Your Guide to Using WPA Records in Your Genealogical Research

WPA records were created between 1935 and 1943, when the federal government created the Works Projects Administration to provide work for thousands of unemployed Americans who were struggling to survive the depression of the 1930's. There were hundreds of WPA programs that employed thousands of people. Records of this program are at the National Archives and some state archives. Not all are of genealogical value.

Some of the projects resulted in interviews, surveys or guides that are useful to genealogists. Many of the historical records surveys listed extant records in courthouses and other repositories and often provided a description of the records These records often begin with the title "Inventory of the County Archives... "

A project to interview former slaves created priceless records that document the lives of people who were born into slavery.

Books, Articles, CD's and Tapes...
On The Web

Carter-Walker. WPA (Works Project Administration)

Child, Sargent B., Check List of Historical Records Survey Publications, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969

Heisey. Works Project Administration Sources for Genealogists.

Hefner, Loretta, The WPA Historical Records Survey: a guide to the unpublished inventories, indexes, and transcripts, Society of American Archivists. (out of print) (find in a library)


Lectures given at conferences with WPA in the title (note the same lecture may be offered more than once.)

From the NARA website:
" More than two thousand inventories were published during the short life of the HRS. NARA has an excellent collection of the published inventories resulting from the Historical Records Survey and the Survey of Federal Archives. Library staff are in the process of cataloging these inventories. Go to the ALIC Online Catalog. Search in the keyword field for historical records survey. See the 1980 SAA publication, The WPA Historical Records Survey: a guide to the unpublished inventories, indexes, and transcripts, for information on unpublished HRS materials. "
(see left hand column)

* To find published surveys for a state, e.g. Michigan, go to the NARA Library catalog (ALIC) and search for key words Historical Records Survey Michigan --substituting the name of the state that you are researching. You may need to change the display to see the full record.

* The D.A.R. Library in Washington DC has an extensive collection, which they describe here.

* Paul Johnson's. WPA Historical Records Survey gives a brief history of the project.

* Rhonda McClure's article at briefly describes their use to genealogists.

* The WPA: 60 Year Old Investment Still Pays High Dividends.

* The Family History Compass: The Works Project Administration

* Smith. The Works Project Administration.

* Wikipedia: Historical Records Survey

Witcher. Records of the Works Progress Administration.

more links

* Cyndi's List: The Great Depression: WPA

This page last updated January 18, 2013

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