Research Tips

What is PERSI and How Can You Use it to Improve Your Genealogy Research?

Have you tried using PERSI in your genealogy research? If not, you are missing out on a valuable genealogical information resource. PERSI stands for Periodical Source Index, and it is the largest genealogy and local history subject index on the planet. It was designed and assembled by the staff at the Allen County Public Library Foundation and Genealogy Center. PERSI is an important, even vital resource for genealogists, and is widely recognized as being such.

What makes PERSI so special to genealogists? Well, to start, it includes an index of 11,000 periodicals, 3,000 of which are no longer publishing. These periodicals were all published by historical and genealogical societies at local, state, national, and international levels. The index includes twenty-two subject headings, and 2.7 million surnames and/or locations that may pertain to YOUR family history. If you have a particular family line that has been a stubborn brick wall to you, or are just looking for more information on the details of the lives of your ancestors, you may find the answers you seek in the PERSI database. It’s not just genealogists who use PERSI. Historians, academics of all kinds, archaeologists, demographers, and students from Kindergarten to college all use this valuable research resource.

The PERSI index began as an idea in 1986, when efforts were made at indexing both current and past issues of publications on genealogy and history in publications ranging from 1847-1985. It was originally a sixteen volume set, though it has become much larger than that over the decades, with new additions as more periodical discoveries are made. The Family History Library of the Mormon church has the original set available on microfiche. There also used to be an annual print version of PERSI, which was discontinued in 1997. Ancestry.com issued CDs with the original index on it to customers for a short time, but no longer does so. Ancestry also used to make the index available as a digital product to its subscribers on its website, but no longer does so. You could also access PERSI from Heritage Quest Online until just recently, as the site has now taken it down.

So, how can you access PERSI nowadays? Heritage Quest Online took it down because FindMyPast.com acquired the sole rights to the electronic database outside of the Allen County Public Library. You can search PERSI for free on FindMyPast, and get index results. However, to view any images associated with an index result (not every result has an image to go with it, but a good number do), you have to be a paid member of the site, or buy pay-per-view credits there.

In order to search PERSI to maximum effect, it is important to understand that it is not an every name index, or even an every word index. You must look up things on the index by:

  • Location
  • Type of record
  • Using the surname as a subject
  • How-to topic

There are no queries, genealogical charts, fiction, cartoons, or poetry on PERSI, except once in awhile. You usually won’t find them there. You can search up to 150 characters in the index, and most researchers have found your chances of finding something pertinent to your unique search is greater the more characters you use. There are some periodicals in the index that are in foreign languages. A title of an article in a foreign language indicates the article is written in that language. To actually search for people by name, it is best to use the “optional keywords” field. Because the index is not an every name index, it is often more useful to add a place or location along with a name when doing a search.

It can take some practice to get the hang of PERSI, but once you do, you will wonder how you ever did without it in your genealogical research. You will find things in it that are not in any vital record source, no newspaper article, no census, and not even any written family histories. These are magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, booklets, and other publications by societies dedicated to genealogy and/or history, and they may have been published long ago, when people with firsthand knowledge of people and events you are researching were available to be interviewed or tell their stories. They may also have or had access to other sources that are no longer available, or available to the public. People may have contributed information to these publications that they never submitted anywhere else, and that never made its way anywhere else. PERSI opens up a whole new wealth of genealogical material you never knew existed, and it can break down brick walls and open genealogical doors for you.

It is well worth it to search the PERSI index for free on FindMyPast. If you find anything in the index that looks like it might be important to your genealogical research, you really should get a membership or buy pay-per-view credits so you can get the full information from the source. You may make amazing discoveries in your family history that make it worth the small cost. It also may become one of your reliable and most used go-to genealogical research sources. It is a resource that the top professional genealogists know about and use, though many amateur family historians are not aware of its existence. Now you know, so go out there and see what PERSI can find for you.

Among the types of articles included in the PERSI index are things like:


Will Moneymaker

Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his last name. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)