Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Women's History Month 2013: Periodicals

Resources for Researching Your Female Ancestor, Day # 13

Periodicals are an important aspect to genealogical research. The problem is, they tend to be  overlooked. Just this last week I was talking to a genealogy society president who lamented all the great periodicals their library has with transcriptions and family histories but no one every looks at them.

How can you find what you need in periodicals? First, you will want to search a periodical index. We will concentrate on PERSI for this post but my other favorite is JSTOR . Google Scholar  includes articles and books. Your local library may also have a periodical database available when you use your library card to sign into the library’s website.

PERSI is compiled by the Allen County Public Library in Indiana. PERSI is the largest index of historical and genealogical articles in the world. This index covers articles written in English and French since 1800.  While PERSI does not contain articles from every genealogical newsletter or journal ever published it does have a large collection that can benefit your research. While you cannot access PERSI from the Allen County Public Library website, you can access it through or Heritage Quest.

Searching on PERSI

Before you search on PERSI, it’s important to consider the types of articles you may find. Remember that these are genealogy and history periodicals which mean that the articles could consist of transcriptions, name lists, how-tos, methodology articles, area histories, interviews as well as images of individuals, places and events.

Some of the articles available in PERSI are from  genealogy society newsletters where the local society has been hard at work on local history projects that detail historical events, places or residents. These histories and transcriptions may not be available anywhere else.

You can search PERSI by locality, surname or other keyword. Because articles are indexed by the title of the article, not every word in the article, it’s important to note that those names mentioned in an article will not appear in the index. For this reason it is a good idea to search both surname and locality. For example, articles listing cemetery transcriptions will be indexed under the locality, not by the individuals named in the article. By just conducting a surname search, you could miss out on articles important to your research. When you search by locality you can also add a keyword. The addition of a keyword to your search can help you narrow down your results.

Once you search on a keyword, you results list will include the name of the article, the name of the publication it is found in, locality, volume, issue number, and record type. The record type is important because it is there that you will get a sense of what records the article deals with. Record types include Cemeteries, Church Records, Vital Records, History, Biography, Surname, Military, School Records, Directories, Land, Census Records, Court Records, Deeds, and Other.

Searching on a location is just one option. Also consider searching on characteristics of your ancestor like membership affiliations, religion and occupations. In a search using  the phrase “Grand Army of the Republic” I found hundreds of thousands of articles including membership lists for individual posts, membership records, service records, histories, posts, photos, cemetery listings and more. To narrow my results even further I can add a location, I added the state of Nebraska, which returns results having to do with the GAR in Nebraska.

For researching women, consider using a keyword search to find articles that provide information about activities that your ancestor may have been involved in. Some keywords to consider are the name of an occupation, church or membership organization. Searches I have conducted on the words “community cookbook” and “signature quilt” have included results with lists of women’s names from various churches, membership groups and cities transcribed by genealogy society members.

As with any online search engine, remember that the more keywords you use the fewer results will be returned to you. The reason is that the search engine looks for “hits” that match every term you have typed. So conduct numerous versions of your search, adding and removing  keywords, to get the best results.

Requesting articles

Once you have searched PERSI and found the articles you are interested in, you can download an order form from the Allen County Public Library GenealogyCenter website. The form is also available on Ancestry, on the PERSI home page.

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