Category Archives: WPA

WPA Digitized Records & the DAR Library + More!

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?

  1. Ship registers: port of Philadelphia
  2. Lewis County, Tennessee guardian bonds
  3. Cole County, Missouri, inventory of county archives
  4. Brief history of the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts
  5. 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!



Works Progress Administration & Genealogy: Historical Records Survey

The last section of this series about Works Progress Administration projects is the Historical Records Survey, which isn’t part of the original Federal Project Number One, which encompassed the Federal Art, Music, Theatre and Writers Projects.

It originally began as part of the Writers Project in 1935 and became a separate entity in 1936.

The starting point to understand just how vast this collection is NARA’s Records of the Work Projects Administration (WPA). The WPA collection is found in Record Group 69 and much of it has not been digitized.

There is a Library of Congress Web Guide, but it is to the Manuscripts Collection.

 Part of the Manuscripts Collection is the Historical Records Survey of the United Stat4es Works Progress Administration. It is found towards the bottom of the Web Guide and I’ve noted it with the red arrow.

Part of the description of the collection states: The records consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, lists, surveys, instructional manuals, guides, personnel records, data sheets, reports, notes, newspaper articles, transcripts of documents, catalog entries, and index cards.

Further: It surveyed and indexed selections of manuscript collections held in public and private depositories, prepared a bibliographic record of books published before the copyright law of 1876, surveyed federal records in state depositories, and undertook related historical projects designed to provide scholars with a more detailed account of public and private records throughout the country.

How and Where Do You Begin Your Record Search?

In 1980, Loretta L. Hefner, through the Society of American Archivists published The WPA Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts.

This book is the absolute #1 starting point to learn about this collection. It has been digitized and is available both on FamilySearch (log in to your free account to view it) and HathiTrust.

This guide is very easy to use, as the information is organized by states plus the District of Columbia. Some states, like Georgia, have many cubic feet of records from the project that have been preserved.

Others have far fewer records preserved. Two states, Maine and Rhode Island, have no records. Maine, in particular, has the ignominious distinction of having apparently dumped its records off a dock into Casco Bay many years ago because no Maine library would accept the Historical Records Survey and Writers’ Project works.

However, Georgia is an excellent example of the types of records that are available and where they may be found.

The Georgia State Archives has 40 cubic feet of records with a guide to them available. One of its state projects was Life Histories and Reminiscences of World War I Era and the Great Depression.

The Georgia Historical Society has 35 cubic feet of materials in its collection, including indexes to county marriage records, family Bible records and Transcripts of Letters and Biographies of the Cherokee Indians, among many other items.

Lastly, the University of Georgia Libraries have 100 cubic feet of records, including Transcripts of County and Municipal Records.

Other types of records to be found among the 48 remaining states include a survey of church records, manuscripts surveys, lists of defunct towns, the Negro Historical Papers Survey, the Civilian Organizations Survey, a Photographs Survey and surveys of the state holdings of federal, state, county and municipal records.

New Jersey is a small state in terms of geography, but it is a giant in the WPA project. It took part in many national and state projects.

Hefner’s guide is invaluable to researchers, helping them locate unpublished records.

However, 1980 was long before the internet age and Hefner’s work was all about  UN-published records.

Now that you know a lot more about the Federal Art, Music, Theatre and Writers Projects and the Historical Records Survey, you are ready to search out these collections online.

Many repositories are beginning to realize what a unique collection the WPA created and are digitizing their holdings.

Throughout this series, I’ve mentioned specific repositories along with general categories of organizations that might house these records.

Now it is time to choose your first locality and get those terms in the search engine. You might be pleasantly surprised at what pops up.

Happy Hunting!




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.