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               April, 2014

  Contact the Editors:
      Charles Hansen, Editor & Contributor
      Jenna Mills, Associate Editor & Contributor

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  The WPA
  — by Charles Hansen

     This is from Wikipedia: The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In much smaller but more famous projects the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. The WPA's initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion.

     I thought the CCC did a lot of the parks, bridges, and other buildings, but the New Deal had a lot of projects to put people back to work. Notice the (mostly unskilled men) in the first paragraph? This was because the labor unions did not want the government teaching skills that would put them out of work, so the WPA did not teach many skills. It did encourage people to use libraries as one of its projects.

     One of the projects the WPA did was the Historical Records Survey, organized in 1935 to document resources for research in U.S. history. The Historical Records Survey terminated February 1, 1943. The survey of Federal Archives started January 1936 and became part of the Historical Records Survey. Another project was the National Research Project, they studied employment, unemployment, workers, working conditions and housing in fourteen industrial communities. Other WPA projects indexed newspapers, inventoried the Library of Congress, and WPA Arts projects.

     So, what does this have to do with genealogy? The WPA generated a lot of work like indexing newspapers, collecting lists of records in various depositories, like courthouses. So why is this important now? Have you looked for coroners records, military discharge papers, or other miscellaneous records? The WPA listed those types of records and where they were located in the 1930s. So what happened to those records since then? Have they moved to a regional archive? Are they still in the courthouse? Have they been microfilmed? Or digitized?

     I know now days a lot of newspapers are online and searchable, but I have used the WPA newspaper index and it is a wonderful resource for newspapers that may not be online for years to come.



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