter 1991)

While there are not many Russian records listed in PERSI, this reference may be especially helpful if I am researching Jewish families from Russia. Understanding the naming system may be key to avoiding pitfalls and making incorrect assumptions. This understanding comes from either lots of research on the families and noticing what happens or reading the article and getting a broad understanding before beginning research. Speaking from personal experience with other geographic areas, it is easier to read a how-to article first!

Searching PERSI
Next week we'll discuss searching PERSI using the CD and the online version. There are differences and if you find many references in the online version you may wish to take advantage of the more sophisticated features of the CD.

PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)---online search at Ancestry

Purchase the PERSI CD here

Persi 2001

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his Web site at: , but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2001,

Used by Permission.

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