Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The #1 Thing That Impacted My Research in 2010

Before the end of 2010 I asked my facebook friends the following question:

"Reflecting on the past year, what was the number one thing that impacted your genealogical research? Was it a family discovery, a class taken, a lecture attended, a new distant cousin or something else?"

I got some really interesting answers from my friends. Now it's time for me to add my own answer.


This may seem very simple to the rest of you but it was quite profound for me. It was all about footnotes. I love footnotes for the way they can reveal and point you to sources you didn't know about before.

I have been reading peer-reviewed journals such at the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Historical & Genealogical Register for quite some time.  I read the NGSQ cover to cover, with great interest but not purposefully.

This year instead of reading articles that were merely presented to me I learned that I can seek out articles that relate specifically to my research interest either geographically or for a given time period.

It finally dawned on me that if I am researching Yarmouth, Massachusetts I can seek out other articles on Yarmouth and the footnotes will be specifically helpful to me.

I know your saying that is so obvious but it wasn't obvious to me. I've always known to do a PERSI search or a search of the NEHGS catalog or the Family History Library catalog for a specific family but it didn't really occur to me to seek out articles specifically on a location. Or my location based research focused on records and not on published articles.

How this affected my research

I receive a copy of the Register regularly but I have to admit I have seldom read it in the past.  The articles just seemed a bit dry to me.   But when I realized that I could seek out the exact footnotes that could help me that all changed.  Most of my research, both professional and personal, is focused on New England and New York.  And to think that I was ignoring the one journal that could help me the most.

Now I check the table of contents for the Register immediately to see if any of it is relevant for my research.  I also check back issues online at the NEHGS website. I still don't read it cover to cover but the articles have greater significance for me when I do read it.
I guess 2010 was year for location based research!

Research Suggestion

Have you been purposefully looking for peer-reviewed articles that are similar to your research targets?  If not, think about where you are researching and what time periods.  There are great journals across the United States and Europe that will help you.  If you are having trouble finding journals that meet your needs leave me a comment and I'll try to help you find some.


  1. Thank you Marian for this article. I also have never searched on specific locations. I am most certainly going to use this technique in future research.

    Sherry Gould

  2. I've been derelict about using journals in much of my research, but your suggestion to focus on location rather than specific families is persuasive. One more tool! Thanks, Marian.

  3. Hi Marian,
    That's a great way to put footnotes to work for your research. The things that impacted me the most during 2010 were blogs! Believe it or not, I never really read a blog before this year. Now I subscribe to feeds about genealogy as well as artist and freelance writing blogs.
    See you in April,

  4. can I leave a comment without a password?

  5. Yes you absolutely can leave anonymous comments! You just did!

  6. Good article, Marian. I find myself paying more
    attention to footnotes now myself, and to bibliographies at the end of articles and books. I've got to start making a list soon to see if any
    of the ones that might help me are available either online or in libraries.

  7. I've been doing that for 20 years; talking about it for 20 years; writing about it for 20 years; and blogging about it for 3 years. Maybe people will listen to you, but I doubt it. People want easy. People want it on the Internet. You've just broken the two ground rules of Average Joe Genealogy.

  8. Budding genealogist here... What is a PERSI search? Thanks!

  9. Marian, I had this same epiphany a few months ago, when I found that an ancestor's tribulations had been documented in a fairly new textbook, which I quickly purchased. There were tons of footnotes to court documents and other items I hadn't considered looking for (or had time to think about). And the beauty of footnotes is that they tell you exactly where to find what you're looking for! Sometimes there really is no need to reinvent the wheel!

  10. Diane - PERSI is short for Periodical Source Index. It's an index of genealogical publications that can be searched by name, location, periodical or how to's.

    It's used to see if anything has already been published on your topic of interest.

    So for example if you have an ancestor named Orange Hill (yes that is one of my ancestors) you can search for Orange Hill and search for all occurrences of that everywhere. You can also search for Pompey, NY. Or you can search for Pompey, NY and Orange Hill together.

    The idea is that PERSI will let you know if any articles have been published already on either of those topics.

    The most common way to access it is through a database called HeritageQuest Online which is available (from home) through many local libraries.

    You can see a longer (and probably better) explanation here:

    I have to admit I don't use PERSI nearly enough. It's a great tool.

  11. Wonderful article, Marian!

    For those genealogists on a slim budget, one must make full use of all educational resources. Reading NGSQ and the Register cover to cover, including all of the footnotes, is one of the greatest educational activities there is.

    I would go so far as to recommend reading back issues of these journals, *regardless* of the geographic or other focus. For example, the techniques used in a case study involving 19th century German immigrants to New York may help you trace newly-freed African Americans in Mississippi. The footnotes may not be entirely relevant *specifically* but may alert you to look for similar records in your research location.