Have you tried searching the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) for a surname but come away empty? Me too. I searched with “Dyer” in the who field and “North Carolina” in the where field. My search returned 0 results! I was disappointed. I felt like it was probably incorrect. There just had to be some articles in PERSI about Dyers in North Carolina.
PERSI includes over two million entries for articles from thousands of genealogical and historical periodicals. Dyer is a fairly common name, and many Dyers lived in North Carolina. Why wasn’t my search getting any results? I wondered if I was doing something wrong.
A FamilySearch Wiki article about PERSI mentions that the indexers who created the periodical source index often added descriptive information to the title, including abbreviations and acronyms. When PERSI was first made, the title field was limited to 50 characters, so indexers were creative with adding descriptive information about the article. They used two-letter state postal codes (Md, Ky, Tn, etc.) as well as abbreviations for religions, like “Bap” for Baptist Church and “Cath” for Catholic Church. Initials were used for organizations like the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) and DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). Later, indexers were able to include 250 characters in the title.
With all of these abbreviations and acronyms, we need to be creative in our searches to access everything PERSI has to offer!
Surname Search with State Postal Codes
I decided to try my Dyer surname search again, using the postal code NC in the “what else” field to focus the results. To my delight, this search returned 11 articles!
As you can see in each of these entries, the title of the article is followed by the postal code of the states mentioned in the article. For example, the first result, “Manoah Dyer, Rev. War Service, Va, Nc” seems to be about the Revolutionary War service of Manoah Dyer in Virginia and North Carolina. Clicking the blue transcription button on the right takes you to the full entry for the article, shown in the screenshot below.
Now I can see why the article didn’t appear in my original search results with Dyer in the who field and North Carolina in the where field. There is no place field in the indexed entry at all! There is a topics field that includes Virginia, but that topics field is not connected to the where search field. I tested this by searching with Dyer in the who field and Virginia in the where field, and the Manoah Dyer article did not appear.
What can I learn from this “record transcription” entry for the Manoah Dyer article? Typically, when searching the FindMyPast database, a record transcription page will include the indexed information from the historical record. For example, a marriage record indexed entry will give you the names of the couple who were married and the date and place. With PERSI, the indexed entry is only the periodical article citation details. You won’t find any names or dates beyond what the encoder added to the title field. To get more information, you need to read the article. Only a small fraction of the articles in PERSI have been digitized at FindMyPast. Unless the journal publisher has given permission for their journals to be digitized by FindMyPast, you will need to track down the actual article in a library or on the journal publisher’s website (i.e. a genealogical or historical society).
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/.
The Place Field
Why did my search return 0 results when I used the who and where search fields together? This is because when you search using the where field and find an article, the indexed entry for that article includes a place field. Most surname articles do not include the place field. In the screenshot below, showing an article in the history subject area, you can see where the place field typically goes in PERSI index entries.
Again – not all of the entries in PERSI have a place field! Many just include a state postal code in the title, and the only way to find that is to type the postal code in the what else search field. It’s mostly surname articles that don’t include a place field. So if you are trying to search for articles about Dyers in North Carolina by putting North Carolina in the where field, you may come up with few or no results. The where search field is tied to the place field.
As you can see in the screenshot above, this surname article was not indexed with a place field. Place should be below Issue and above Subject. The subject of this article is “surname,” so like most of the other surname articles in PERSI, there was no place field indexed.
Be careful when searching for surname articles! They probably won’t be indexed with a place field, so you’ll have to use the state postal code in the what else field.
County Search with State Postal Codes
PERSI has some surname articles, but many locality focused articles. Searching PERSI for the a county or town you are researching can help you see what has been previously published about the records there.
I searched for Hawkins County, Tennessee in two ways to compare my search results. First, I added “Hawkins, Tennessee” to the where field. That returned 1,178 results. Then I tried searching with Hawkins, Tn in the what else field. This returned 2,119 results!
As you can see, I would have missed 948 results had I not searched with the state postal code. Also, my second search may not even include every article from my first search. How great to have so many results, right? But how can you get through so many results to find what you actually want? Luckily, you can narrow down your results using the filters in the left panel.
Narrowing Search Results with Filters
The subject filter is where all the record types are broken out. During the PERSI indexing process, each article was given a subject, sometimes multiple subjects. PERSI uses 22 subject areas: biography, cemeteries, census records, church records, court records, deeds, history, institutions, land records, maps, military records, naturalization records, obituaries, other records (miscellaneous), passenger lists, probate records, school records, tax records, vital records, voter records, and wills.
Screenshot from my PERSI handout – click here to have it emailed to you
Articles focusing on three or fewer specific families are arranged by surname instead of record type. The surname subject is included with the other 22 subjects as a bonus subject area. In fact, when I looked within the subject filter to see how many articles were tagged with the surname subject (in my second search above) there were about 900. Remember, most surname articles were not indexed with a place field, so that explains why searching with Hawkins, TN (the state postal code) in the what else field helped me find about 900 more articles.
To narrow by subject click the “show filters” button next. A popup box then shows an A-Z list with all the subject areas. Instead of simply listing the 22 subject areas, the subjects are listed by each unique combination of the 22 subject areas. I personally find this limiting. I would rather see a list of only the 22 subjects, not the combinations of them. As you can see in the screenshot below, you have to scroll through a long list of alphabetized subject groupings to find what you want. I wanted land records.
I wanted land records, so I searched the subject filters for “land.” One thing to remember is that there are separate subjects for land records and deeds. They don’t include each other, so be sure to check the box for both land and deeds. As you can see in the screenshot below, there are 29 articles about deeds in Hawkins County, Tennessee, and 15 articles about land records in Hawkins County, Tennessee.
However, this doesn’t include the articles that were indexed with multiple subjects. I had to go back to the filters and check the box next to every combination of land records and deeds with other subject areas. When I did that, I got a total of 59 results.
My next step will be ordering the articles that apply to my research through inter-library loan (ILL). I live in Pima County, Arizona, and our county library system has a free ILL system. Often they will email me a PDF of the article I request within a week or two.
Are you getting 0 results in your PERSI searches? You may need to try searching with state postal codes in the what else field. Be creative and don’t give up! There are 2.7 million journal record entries from thousands of publications in PERSI. One of the articles you find may save you hours of time researching someone who has already been written about or reading pages and pages of land records. If you’d like more information about why to use PERSI and how to do so, click here to have my PERSI handout emailed to you. I created this when presenting at a local genealogical society.
Try searching PERSI yourself by going to https://search.findmypast.com/search/periodical-source-index.
“Periodical Source Index (PERSI).” FamilySearch Wiki. https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Periodical_Source_Index_(PERSI) : 2019. Last edited 20 June 2019, at 14:32.
“PERSI – The Peridocial Source Index.” FindMyPast. https://www.findmypast.com/persi : 2019.
A librarian at Allen County (Ind.) Public Library, where the index entries originate, advised me that I might have my best luck by searching for just a place name, especially a county-state combination, assuming that I knew where my target family lived. She reminded me that PERSI is an index to _titles_ of articles.
For many years (and maybe still) most genealogy periodicals have been published by county and local societies. So the _titles_ of articles in genealogy periodicals have been things like, “Union Township Cemetery” or “Old Dinkum Early Deeds” or “Lebanon Methodist Church Baptisms.” Each article would cover many local family names, which are not individually indexed. Once we have a list of articles about a particular county, town, or township, it’s fairly easy to skim it or filter it for the items that are likely to mention our own family members.
These articles cover intensely local material that probably won’t be available online for decades to come. Store ledgers. Graduation lists. Family bibles. Personal memoirs. Inter-Library Loan is a good way to get access to them if your local library participates. You can also order copies from the Allen County Library:
Thank you for this helpful info!
Thank you very much for this post! Now I understand more uses for PERSI. We had this topic in a course I just completed and I was confused how to use the different features. Your post assists tremendously.
So glad this helps!
This is an incredible blog post. Thank you for the detailed instructions. I tried the tips on a couple of my surnames with no luck, but I am sure I will eventually strike gold.
Thank you Sherri! I was so excited when I learned this. Glad you are too!
I couldn’t download the PERSI handout. It’s a great guide.
Thanks for the comment. To download the PERSI handout try using a different internet browser. Google Chrome often blocks the download depending on your personal settings.