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The Hidden Treasures of Local Unindexed Periodicals

The Hidden Treasures of the Local Unindexed Periodicals

Decades ago, I was volunteering at a Family History Center. One day, the Director made the difficult but seemingly correct decision to toss out all of the aged society periodicals we had collected. Her reasoning was sound, they were taking up room and no one ever used them. At that time, using the new FamilySearch databases and viewing microforms seemed like a better use of time when one was limited by personal time constraints and the hours of the Center.

The problem with periodicals is that they have a limited shelf life. When they are first published, they are appealing and hold the promise of new insights, but after a few months, we tend to consider them fodder for the recycling bin.

While it's true that some genealogy periodicals achieve immortality through their inclusion into the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), that's not true of all society periodicals. However, they still may be available in a physical form at a genealogy library, the society's library, or even an extensive public library,

Last year when I researched at three genealogy libraries (Allen County Public Library, the Family History Library, and the Clayton Library for Genealogical Research), periodicals were shelved alongside the books for a particular county and state. In some cases, they were found at the beginning of the shelf for that location. Easy to find, but still might be passed over for other "more important" resources. Those periodicals were easy to ignore. After all, there is so much to look at in a genealogy library, and it's easy to turn your attention to other resources. Periodicals can be hit or miss and, unless indexed, take time to examine page by page carefully. Although there is likely a table of contents and maybe even an index, why bother?

It's a good question, and the answer lies in the difference between searching and researching. When we search, we are simply doing just that, entering search terms or keywords into a website search engine, and determining which results have value for our research. When we conduct research, real research, we are doing that and carefully studying collections that are not easily searched. We go page-by-page, reading and studying the content to discover mentions of our ancestors or a topic.

Research takes time, and often there are no shortcuts. There's nothing wrong with using an index to find what you need, but that periodical may not be indexed, so you'll have to research it the old-fashioned way, page by page, looking for what you need. At the Family History Library I studied the books for the area I was researching and then one by one I went through the local society newsletters to see if I could find mention of the woman who I was researching.

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A reasonably exhaustive search requires us to use a variety of sources, including periodicals. These periodicals are valuable and rich in genealogical information such as oral histories, indexes to unique record sets, transcriptions and abstracts, histories, and more. Reading a local society periodical (whether genealogical or historical) can lead you to additional records or help you understand a place in time that you may have been unfamiliar with.

It's easy to feel like you've looked everywhere but take some time to exhaust available sources from the location you are researching, including society publications.

 

Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

 

Comments

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I have found many gems in old periodicals. Especially helpful for local information.

As you say, searching through these old newsletters takes time, something that people visiting these libraries and archives often don't have. When will I find the time to page through 40 unindexed issues of a newsletter that's only available in one historical society 6 hours from my home, even if I think it might hold something useful or interesting?

PERSI is very helpful for what it is, but I hope, someday, that logistical and copyright issues can be resolved to allow for these newsletters to be scanned, OCR'd, and made available for online searching and viewing. One of the "final frontiers" of genealogy research.

I go direct to the Genealogical Organisation or Historical Society's website. Some are either digitising their old journals (with OCR) or at least have an index. Don't know about the US but have had luck in Australia.

Did anyone ever regret the decision to toss those periodicals?

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