Have you heard of PERSI, short for the PERiodical Source Index? I recently used this amazing resource to discover an article about a very specific research question. If you’ve heard of PERSI, but not known how to use it, today I’ll be sharing 4 steps to get you started.
First of all, a little background on PERSI. For over a hundred years, genealogy articles have been written and published by thousands of societies and organizations worldwide. These publications are often titled “quarterlies” because four would be produced each year, or quarterly. Members of the society or organization would receive the printed copy as part of their membership and the various quarterlies would be housed in libraries and historical societies throughout the world.
Recognizing the incredible value these publications have for genealogists, the Allen County Public Library Foundation and Genealogy Center staff began a monumental project in 1986 to index each article in each publication. That index is now available for free on Findmypast. Update 2022: The Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center now hosts the Periodical Source Index at the following URL: https://www.genealogycenter.info/persi/.
Additionally, through the partnership of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and Findmypast, articles are being digitized and made available to view online. To see those images however, a subscription is necessary to Findmypast, or individual articles can be viewed with pay-per-view credits. Luckily, even if an article is not yet digitized, the physical copy can still be obtained and I’ll show you how.
Why go to the bother of tracking down an article? As family historians, one of those thousands of articles might have the exact information we need to further our quest to discover our ancestors. To perform reasonably exhaustive research, we need to follow each avenue that could bring us closer to our quest.
Let’s take a look at how to use PERSI through Findmypast. I’ll share my recent search as an example.
Step 1: Identify a research question
What exactly are you looking for? Do you want to learn about early churches in a county? How about all articles for a surname in a city? Maybe you’re looking for Revolutionary War information in a state. Whatever you can imagine, you can search.
For my recent project, I was researching Swedish immigrants in Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts and wanted to see if there were some articles shedding light on this subject.
Step 2: Locate PERSI on Find My Past
To get started, you need to know how to access PERSI. From the home page of findmypast, click on SEARCH and then NEWSPAPERS & PERIODICALS.
Once on the newspapers and periodicals page, click in the circle to the left of “PERiodical Source Index.” That will ensure you are searching within PERSI.
When PERSI is showing on your screen, you’re free to enter some search parameters. This is the time to experiment with adding a surname, a location, and any keywords. I started broad with the location of “Worcester” and the keyword of “Swedish.” I was excited to see that my search returned 13 results!
Clicking on the top title, I found that this article was titled “Swedes in Worcester” and was published in the Swedish Pioneer Historical quarterly / Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, volume 4, October 1953.
Step 3: Locate a digitized or physical copy of the article
Findmypast has some of the articles available in a digital format, but this article has not been digitized, so I needed to locate a physical copy. The website helpfully lists all of the repositories where a physical copy of the article can be read. Searching WorldCat can also help locate a copy of the publication
I saw that this article was available at a number of repositories including the Family History Library, the one closest to me. But what if you don’t live near any of the libraries? Here are three things to try:
-Do a Google search for the publication. Some societies have digitized their collections and have them available in PDF format or for a small fee.
-Consider using the inter-library loan service of your local library. They might be able to locate a copy that another library will send directly to your local library.
-The Allen County Library as the creator of the index has a copy of every periodical issue listed and will copy the article for a small fee. You can access this service by printing an Article Request Form.
Step 4: Use the Article in Your Research
Once you’ve gone to the work of locating the article, be sure to create a source citation in your research log as well as the relevant details. I was able to find the “Swedes in Worcester” article at the Family History Library using the FamilySearch Catalog.
Looking at the title page, I was interested to see that the title was actually “The First Swedes to Locate in Worcester, Massachusetts” and the title of the publication, The Swedish Pioneer. Doing a bit more research, I learned that the catalogers for PERSI often entered in a title that may be shorter or more accurately reflect the content of the article. If the title of a publication changed, a current title would be used in the catalog.
How did this article help my research? My person of interest repeatedly gave the occupation of “machinist” in the city directories from 1920-1930. In the article it states,
The rapid growth of industry in Worcester led to a great demand for workers. The Washburn & Moen Wire Mills, the Morgan Construction Company, the American Steel & Wire Company, the Norton Company, and several others were expanding rapidly. All of them needed skilled workers and they welcomed the Swedish immigrants. It was only natural that the new arrivals should seek employment in lines where they had previous experience and in factories where people from their locality in Sweden were already employed. . . . Those who came from the steel towns of Varmland usually went to work for the American Steel and Wire Company. (1)
Guess where the ancestor resided in Sweden? Varmland. Now I have another avenue of research to pursue – company records of the American Steel and Wire Company.
If you’ve never tried PERSI, the best way to learn is by experimenting. Try a variety of searches and see what you can find.
Best of luck in all of your genealogical research!
(1) Oscar G. Norseen,”The First Swedes to Locate in Worcester, Massachusetts,” The Swedish Pioneer, vol. 4 issue 4, Oct. 1953, (Chicago : Swedish-American Historical Society, 1953), 14-15.