Works Progress Administration & Genealogy: Federal Writers Project

The last two WPA Federal projects, today’s topic – the  Writers Project and tomorrow’s – the Historical Guides Survey, hold the most promise, I think, for genealogical research, as the bulk of these two collections consist of written records.

There is also some overlap in the collections, as the jobs of some writers were to produce records relating to American history, folkways and daily life.

The Federal Writers Project produced two of the most important collections pertaining to genealogical research – American Life Histories – Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 and Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.

In 1953, Katherine H. Davidson compiled the Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Federal Writers Project Work Projects Administration 1935-1944 (Record Group 69).

It is a 348 page guide to records in the central (federal) office and those in state and local offices.

The Library of Congress has a finding aid to its vast manuscript collection of WPA holdings. To give an idea of the wide range of topics to be found, there are links to the Dust Bowl, Northern California folk music and historic American buildings, to name just a few.

The Library of Congress African-American Mosaic is an online exhibition of black history and culture.

The Federal Writers Project employed thousands of people, including writers, librarians, editors and historians. its many publications include historical and travel state guides, local histories and even children’s books.

It is also easy to see from this list how some of their publications overlap with the Historical Records Survey.

Other Resources

Federal Writers’ Project – Wikipedia

Federal Writers’ Project (WPA) (1935)

American Guide Series: The WPA Federal Writers’ Project: Welcome – Rowan University’s Campbell Library has links to each state.

Because this project left so many rich records, there are way too many resources online to cite in this list.

HathiTrust is a major repository for digitized project records. A general search of WPA brings up over 70,000 full text results that can be viewed online. Searching for the Writers Project brings up over 133,000 hits. It is an excellent source of WPA records.

The Internet Archive is another great source for WPA publications. Over 1500 hits come up for the Federal Writers Project, including many of the state and local guides compiled by the writers.

Additional Repositories of Writers’ Project Records

1. State Archives
2. State Libraries
3. Historical Societies
4. Public & Private Libraries
5. County Courthouses
6. College/University Libraries
7. Municipal/Town Clerks

To summarize, any place that houses historical records might have records that pertain to the Works Project Administration!

The final post in this series will look at the Historical Records Survey, which overlaps with each of the previous programs – the Arts, Music, Theatre and Writers Projects.


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