Monday, March 7, 2011

WPA to the Rescue


In 1929 when the Great Depression hit the United States, millions of people lost their jobs. The fallen economy led to President Roosevelt introducing "The New Deal" in 1933. The programs were designed to put people to work and get the economy moving in an upward direction.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one of the programs. Besides building and improving upon America's infrastructure, there was also funding for arts, history and culture. In 1935 with about $4.88 billion dollars, the WPA began employing Americans. They spent approximately $11 billion and employed 8.5 million Americans. Workers earned anywhere from $15 to $90 per month. In 1939 it was renamed Works Projects Administration. They funded the Historical Records Survey (HRS) whose workers documented resources for research into American history. They created soundex for federal census which many of us have used, especially before the digitals and images on Internet.

The Historical Records Survey also compiled indexes of vital records, internments, school records, maps, military records, newspapers and more. Much of the work for the Historical Records Survey was done for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), state historical societies and state archives. The work done in this project is still in the possession of many of the original repositories. Most of the records have been microfilmed and indexed. In some cases the originals are still stored in boxes, untouched while others have been destroyed. The WPA ended on 30 June 1943.

There are many WPA cemetery record surveys on Internet. Keep in mind when using these records that burials after the time period of the WPA will not appear on the list.

Access Genealogy has a WPA Cemetery Database consisting of 17,744 records. The details contain information on where the person is buried, date of death, surname and given name. The South Dakota State Historical Society has a Cemetery Record Search web site that contains the WPA Cemetery Project information (pre-1940s) plus any updates their office has received.

There are original WPA Grave Registrations for Iowa on Ancestry.com. Be sure to look at the list of counties that are contained in this database.

Several counties have WPA Grave Registration records on Internet. An example is the Somerset Co., Pennsylvania WPA Cemetery Transcriptions. You can search by last name, township or see digitals of the actual images.

Not everything has been indexed or in digital format on Internet. Reels of microfilm can still be found in state libraries, historical societies or archives. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has film of WPA Grave Registration records. You should also Google for results of the WPA Cemetery projects or check out specific states and counties at the USGenWeb project.
These records are beneficial when you are trying to locate information that is no longer readable on a tombstone. It may have been in good condition when canvassed by a WPA worker. Missing stones may have been there in the 1930s and 1940s.

Description of photo: Historical Records Survey workers inventorying and surveying records in the sub-cellar below river level in New York City.

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