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Genealogy Resources

New Deal Programs

The New Deal refers to the federalized relief efforts initiated by President Delano Roosevelt following the great Depression. Some of the projects under the New Deal included:

  • Federal Music Project

  • Federal Writers Project

  • National Civilian Conservation Corps

  • Public Works Administration

These and other parts of the New Deal resulted in new bridges, murals in courthouses, schools, and others buildings, state and county park improvements, clothing and quilts for the needy, highway paving, stage plays, concerts, and guidebooks to states. Some of the resources from this period are very helpful today for genealogical research.

Federal Music Project

Federal Writers Project

National Civilian Conservation Corps

The Civilian Conservation Corps was established during the Depression by President Franklin D. Rossevelt to provide employment for many young men.  This corps of men worked in camps across the country planting trees, building bridges, buildings, dams, lakes, lodges, lookout towers, museums, and other structures, stocking lakes and ponds, controlling soil erosion, protecting the wildlife, developing parks, and working in historical areas. Young men volunteered for the corps with the knowledge that they might move away from home, live in a military style camp, work hard, and send most of their paycheck home. There were more than 4,000 CCC camps across the country. If one of you ancestors worked in the CCC, you can obtain their records from the National Civilian Personnel Record center.

Work Projects Administration (WPA)

From 1935 to 1943, the WPA was the largest arm of the New Deal and provided much needed work to unemployed workers. The Historical Records Survey under the WPA created helpful works for genealogists and historians. The workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries and did inventories of manuscript collections. They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. They also indexed and transcribed some of the records they found. Many involved in the Historical Records Survey were "white collar" workers. Not everything they worked on survived, but many unpublished works remain in local archives around the country. They remain unpublished because of the advent of World War II.

In town halls, courthouses, and related buildings, the workers searched and listed the records in existence at the time, the format, and the general contents.

The workers also compiled histories for some localities, some diaries and journals, and also performed oral history interviews. They inventoried and described manuscripts at many local, county, and state repositories, including local history sections of public libraries.

Workers went to church and cemetery offices and listed the exact location of cemeteries and the records.

The workers also visited churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, and compiled inventories of church records. Church inventories often  include a short history of the church, details of previous buildings, what record books were found, and what types of information are found in them.

Another aim of the WPA was to create a master index to county, state, and federal level naturalizations and other records. This project was not completed, but partial naturalizations exist for southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and eastern Iowa at the NARA Great Lakes Region in Chicago. There are also records in Arkansas 1809-1906, Louisiana 1831-1906, and Texas 1853-1939 at NARA Southwest Region in Fort Worth, Texas. At the NARA Northeast Region in New York City, there is a WPA index to some New York naturalizations 1792-1906.

The workers indexed many local newspapers and clipped newspaper articles. Some indexes were actually published, such as the Index to Marriage Notices in the Southern Churchman 1835-1941, a religious newspaper based in Virginia.

State, county, and a few city vital records offices across the country were survey. In Indiana, transcripts and/or indexes of county birth, death, and marriage records were compiled.

Libraries that include many WPA Historical Records include: The DAR Library in Washington, D.C., the Family History Library, the Library of Congress, and the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library. The Library of Congress, as part of its

The American Memory project, has two WPA collections online. "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938" contains more than two thousand first-person accounts. The other collection is "American Life Histories," also from the Federal Writers' Project. The interviewees gave considerable person details.

  • Arizona WPA Pioneer Interviews. by Jean Carhart. Biographical Sketches & Pioneer Interviews. This collection covers the names, birth dates, birth locations and other genealogy-specific data, as well as the stories of hardship, Indian raids, outlaws and courage.
  • Stuart-Warren, Paula. "The WPA Era: A Genealogist's Bonanza." NGS NewsMagazine 34, 1 (January-March 2008): 26-30.
  • U.S. National Archives. Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration. Located at the NARA, College Park, Maryland facility.
  • U.S. National Archives. Record Group 162, General Records of the Federal Works Agency. Located at the NARA, College Park, Maryland facility.
  • WorldCat. Search this online library catalog for publications.
  • The WPA Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts. Society of American Archivists, 1990.

  • WPA Photos from the 1930s. The WPA paid professional photographers to document the program and there is a legacy of photographs, many in color, that realistically document that period in our history.