If you’ve been following this blog for the past week or son, you are now well versed in the various facets of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.
As already mentioned, there is no single repository, even at the state level, that is home to all the surviving WPA records and inventories that were produced in the few short years from the late 1930s into the World War II years.
Because these records were produced at government cost, they don’t fall under copyright laws. That means that some of these valuable pamphlets, books, interviews and inventories can be and have been digitized.
The bigger issue is where to find them. As with county histories, excellent starting places include the Internet Archive, HathiTrust and the FamilySearch catalog.
However, there is another excellent repository that has a nice digitized collection of WPA works. That is the DAR Library. Many don’t realize that although the library is private, its catalog and most of the website records are not restricted to DAR member usage.
In fact, you don’t even need to register for an account to take advantage of all that is offered.
DAR members have actively sought to preserve, publish and share genealogical records back to the time of its founding on 11 October 1890.
The NSDAR website includes a link to the library and some collateral resources. If you click on the LIBRARY tab at the top of the home page, a drop down menu includes RESOURCES. Click on that and a new page opens showing GENERAL RESOURCES:
Notice that one of the options includes WPA BOOKS. The description states “WPA Collection brings together digital access points to genealogically relevant reports created as part of the Works Progress Administration between 1938 and 1942.”
All 48 states (remember, no Alaska or Hawaii until 1959) and the District of Columbia are on the DAR Library list.
You will find a very lengthy list of entries from the Federal Writers’ Project, Historical Records Surveys, the American Imprints Inventory, Historic American Buildings Survey, and even a Survey of Federal Archives. Not every link has a digitized book, but MANY of them do. The list is searchable by PROJECT and KEYWORD.
If you scroll to the bottom of the list, there is one important detail researchers need to know. Although the official name of the WPA is the Works Progress Administration, several states called it the Works Projects Administration. That makes a difference in search results if you are using Internet Archive or HathiTrust.
Here, the DAR Library separates out the Works Projects Administration record sets for us:
When you find a BOOK link, the catalog identifies whether the digitized version is part of the DAR Library, or will say VIEW BOOK EXTERNAL SITE, which will send the reader to a site like Internet Archive or FamilySearch. Remember, if it is FamilySearch, you need to be logged into your free account.
What kind of records did I sample?
- Ship registers: port of Philadelphia
- Lewis County, Tennessee guardian bonds
- Cole County, Missouri, inventory of county archives
- Brief history of the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts
- 1864 census of the Territory of Arizona
This list gives an idea of the varied types of records in the DAR Library digitized WPA records collection.
One last tip – Keep in mind that WPA records are scattered in various repositories across the country and held at the national, state, county and local levels.
Although the DAR Library offers an excellent collection, it does not cover ALL the WPA records that were created.
It is well worth the time to browse!