Many Paths to Sources: Newspapers, Part 1

First, let’s take a look at newspapers. Newspapers are one of my favorite subjects to speak about. Finding your ancestors in the newspaper gives you a nice, albeit often short, snapshot into their lives and gives their lives extra flavor. It helps turn them into real people that existed rather than just names on a document.

There are some fantastic online options for finding newspapers. The big three sites for subscriptions:

And there is not one that is better than the other. They all have different collections, so the one that is right for you, is the one that has the series of newspapers with your ancestors in them. Be sure to check their catalog for coverage before buying a subscription. All of these sites let you do that, so don’t skip this step and then get disappointed if they don’t have the papers you needed.

There are many free sites for newspapers across the U.S. Many states have a state digitization project and corresponding website. Here are just a few:

Of course, there is the Library of Congress’s collection of digitized newspapers:

Internationally, there are also some free digital newspaper sites as well. I know of a couple where I’ve done research:

Then there are link sites such as:

The above, is a lot. But is is literally just scratching the surface of what you can do with newspaper research. In Part 2 we will look more closely at finding newspapers online. In Part 3, we will delve into finding and accessing newspapers offline.

Many Paths to Sources: It’s Not All Online

In the genealogy field, you might see the statement “it’s not all online” frequently. Unfortunately, with so much being online, we tend to think it ALL is. Ancestry, FamilySearch, and others, with their hint systems and click to add to family trees has trained us that if it isn’t online, delivered by a hint, then it probably doesn’t exist. This is simple neurology as well. The brain does not like to work hard.1 So, if there is not an easy way to find or get something, the brain gets on board with “if it isn’t online then it doesn’t exist” mentality. But it’s not all online.

As an admin on the Facebook group The Genealogy Squad, we see this happen all the time. People ask for where they can find vital records, yearbooks, city directories, newspaper articles, and so on. When the answer comes back that the particular thing they are looking for is not online and they will need to call or email a specific repository, they balk. Surely it is online somewhere. Oh, I have to make a call, and possibly PAY for said document?!?

TV shows and movies do not help this either. I watch NCIS and Criminal Minds, all of which would have you believe that the smallest bit of information can be found online, regardless of whether you have a warrant to obtain that information, but that’s another topic altogether.

The companies that are digitizing, are choosing to do so based on whether they can sell a subscription, with the exception of FamilySearch. They digitize to preserve according to their religious beliefs. It takes a lot of time and resources to do the digitizing, store the digital images, create databases linked to those digital images, etc. so you can sit at home and do this from your computer with minimal effort. I’m all for it. But if you truly want to obtain those harder-to-find documents, solve those mysteries, and break down the proverbial brick wall, you have to go further sometimes.

In this blog series, we will look at some common sources and explore some of the other ways you might consider to obtain that source. Fair warning, it may take a little more thinking, exploration, and effort to obtain. But I want us all to get a little less comfortable so we can get a little further ahead with our research projects.


1. Elliot T. Berkman, “The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change” (Consult Psychol J. 2018 Mar; 70(1): 28–44; digital copy, US National Library of Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5854216/).

PERSI: Tips for Getting Copies of Articles

You might notice, when you use PERSI, that once you find an article you want to read, there’s no link to view it. Can you imagine the task and resources needed to digitize, store, link, and do all of the other techno-shizzle-wizzle needed to house digital images of the over 8,000 titles in the collection that starts from publications in 1847 to today? That’s millions and millions of pages. So, remember, PERSI is an index. In our day of instant gratification, we want to be able to click and see the article. But that is not possible, here and now. You have to do some extra work to get the benefit of PERSI.

When you find an article you want here are some ways to try to obtain a copy. These are not in any particular order. It depends on the journal, the society, the library, etc. There’s no way to know ahead of time which one of these will work best for that journal.

  • Look up the journal title on WorldCat to locate a library that holds that journal. Then see if they have a copy/scan service to provide the article. Most do. Or you can try interlibrary loan to obtain a copy.
  • Look up the publishing society’s website. I have found several genealogical societies that have already digitized their own quarterlies and make them available on their website, often for free.
  • Hire a professional to make copies. You could hire someone that frequents Allen County Public Library, or someone that frequents a library you located using the WorldCat step above. I recommend the Association of Professional Genealogists’ Directory. This link will show you those that list Allen County Public Library under their repositories.
  • Contact ACPL directly. There is a form for ordering articles under the “Our Services” link found under “Explore Genealogy” on the ACPL homepage. No offense to anyone that works at ACPL, but that form indicates that it will take “6-8 weeks” and I’m an impatient genealogist, so I try any of the other steps before I will try this one. And I have never had to use this form. Something else invariably works, and works faster than 6-8 weeks.
  • If none of the above work (which I highly doubt, but anything is possible), then visit ACPL and find them yourself. (Highly Recommended!) The library is lovely (see below).
Allen County Public Library, photo by author, 2013

Those are my best tips on PERSI, on of genealogy’s most under utilized resources in my opinion. I hope you will use it more and learn how to use it more effectively with the tips in this series.

PERSI: Search Tips Part 2

One of the ways I love to use PERSI is for looking for articles in a particular journal. I often would find myself in a smaller public library with a genealogy and local history section, and find that they would have a run of a a particular journal, or several. Many genealogical society journals provide an index, annually. They very rarely combine them into one larger index. So, you have to pull out each annual index and look for your item, subject, name, or keyword of interest…for EVERY year, for as long as that journal has been in publication.

If you read last week’s blog, you know how to get a set of results for a geographic area, with a keyword or subject. Once you’ve done that, you can then search those results by the journal title. Let’s look at this example. I was sitting in the Clayton Library in Houston (a fantastic genealogical library with one of my favorite librarians, hi Sue!), and I noticed that they had a run of the journal Saga of Southern Illinois which covers Hardin County, where I had some collateral ancestors move off to. I wanted to check that journal for a variety of topics, but didn’t want to sit there and pull out each volume to check its index. Instead, PERSI can help with this.

First, use the “United States” button and narrow down to which state you are looking for, in this case Illinois.

PERSI’s category buttons

I personally like to leave it at the state level for this kind of search, but you could narrow your search down to a particular county if you wish. From the topics list, I choose the one that most closely covers what I am looking for. In this example let’s choose “Cemeteries.”

PERSI categories for Illinois

You can see that there are 5,861 articles relating to cemeteries in Illinois in PERSI. Let’s narrow that down now by the journal title. The results are in a table with the following headers: Article Title, Periodical, Year Published, and Publisher. If you know the title, you’ll want to use that to narrow this down, if you know the genealogical society, you could use that as well. I’m going to use the title “Saga of Southern Illinois” or just “saga” to narrow these results.

PERSI results for “cemeteries” in Illinois

Type the word “saga” in that search box (red arrow pointing at it above).

PERSI Results filtered by the word “Saga”

Putting a word in the search box filters the results you already have by that search word. This is a text search only and there’s no way to say “I only want to look at periodicals with this word.” So, if a title of an article has the word “saga” in it, that will come up too. However, you can see that most of the results are from the journal Saga of Southern Illinois. You can also see that the results are now at 216 entries instead of 5,861. Much easier. There is no way to do a second filtering. Say I wanted to see all articles in Saga about Browning Hill Cemetery. It won’t let you do a second filtering. However, you could get creative with your searching and perhaps do your initial filter by Hardin County only and then search for “Browning Hill” in the search box.

I use this technique when I have the journals at hand and want a more efficient index to use or I know I want an article from a particular publication. Since PERSI is not an every name index, you may still decide to look at those annual journal indexes for your ancestors, but using PERSI this way can cut down on some of your research time and make your library visits more efficient.

Next week we will look at some ways to get copies of the articles once you’ve found them in PERSI.

PERSI: Search Tips Part 1

Now that PERSI (the Periodical Source Index) is now hosted at Allen County Public Library (ACPL), let’s take a look at some search tips for more effective searching.

The starting screen for PERSI.

When you begin your search at PERSI, you will first want to begin with one of the options shown in the above buttons. There are basically four categories: surnames, place, technique, and keyword. Remember, PERSI is not an every name index, so if you search by surname, that name will be the major subject of the article. For our example, we will choose “United States” to get started.

When you click on “United States” you can then further filter your results by choosing a state in the dropdown menu.

State drop-down menu on PERSI.

Then choose a county, if desired. It is not a requirement.

County drown-down menu on PERSI.

Once you have chosen your state and county, you will then be presented with a table of subjects and the number of articles available for that topic.

Subject list for Wood County, Ohio on PERSI.

For our example, we will choose “Court Records,” and see what kind of results we get.

PERSI results for “Court Records” in Wood County, Ohio

Along the top, you can see your waypoints so you can recall what category you are in. We are in USA>OH>Wood County>Court Records. You can also see that you can change the number of results you can see on one screen. It defaults to 10, but it can go up to 100. You can also see the column headings of for the article title, periodical (which includes the volume and issue number), the year published, and the publisher (the genealogical society usually).

If you search by surname, you will only have one level of results. In the example below, I searched for “Taplin” and was reminded of some articles I wrote some time ago.

PERSI search results for Surname>Taplin.

In both of the above examples, you’ll notice that there’s a “search” box above the results table. This will allow you to further search within the current results. Let’s go back to the Wood County, Ohio court records and search for wills.

Wood County, Ohio Court Records, search for wills

There is only one result in Wood County, Ohio with the keyword “will.” This is not any kind of “fuzzy” searching in that it will look for synonyms or similar spellings. If I put the full word “wills” in I will not get any results, because the one article that exists, uses the word “will” not “wills.”

We will take a look at some more search tips again next time.

PERSI Tips: What Kind of Index is it?

The Periodical Source Index (PERSI) began as a print publication in 1986 by the staff at Allen County Public Library (ACPL). ACPL’s collection holds over 8,000 titles of genealogical society journals. PERSI was first published as a 16-volume set covering the years 1847-1985, and then annually. It was also available on microfiche at FHL and CD-ROM through Ancestry.

Print volumes of PERSI, located at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas, photographed by author.

In 1997, Ancestry made PERSI available as a free online database. This was also the last year it was available in print. PERSI has been available for free through HeritageQuest and most recently through Findmypast (FMP). However, the contract with FMP is ending and for reasons not disclosed, ACPL is going to host the index on their own site: https://www.genealogycenter.info/persi/

What kind of index is it? Let me sum up the biggest misunderstanding in one sentence:

PERSI IS NOT AN EVERY NAME INDEX!

The biggest misunderstanding and misuse of PERSI is that users expect to be able to put in their person’s name or even a surname, and find information about that person. That is not how PERSI was indexed. PERSI is a keyword and subject index. The indexers did not index every name in a cemetery transcription published in a local society quarterly. They did not index every name in a transcribed local tax list. They did not index every name published in a military draft list for a county.

To best use PERSI, you need to think in terms of subjects and keywords. If someone is the subject of an article, you will find their name in the index. But if they were among those listed as petition signers, for example, you will not find them.

Over the next several posts, I will share some of my best tips, case studies, examples, and how to obtain copies of the articles, so that you can get the most out of PERSI.

Check out the New PERSI!

If you’ve heard me speak, you may know that I am a huge fan of the Periodical Source Index, or PERSI. This index has been around for a long time, started by the Allen County Public Library, whose indexers indexed nearly all genealogical society quarterlies and journals since the beginning of time. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it truly is nearly accurate. They have been doing small genealogical society publications a great service over the years, making the work of the local researchers and writers more accessible to researchers far and wide. PERSI has taken may forms over the years from a printed publication to a set of CD-ROMs to microfiche to an online index. Most recently it has been housed at Findmypast.

ACPL – Creator of PERSI

I attended a webinar yesterday put on by the Allen County Public Library sharing the new version of PERSI which will be housed on their website. The presenter made the point several times that one of the benefits of this is so that PERSI would be free. However, I want to make a point of correction here. PERSI has always been free. At Findmypast, you did need a login (set up a username and password), but no credit card was required to do that. You could access PERSI for free at Findmypast. There were a few features you could not access such as the full ACPL call number, volume number, or digital image if it were available. You were able to find titles of articles, authors, journal titles, and years of publication. Everything you needed to access the article, all for free. Not that it matters now, but I want to give credit where credit is due.

Over the years, as I’ve presented my lecture about PERSI, I have often had to dispel the myth that it was not free at Findmypast. I guess because it was housed at a company everyone thought you had to pay for it. I have a secret I want to share: nearly every website has some number of free databases you can access without paying for a subscription. PERSI was one of those at Findmypast.

The link to the new PERSI is: https://www.genealogycenter.info/persi/

The presenter stated that they are still working out some of the kinks and soon there will be a button for PERSI on the main database page. For now, you will find the link to PERSI at the bottom footer of the page for any of their other free database pages. Or you can just bookmark the link above.

The NEW PERSI homepage at ACPL.

I wanted to first share the link and a screenshot of the new PERSI website. Over the next several weeks I will share some of the details and reiterate some of my favorite tips for working with PERSI to get the most out of it for your research.

NGSQ Study Groups for 2022

Can you believe it is only a couple of weeks away until 2022? I can’t. This year has gone so slowly that I’m shocked to find us at the end of it.

Our NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) study groups are forming for 2022 and we still have a few seats left! These discussions are run by Cyndi Ingle (of Cyndi’s List) and myself and between the two of us, we offer 4 different time slots.

We have worksheets that help us breakdown and discuss the articles. Also, each month you get 5-6 unique questions for that particular article to help lead the discussion. We focus on principles found in the book Mastering Genealogical Proof so we are covering the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard from each article. We also host private Facebook Groups to facilitate discussion between sessions.

You can find more information and sign up at this page: https://genealogypants.com/research-and-consultation-services/classes-and-study-groups/

Just click on the section you are interested in to get more details.

We will be sending out more information to those of you who have signed up very soon. We hope to see you in 2022!

Preparing for a Research Trip: Research Plans

There are a variety of ways you can construct a research plan and log. Often these are taught and discussed as two separate items. However, these can be one document that is keyword searchable if you use a computer program. Popular computer programs for creating research plans and logs are: spreadsheets (Excel or Numbers), word processors using tables (Word or Pages), and note-taking software such as Evernote, One Note, or Scrivener. Of course, this is a personal preference and you may be most comfortable with paper and pencil.

Why is a research plan/log important? 

  • To be efficient with your limited time in a repository, cemetery, or with family members.
  • To keep track of what you’ve researched so you don’t unnecessarily duplicate your work.
  • To keep any notes about your search results organized.
  • To gather citation information.

Months or years later, you can search these plans/logs for more research clues or to be sure you don’t examine the same source twice, or to know if you need to go back and search for new information (perhaps you’ve discovered a new surname since the last time you looked at a particular book or film).

Consider including the following items in your research plan/log:

  • Date
  • Repository
  • Title of item
  • Call number or film number
  • Names/Info searches
  • Search results
  • Other comments

A research plan and log should allow you to see what you’ve done, let you see where you should or shouldn’t search in the future, and is best if it is keyword searchable such as in a computerized system.

Sample research plan/log

While you are at the repository:

  • Take the time to organize your research findings.
  • If you have time/energy in the evenings, go through your papers/files and be sure they are organized.
  • Process your work as soon as possible. Enter in your database, research log, or other system.

If you wait too long to process your work, and you forget what you were doing, it’s almost as if you never went in the first place. Be sure you record and process what you find.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

Preparing for a Research Trip: Repository Visits

I, for one, cannot wait to get back to researching in various repositories. Seeking out elusive ancestors and learning about history firsthand is so much fun. Here are some tips for taking trips to repositories.

Repository Visit Tips

Before you go to a repository, check the website for maps, location, hours, closures, and parking information. Also, check the rules for what you can bring and/or do while you’re there, and then bring the appropriate items:

  • Can you use your own notebooks or will you be given archive-assigned loose paper?
  • Can you bring in your bags, backpacks, or briefcases or will you be assigned a locker? 
  • Can you use pens or is it pencils only?
  • Is photography allowed?
  • Can you use laptops, tablets?
  • Do you need to request items from storage ahead of time?

Check the online catalog and plan what you want to see specifically. Create a list of call numbers, manuscript names, folder numbers, and/or microfilm numbers. Be sure to ask questions of the archivist or librarian. They often know a lot of information that you might not have been expecting.

What’s in the bag?

  • Don’t forget plugs, chargers, cords, batteries, etc.
  • Change or bills for copies if needed
  • Is there a snack room available? Bring water, snacks, and/or lunch.
  • Flash drives, thumb drives
  • Office supplies: sticky notes, paper clips, folders, sheet protectors, large envelopes
Research room at the Hancock County, Ohio courthouse