Some of the most important and useful writing on local history and genealogy can be found in the thousands of periodicals published each year. How do you find the articles that relate to your family or to your town’s history?
One way is to subscribe to the journals that most closely match your research interests, such as the magazines that specialize in the history of your locality or that cover families in a particular region. Occasionally those magazines will publish an index or topical guide that will lead you to articles published in the past.
Genealogical and historical magazines have been published in the United States for almost 200 years. To help you find your way through that mass of material, PERSI (PERiodical Source Index), compiled by the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a guide to topics in a high proportion of those magazines.
PERSI was formerly published on the HeritageQuest website. Today it is a feature of FindMyPast.com, which specializes in British and Irish records. You can register with FindMyPast for free, which will allow you to do basic searches on the site, though you won’t be able to see document images.
PERSI can be found there under “Newspapers and Periodicals.” It is not an index to every name or keyword that appears in magazine articles. Instead, the indexers identified the major topics (including place names and family surnames) for each article. For example, the place name “Prince William County” pulls up 680 results – that many articles in which Prince William is featured. The surname “Smith” pulls up 16,720 hits. With a popular name like Smith, you can use the keyword field instead to put in a full name, like “Daniel Smith,” which gives you 69 hits.
If you subscribe to FindMyPast, you may be able to immediately obtain a copy of the article you want. Even without a subscription, you will be able to see the title of the article, the name of the journal, and the year it was published. With a subscription, you will see the exact date of the issue, and the page number. If you don’t subscribe to FindMyPast, RELIC may be able to help you obtain the article, either from our collection or through interlibrary loan.
One periodical index that has been useful to Virginia historians for many years is the Virginia Historical Index, also known as Swem’s Index. Its four large volumes index every topic in seven important Virginia serials published through 1930: Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Hening’s Statutes at Large, Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Virginia Historical Register, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (VMHB), and William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine (WMCQ). In addition to the index, RELIC has a complete run of all these titles.
Between 1930 and about 1990, the Library of Virginia published index cards covering broad topics that appeared in VMHB as well as Virginia Cavalcade. Since that time, the annual index bound in each title is the best we have to offer. That is except for JSTOR, the digital archive of scholarly journals you can find in our online Digital Library. JSTOR contains a mostly-complete run of VMHB and WMCQ which you read online and search for any keyword in the text.
It becomes easier and easier to find journal articles with the electronic databases available today.