Finding Academic Sources

In previous posts, I described examples of the kinds of information available in academic journals. The traditional way to access these resources would be to go to library shelves and start reading indexes. A far more effective way to reach many more sources is to use text-searchable collections of periodicals online. Because of the massive cost of compiling such electronic libraries, the best of them are subscription-only. Subscriptions are expensive and available only to institutions. Most public universities allow the general public to use their libraries, including access to electronic resources using their computers (you usually won’t be able to access from home without a valid student id and password). Below I describe two of the best resources.

Many genealogists are familiar with the HeritageQuest online products available at many libraries and institutions (and available to US Navy personnel, their families, and retirees at Navy Knowledge Online). The parent company is ProQuest, whose other products include “ProQuest – Periodicals Archive Online.” This resource is often bundled with the HeritageQuest products subscribed by many libraries, colleges, and universities. If your local library subscribes to the ProQuest family of online sources (or you can access them by other means), they are well worth browsing. Articles from paper-based publications are converted to ASCI text, with page numbers. ProQuest is readily availability at many public libraries, but the disadvantages compared to JSTOR (discussed next) include more limited content, and the articles not formatted as they were originally published (no pictures).

You can take a look at descriptions of the ProQuest products at the link below.

Although HeritageQuest is good, you will be ecstatic if you have access to a college or university that subscribes to JSTOR, the “gold standard” in electronic archiving. JSTOR provides a much wider range of titles. JSTOR scans the journal articles as images to preserve their original layout and appearance, but also allows full-text searches. Unfortunately, pictures are reproduced very poorly in the scanned page images. For a list of titles in theJSTOR history and social sciences collection, see this link:


RobynJuly 19th, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Hi David, I’d meant to comment just to tell you how very much I enjoyed this series of articles. I have long thought acdemic journals were a hidden jewel most genealogists hadn’t fully tapped. I teach this as a resource in my genealogy class as well as using college thesis/theses (what is the plural of that word anyway?) and dissertations. Thanks for including such outstanding examples, too.

DavidJuly 20th, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Thank you, Robyn, for the kind comment! If you have encountered any academic articles of general interest to genealogists, that you’d like to add to my list, please feel free to post details here!

Barry MillerOctober 21st, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Just wanted to let you know about this new, FREE resource:

New Resource on American Slavery for Genealogists and Historians from the University Libraries of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The University Libraries of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) are pleased to announce the launch of the Digital Library on American Slavery. Freely available to the public at, this resource provides genealogists and historians an easy means to search through thousands of county court and legislative petitions (1775-1867) from fifteen states and the District of Columbia that relate to race and slavery. The Digital Library provides detailed information on more than 150,000 individuals who are party to the petitions, including 80,000 individual slaves and 10,000 free people of color.

The Digital Library of American Slavery gives anyone with access to the Internet the chance to search through these court records and understand the impact of slavery on specific individuals, black and white, free and enslaved. The “search by name” interface allows searching by state, first or last name, and slave status, as well as by color, while “search the petitions” allows keyword searching. Users are also able to search the records based on subject matter: the subject headings include the hiring value of slaves, prenuptial agreements, interracial relationships, women owning property, abolition, the impact of the Civil War, slave execution, and many more topics.

The Digital Library of American Slavery grew out of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project, directed by Loren Schweninger (the Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor in History at UNCG). Established in 1991, the Race and Slavery Petitions Project was designed to locate, collect, organize, and publish all extant legislative petitions and a selected group of 14,500 county court petitions relevant to race and slavery. The Project has received support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and The University of North Carolina Greensboro. The Digital Library on American Slavery is the final phase of this project.

Waunice BettonMarch 20th, 2010 at 11:04 am

David, I just found you again! You helped a me and a cousin of mine seeking information regarding my Upson County ancestors, Zhy (Zye) and Rena Passmore. I ran into so many brick walls that I finally gave up. Well, I’ve started back researching my other ancestors from Upson County again and found you by accident. Thank you, thank you so much for the wealth of information that you have provided to all of us, who aren’t experts about genealogy, and have no clue as to where to search and what to look for.

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