May 21, 2016

National Archives Quarterly Prologue Magazine

(Ancestry Blog – May 19, 2016)

Guest post by Linda Barnickel

Whether you are exploring National Archives records found on Ancestry, planning a research trip to our nation’s capital, or just want to know more about American history, Prologue, the quarterly publication from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is an outstanding resource.

For decades, Prologue has guided researchers, authors, historians and genealogists through the riches of the National Archives. Available as a print subscription, or accessible online, the magazine is heavily illustrated with photographs and documents. Articles are written by NARA staff and others, and are solidly based on the records of the National Archives.

There’s a regular column for genealogists. In the Winter 2015 issue, Patrick Connelly looked at one immigrant woman’s story as a way to learn more about the records from the Boards of Special Inquiries from the port of Philadelphia. These records document the government’s efforts to carefully screen immigrants to ensure that they had no contagious diseases and were not likely to become a public charge. The Philadelphia records span the dates 1893 to 1909, and are available on Ancestry.

Other articles in Prologue cover a variety of subjects. You’ll often find an article about one of the presidents, featuring materials from the Presidential Library system. Holdings specific to regional branches of the National Archives, like the one in Philadelphia, are also often highlighted. Military records, land records, immigration records, unique records documenting American Indians or African Americans, and other collections are routinely profiled in the pages of Prologue. Many articles, like Connelly’s, are written in a case study type of format, thus giving the reader a sense of looking over the researcher’s shoulder as they delve into the records.

The Prologue website makes it easy to browse through past articles or search for special topics. Articles of interest to genealogists are easily accessed in one central listing.

Not all of the articles from each issue are accessible on the website. For example, the Summer 2014 online version omits articles about Spanish-American War women nurses, and the “Authors on the Record” column about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (These are listed on the table of contents on the right of the page, but there are no links.) If you want to read an article that is not available online, find your closest Federal Depository Library (typically housed within a university or public library), and see if they have the magazine in their holdings. Or, contact your local library to see if they can help you obtain a copy of the article you need via their interlibrary loan service. You can subscribe to Prologue or order copies of back issues here.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the collections of the National Archives due to their size and complexity. But the articles in Prologue can teach you more about how to identify and navigate records of interest, including many of those found on Ancestry.