Works Progress Administration

     I have experienced the same problems that others have experienced of not having access to certain records in many of the court houses. Most or nearly all of the records that are restricted for public viewing, viewing without supervision or no access in many cases, I feel is the result of public hysteria or concern that certain information not be readily available due to sensitive information such as social security numbers, or other personal information in cases of fraud such as Identity Theft. Due to the public outcry of protection of personal information government entities have taken these restrictive concerns. Such things as divorces, adoptions, military records and other similar records usually contain social security numbers and other personal family information. Be prepared for Birth, Marriage, and Death records being restricted since now many states are recording Social Security Numbers on these records and at present most of these records are being placed under a branch of your local govenment with such names as "Vital Statics System" thus moving them from under the control of local county athorities.

     One thing we, as genealogist should be very thankful to the government agency that was formed during the great depression to aid the unemployed to gain adequate income to support themselves and their families. This entity was known as the WPA (Works Progress Administration) established under the "New Deal". One the jobs the WPA workers did was compile master indexes to most records in your local court houses throughout West Virginia and other states.

     The following is a breaf history of the orgainization known as the Works Progess Adinistration (WPA). This information has been gleaned from an article by Margaret Bing Cataloger/Curator Bienes Center for the Library Arts and Bryan L. Mulcahy, Reference Libriarian Fort Myers-Lee County Library.

WPA History

by Margaret Bing

     The WPA commonly refers to the many agencies established by the Federal Government in the 1930s during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Brought into being on May 6, 1935, as an independent agency funded directly by Congress, the Works Progress Administration was the Federal Government’s most ambitious undertaking yet to provide employment for the jobless.

     Created to replace earlier attempts to bring the Depression under control with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the purpose of the Works Progress Administration was to provide jobs for the unemployed who were able to work. It was not a program for the aged, handicapped or other unemployables, all of whom would be helped by state and local governments, but rather it provided assistance to people who simply could not find a job. Sometimes called a “make work” program, the WPA eventually employed approximately one-third of the nation’s 10,000,000 unemployed, paying them about $50.00 a month.

     The Works Progress Administration of 1935 continued the work of building and improving a wide variety of public facilities. It differed, however, from the previous programs by also addressing the employment needs of non-construction workers. For example, it assisted communities in expanding educational, library, health, and related community projects. Professional and white collar workers, on the other hand, found employment with “Federal One.” Federal Project No. 1 of the Works Progress Administration was developed to give artistic and professional work to the unemployed who qualified. It consisted of the Federal Art Project (FAP), Federal Music Project (FMP), Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), and the Historical Records Survey (HRS).


     With the advent of Federal One, the Historical Records Survey was created as a part of the Federal Writers’ Project.
Its mission was to conduct a national records survey. In 1936, Luther Evans was appointed director and the agency became an independent section of Federal One.

     The HRS was financially the most efficient of all the Federal One programs and averaged 2,500 employees a month with a high in 1938 of 6,000 employed at an average salary of $73.00 per month. With the end of Federal One in August, 1939, Luther Evans resigned and the new director, Sargent Child tried to complete all the survey projects already underway. The Historical Records Survey subsequently became a part of the Community Service Program, and by 1941 the central staff was reduced to only 12 employees

WPA Highlights
by Bryan L. Mulcahy

Highlights of the most useful information from a genealogical research perspective include:
1. Burial listing in cemeteries
2. Federal and state census indexes
3. Indexes to naturalization records
4. Indexes to newspapers
5. Inventories of records found in county courthouses
6. Descriptions of manuscripts found in various libraries, private collections, and agencies
7. Place-name guides
8. Inventories of church records including the range of years and content covered by a church’s christening records, and the names of those buried in church cemeteries
9. Historical narratives of slaves, immigrants, native Americans and other groups as part of the American Folklore Project

      From the standpoint of genealogical and historical research, the WPA Historical Records Survey produced a tremendous legacy of information that may have otherwise been lost due to age and neglect. While many WPA workers were engaged in projects to build up our internal infrastructure such as bridges, roads, county fairgrounds, and airports, another major project involved having workers compile what became known as the Works Project Administration Historical Records Survey.

The Historical Records Survey Program focused on the following objectives:
1. The task of creating and or organizing bibliographies, inventories, indexes, and other historical materials were prepared by out-of-work historians, lawyers, teachers, researchers, and clerical workers.
2. The long term goal was to organize historical materials, particularly the unpublished government documents and records which are basic in the administration of local government and provide valuable data for students of political, economic, and social history.
3. Create or update archival guides to facilitate and enhance the daily administration by federal and local government officials.
4. Create guides to assist the local business, legal, and educational communities whose functions and success depend on information from public records to conduct daily activities.
5. Inventories produced by the Historical Records Survey Program attempted to do more than merely provide lists of records. The long term goal was to sketch the historical background of the county or other unit of government, and to describe precisely, and in detail, the organization and function of the governmental agencies whose records were listed.

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