The WPA, or the Works Progress Administration was an entity created by President Franklin Roosevelt during the rough years of the Great Depression. The WPA provided employment at a time when jobs were scarce and the projects completed by the WPA ranged from physical labor to compiling records and conducting interviews. Some of the WPA accomplishments include superb resources for genealogists.
One such project is the Indian-Pioneer Papers. The Oklahoma Historical Society together with the University of Oklahoma received monies from the WPA for one hundred interviewers to visit with and record the stories of the early Oklahoma settlers. Eventually, 11,000 interviews were completed and organized into 112 volumes. Most of the interviews were of the white settlers, but a new Native Americans were also interviewed.
I have written before about the difficulty in finding online resources for those with Oklahoma ancestors. Well, that is changing little by little an the Indian-Pioneer Papers have now been digitized and are on line at the University of Oklahoma, Western History Collections and they are searchable by name and subject.
Both sides of Dave’s family were early settlers in Oklahoma – not the land rush participants first into the territory when it opened for settlement in 1889, but by the turn of the 20th century, his relatives had left homes in Texas and Missouri and headed to Oklahoma.
If your family was in Oklahoma early on, take a look at the GeneaGem that might be awaiting you:
Indian-Pioneer Papers Home Page
Here is a screen shot of the home page. Enter a keyword into the search box on the left. Dave’s family names in Oklahoma are Stufflebean, Brasher, Sturgell, Nation, Dulworth and Alberty. I didn’t have any luck with “Nation” because, although it had many hits, they mostly linked to “nation”, as in country. Stufflebean brought up only one hit referring to the Stufflebean Funeral Home in Pauls Valley, but I did discover that the family owned funeral home – the actual building – was originally an early school in the area.
Dulworth didn’t bring any results either and Brasher brought up an interview with one man who born in “Murray” County, Tennessee, which is probably “Maury” County, as there is no Murray County in that state. He isn’t any close relative of Dave’s Brashers.
I had more luck – success, actually – with Sturgell and Alberty. I kind of expected Alberty hits because Moses Alberty lived in the Cherokee Nation in Westville. However, a search could well have come up empty for Alberty because the description of the papers states that only 66 interviews were with Native Americans.
First – Sturgell. There was only one hit, for J.H. Sturgell, who happened to be Dave’s mother’s uncle:
Title Page for J.H. Sturgell
Next is a biography form filled out by the interviewer:
Interview Form with Biographical Data
The last section is of the actual interview:
It so happens that the ink in the typewriter used for this interview hasn’t stood the test of time very well, so here is an abstract:
STURGELL, J. H. INTERVIEW #4491 304
Field Worker’s Name: Jasper (?) Mead
This report made on (date) June 18 1937
1. Name: J. H. Sturgell
2. Post Office Address: Chickasha, Oklahoma
3. Residence Address (or locationi): 316 N. 6th St.
4. DATE OF BIRTH: April 15, 1882
5. Place of Birth: “Berry” County (Barry County), Missouri
6. Name of Father: A.H. Sturgell Place of birth: Illinois
Other information about father: Died at the age of 50
7. Name of Mother: Suzie Albertie Place of birth: Missouri
Other information about mother: Died at the age of 57
Number of sheets attached: 3
STURGELL, J.H. INTERVIEW #4491 306
Jasper H. Mead
June 18, 1937
An Interview with Mr. J.H. Sturgell,
My name is J.H. or as I am commonly known John Sturgell.
I was born in Missouri, fifty-five years ago April 15, 1882. I came to Oklahoma twenty-nine years ago; the first place I landed was at Cottonwood Grove, known now as Verden seven miles west of Chickasha.
There was quite a bit of land in cultivation; Cottonwood Grove or Verden as it is called now lied in the valley of the Washita River and at that time, in 1908 there was plenty of rainfall, and almost everybody planted corn that year and raised (___lds) of corn; next there the (rats?) and mice nearly ate us up.
An old Indian woman who lives north of Chickasha said that she had seen the time when she could walk for miles up the bed of the river and follow turkey tracks. That was long before the dams at
STURGELL, J.H. INTERVIEW 4491 307
Anadarko and Chickasha were built.
When I first landed at Cottonwood Grove in 1908 I went to work on (____) farm for $60.00 a month and (food?) board and room.
(—) work . . . . . . . .Indians from Cottonwood; they were mostly located in Anadarko.
We had good water . . . .there; the wells were . . . . . . . . . . .bottom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .
There was a small schoolhouse at Cottonwood Grove build out of cottonwood lumber, unpainted; it had the small rooms in it and two teachers.
School only lasted six months . . . .on account of the pupils helping their parents on the farms.
What was called the Mangum branch line ran through Cottonwood Grove. It was owned by the Rock Island Railroad and was called the Mangum Branch line because it was just a short line that ran from Chickasha to Mangum and stopped.
The farmers in Caddo and Grady Counties have planted cotton and nothing else for the last few years until they have almost killed one of the richest farming countries in the world.
A few of the words are illegible even when reading the interview on paper, but John Sturgell, Ruby’s uncle not only shared his memories of the early Verden, Oklahoma area, his birth date and place, names of parents, their birth places and ages at death were also included. Remember, in this time period, Missouri did not require birth or death certificates to be filed.
The second hit that came up was for Alberty, specifically Thomas B. Alberty, son of Moses Alberty, grandson of John Alberty and great grandson of Revolutionary War pensioner Frederick Alberty. This file can be read much more easily than J. H. Sturgell’s interview, with the exception of this first page, the information sheet. These interviewers must have used the same typewriter!
Interview Form with Biographical Data
Field Worker’s Name: Jesse S. Bell
This report was made on March 14, 1938
1. Name: Thomas B. Alberty
2. Post Office Address: Westville
3. Residence address (or location): Westville, Oklahoma
4. DATE OF BIRTH: November 30, 1849
5. Place of birth: Goinsnake District
6. Name of Father: Mose Alberty Place of birth: Georgia
7. Name of mother: Elizabeth Buffington Place of birth: Georgia
The images of the two page interview are sharp and clear:
ALBERTY, THOMAS B. INTERVIEW 13204 391
Thomas provided details about the family’s migration, his parents’ names and places of birth, the fact that he was 1/4 Cherokee and his father, Mose, was 1/2 Cherokee and his own birth date and place of birth. Again, vital records were not kept in these places in this time period so Thomas’s interview is the only source of information that we know he provided himself.