WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More

Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

Today Sept. 10 Only: Virtual Conference Giveaway

Listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast

Listen to my Free Podcast in iTunes or at www.GenealogyGems.com

I always enjoy being a presenter at the cutting-edge Family Tree Magazine Virtual Genealogy Conference. This time  around I’m teaching Best Apps for Genealogy! And today I am giving away one free virtual conference registration to a lucky Genealogy Gems reader. Read through the following article about the Virtual Genealogy Conference to learn how to enter. And do it today because you must be entered by midnight (Pacific) tonight Sept. 10:

8 Great Reasons to Attend a Virtual Genealogy Conference

Family Tree University’s Fall 2013 Virtual Conference Sept. 13-15 offers unique benefits

Have you ever missed a genealogy conference session you wanted to attend because the room was too full, or because the time conflicted with another session of interest? Or heard how great a session was after the fact, and lamented that you didn’t choose it?

That’s just one of the problems solved by Family Tree University’s Virtual Conferences. These three-day online workshops are the only genealogy conferences where attendees can completely customize the program to suit their schedule. Attendees can watch 16 pre-recorded 30-minute classes at any time, in any order they choose.

Attendees of the Winter 2013 Virtual Conference, Sept. 13-15, will enjoy the following unique benefits:

»        All sessions can be downloaded for later viewing—allowing you to watch favorite sessions again or save certain classes to view after the conference ends, so you can make the most of the real-time interaction during the weekend.

»        PDFs of the presentation slides from each class are available to download, too, eliminating the need to take copious notes or copy down website URLs.

»        The conference takes place entirely online, allowing attendees ultimate flexibility for participating. It’s the only conference where you can show up at 2 a.m. in your pajamas if you want to! Log in anywhere you have a computer and an internet connection, from your favorite armchair to your favorite coffee shop. You can even squeeze in a live chat during Daughter’s soccer game.

»        An FTU Virtual Conference also provides programming from nationally known genealogy presenters, including D. Joshua Taylor, Lisa Louise Cooke and many more. You don’t have to miss out if you can’t afford a hotel room or have physical limitations that make an in-person conference impractical.

The Virtual Conference also offers perks provided by in-person conferences:

»        An exhibit hall with booths showcasing genealogy products and services

»        A virtual swag bag of free downloadable genealogy goodies

»        Daily contests for great genealogy prizes

»        Opportunities to chat with and ask questions of experts, as well as make new friends of genealogy buffs just like you

To view the program and register for the Fall 2013 Virtual Conference, visit http://www.familytreeuniversity.com/virtual-conference (save 20% on registration with coupon code FTU0913 at checkout!).  Enter my giveaway by sharing this blog post on Facebook or Twitter by midnight tonight with hashtag #GENEALOGYGEMS. You’ll find social media sharing buttons at the top of the post, or just copy and paste the URL address of this specific post (click the post title to be sure and grab the specific address) and include #GENEALOGYGEMS. The winner will be announced here on this blog on Wed. Sept. 11 and must email their contact information to me as instructed in the post. Good luck, and I hope to see you at the Virtual Conference!

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Entries must be received by midnight Sept. 10, 2013 as directed.

Evernote vs. OneNote, Free vs. Paid, What’s a Genealogist to Do?

(UPDATED May 22, 2020.) Is your head swirling with questions such as Evernote vs. OneNote? Or are you wondering about free vs. paid accounts? These are common questions and I have some uncommon, but very effective, solutions for you! Here’s an email I received recently from a Genealogy Gems Premium member on just these questions and the solutions I dished up to answer them.

Evernote vs. Onenote Free vs. paid

Sherri’s Dilemma and Questions

Sherri wrote in with a question I frequently receive:

“I have been a very satisfied Genealogy Gems Premium member for a few years now. Given the recent limitations on the free version of Evernote only to be used on two devices, how does OneNote compare to Evernote?

I use Evernote on my desktop PC, my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone. Now, I have to choose which two devices to use it on (to stay with the free version.)

Sometimes I use my laptop and sometimes I use my iPad when I am out. Other times, I might be somewhere unexpectedly and only have my iPhone with me. And of course, most of my computing is done at home on my desktop PC so I must have it loaded there. What a dilemma!

Since I am on a limited fixed income, I can’t afford to pay to add devices for my notes. Luckily for me, I have only begun to get “addicted” to using Evernote and only have 224 notes so far. If I need to transfer to another application, it would be much easier to do it now rather than later.”

A short while later I received this follow up email from Sherri:

“Hi, Lisa. Me again.

I do listen to you, but sometimes I panic and scream for help before calming down and remembering your advice. LOL

I took your advice and searched YouTube for “Onenote vs Evernote.” I found a couple of very good videos by dottotech. His comparison videos are “Evernote vs OneNote – 5 Key Differences” and “Evernote vs OneNote Follow Up Q&A – ADT 28.” I was hoping he would compare the free version of Evernote with the free version of OneNote. He made a big deal out of the searching capabilities of Evernote over OneNote, but the new basic Evernote doesn’t search text in PDFs or in Office docs (per Evernote’s feature comparison). Also, you really have to rely on having really good tags [to find what you are looking for.]

The new Basic plan only OCRs text in images. That being the case, it seems the searching on text capabilities are better in OneNote, but the tag feature in Evernote makes it more robust. Too bad OnNote doesn’t have tags or keywords or something to categorize the notes. It does, however, have the ability for more notebooks and sub-notebooks than Evernote does and lets you organize like you would paper. That would be an attractive feature for many.

He did give me a good idea in his video. He suggested we keep the Evernote app on our mobile devices and use Evernote in the browser on our PCs and laptops. That just might work for me, but I don’t like Evernote’s user interface on the browser. I don’t know if I can work with it that way.

My biggest concern with OneNote, however, is that it uses OneDrive for the cloud syncing part. I received an email from Microsoft that on August 10 [2016], my free OneDrive storage will be reduced from 30 GB to 5 GB!

I spent a lot of time reducing my used storage to 4.4 GB. The biggest thing I use it for is to store the media files that my RootsMagic file links to so that I will have them available from my laptop or iPad. I also keep my RootsMagic family file in Dropbox so that the RM app will always have the most current data, rather than having to remember to copy it to Dropbox after each use.”

Evernote vs. OneNote

I totally feel your pain and understand your dilemma. In the last decade of tech in particular, the “freemium” model has been used by many online services (websites and apps). The intent is to get folks to try their service, and hopefully love it, so they will want to pay for richer features. After several years, the pressure is on to pay back investors and sometimes just simply stay afloat. It is then that the right to change the terms gets invoked. You cited two great examples: Evernote and OneDrive.

As a small business owner myself, I can appreciate the need to stay afloat so that you can continue to provide quality services to people who need them. That’s why, with my top favorites in tech, I take the plunge and pay for the upgrade in service if I possibly can. I figure that I’m helping them to keep doing what they are doing and I will reap the benefits. But, we all have our economic limits and sometimes we have to get more creative in order to continue using the services.

One of the first things to consider when choosing between Evernote and OneNote is each company’s focus. Evernote is in the business of cloud note-taking. It’s all they do, and all of their resources are invested in the Evernote product. By comparison, OneNote is just one small program under the massive Microsoft umbrella. Cloud note-taking is not their core business. So on the score of company focus, Evernote comes out ahead. 

The next thing to consider is whether or not your are a very heavy user of Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, and other programs. If you use these heavily in your research and work, then you might want to go with OneNote since it is built to coordinate with those products. If not, then again Evernote would be my choice, particularly if I already had my notes in Evernote.  The good news is that in everyday use, you typically can’t go wrong with either. 

You touched on something that differentiates Evernote from OneNote. Evernote limits how much you can upload each month (free=60MB, Premium=10GB), but there is unlimited storage. OneNote is connected to OneDrive with a free limit of 5GB total storage. Currently, you can get 50GB for around $2/month. (Of course plans can change, so check their websites for the most current pricing and limits.)  I believe it may also be possible to connect OneNote to another storage service if you so desire. So, the way that you create notes could help you with the decision. A heavy note-taker would probably be better off with Evernote Premium with tons of monthly uploads and no storage limits. However, a lighter note-taker would probably save money with OneNote and the free storage of OneDrive. Check the current storage offering by Microsoft and OneNote here

Free vs. Paid

If after careful consideration you decide to throw all your notes into the Evernote basket, then there is a decision to make: free vs. paid, and if paid, which plan? I bit the bullet and bought the Premium service which falls price-wise between free and Business. I want Evernote to stay around and considering how important my genealogy research notes and all the other notes in my life are, $7.99 a month seems like a bargain. With the Premium service, you get unlimited devices and your monthly upload soars from 60 MB to 10 GB. You just bought yourself a lot less stress and a lot more freedom to research genealogy.

If you feel it’s in your best interest to stay with the free version of Evernote, then I’ve got some creative solutions for you:

Creative Solution #1: 

I suggest in my lectures that you can use your two allowed devices for those you use most often. For me, that would be my desktop computer and my phone. For you, it may be your phone and your laptop.

Remember, you can always use the website app at www.evernote.com in any web browser, both on a computer or mobile device, to access your notes. It does not count toward your device allowance. Like you, I prefer the desktop software and app over the website version, but it does do the job.

Use Evernote for Genealogy Computer file

We’ve got you covered on Evernote for Genealogy

Creative Solution #2:

If you have a tablet and a phone you may be tempted to make them your two free devices and then use the web version of Evernote on your home computer. However, while you may carry your tablet with you much of the time, you probably always carry your phone with you. With a two device limit, having both of your mobile devices be the primary devices using the app is pretty redundant and unnecessary. Instead, consider having your phone (which you always carry,) and your home computer or laptop (which you likely use a lot) be your primary devices.

If you don’t want to use your browser on your tablet, I have a solution for you straight out of my book Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Smartphone and Tablet for Family History Research. You can use the free Chrome Remote Desktop to remotely access and use your home computer from your tablet and smartphone. Get it here for Android, and here for Apple devices.

How to set up Chrome Remote Desktop access:

  1. Start on the computer that you are going to access remotely.
  2. Open the Chrome browser.
  3. Go to https://remotedesktop.google.com/ 
  4. Click the Get Started button and follow the instructions. 
  5. Leave your computer one and connected to the internet. It’s OK if your computer goes to sleep when you’re not using it. When you remotely access it, it will “wake up.”
  6. After setting it up on your computer, download the Chrome Remote Desktop app on your tablet or phone from the app store.
  7. Connect the app to your home computer following the Chrome Remote Desktop instructions. (Your tablet will need to be connected to the internet for it to work.)

Now when you want to use the Evernote software on your home computer, you can gain remote access to it on your tablet using Chrome Remote Desktop. You’ll be able to do everything you want to do on the Evernote software from your tablet. You will also be able to access all of those notes later on your phone or through your tablet’s browser with evernote.com.

This handy solution is going to solve your challenge with the size of RootsMagic genealogy database files. Since you can now access your computer remotely with your tablet, there’s no reason to keep the file on OneDrive! (But please do be sure that your computer is backed up! I recommend and use Backblaze. Click here for more info on that.) You can now work directly on your RootsMagic software even from your tablet or smartphone. Isn’t technology fabulous?

I hope these ideas help you make the decision that is right for you and right for your family history. My personal goal, and our goal here at Genealogy Gems, is to help you succeed in the pursuit of your family history!

Resources

Book: Mobile Genealogy by Lisa Louise Cooke available at the Genealogy Gems Store.

mobile genealogy book

Book by Lisa Louise Cooke

Video: Evernote for Genealogy: What It Is, & Why You Would Use It at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.

Genealogy Gems Premium Video Classes by Lisa Louise Cooke:

Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Website

Members have access to hundreds of videos, downloadable handouts, and exclusive podcast episodes.

All of these videos are available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members. Sign up and gain access here.

 

Episode 144 – Digitize, Organize, and Archive

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Today’s gem focuses on a challenge that we all face as family historians – getting organized, archiving all of our stuff, and digitizing materials an d photos. I know that’s biting off a big chunk, but it’s such an important one. And in this episode I’m going to start to break it down for your with the help of the Family Curator, Denise Levenick who has written a book called How to Archive Family Keepsakes.  She’s got lots of practical advice to share.

NEWS:

FamilySearch recently announced that their U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project is Half-way to its 2012 Goal of 30 Million Records

In August of this year, FamilySearch announced its next major U.S. community project-U.S. Immigration and Naturalization. The project will create an extensive, free, online collection of U.S. passenger lists, border crossing records, naturalization records, and more-invaluable to genealogy researchers. See what U.S. Immigration and Naturalization projects are currently underway, or check on their status at FamilySearch.org/immigration.

You can join the community of online indexers and arbitrators helping to make passenger lists and naturalization records freely searchable on familysearch.org.

Current and Completed Projects
To view a list of currently available indexing projects, along with their record language and completion percentage, visit the FamilySearch indexing updates page. To learn more about individual projects, view the FamilySearch projects page.

Canadian Military Records
Ancestry.ca has also announced that they have launched some New Canadian Military Records Collections
Read about it on my Blog: Limited Time Free Access to Canadian Military Records, and New Records Online

Google recently announced that  Google Maps just got the biggest Street View update ever, doubling the number of special collections and updating over 250,000 miles of roads around the world. Google has increased Street View coverage in Macau, Singapore, Sweden, the U.S., Thailand, Taiwan, Italy, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway and Canada. And they are launching special collections in South Africa, Japan, Spain, France, Brazil and Mexico, among others. .

They’ve also recently updated the Google Earth satellite imagery database. This refresh to the imagery has now been updated for 17 cities and 112 countries/regions.  So Google Earth has never been better for genealogy research. And of course if you would like to learn more about what Google Earth can do for you as a genealogist, check out my free YouTube videos which show you what you can learn in Google Earth for Genealogy Video Tutorial Series.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership Update
I’m happy to let all of you Premium members know that I’ve put together a quick little video that will walk you through the process of setting up your Premium podcast feed in iTunes.You’ll find a link on the premium episodes page once you’ve signed in that will take you to the video and instructions for setting up your Premium iTunes subscription.

I have also added a video recording of one my most popular classes to the Premium Videos collection. It’s called How the Genealogist Can Remember Everything with Evernote.

From Premium Member Kelly: “Thank you so much for your podcast on Evernote. I’ve been on YouTube watching videos about it but they were hard to follow and more advanced or to techie. Your podcast was easy to follow and went over the basics and I really appreciate that. I think I finally ready to try it.”

If you would like to be able to watch the Evernote class from the comfort of your own home please join us as a Genealogy Gems Premium Member which you can do at www.genealogygems.com 

MAILBOX:

From Patience: “I have noticed in your podcast, other’s podcasts, blogs, and at workshops I have attended that there is a concern about the next generation.  I do understand, but I wanted to share with you my experience in hopes of easing everyone’s worries.  I am 23 years old, and let me tell you I stick out like a sore thumb at workshops as I usually am the youngest by at least 30 years.  That being said when I started researching I met one of my cousins on ancestry.com, and we really hit it off we have all the same interests and are like long lost twins.  For a while, I assumed that she was retired, and much much older than I, but after several emails, I found out she is only two years older than me!!!

I too worry about my generation, but I think after some maturing, most will at least have an appreciation for the past, and everything it has to offer, or at least I hope…But all I know is that there are two very pretty twenty-something girls thousands of miles apart that would rather research and learn that go to parties…so that seems pretty hopeful I think.”

Jennifer Takes the iPad on the Road
“Kudos for turning me on to a nifty iPad shortcut. Your latest book has some tips in the back, which is where, of course, I skipped to after dutifully reading the first three chapters or so. The tips about swiping the comma/exclamation point to create an apostrophe, and the other shortcut for quotation marks, are so great! I will no doubt find many other useful items when I return to reading. Honestly, your books are so full of wonderful information, I have to take a break before my head explodes (not pretty).”

Pat Oxley, a Genealogist on Facebook posted her review of my new book on Facebook last week.  “Despite another day of coughing and basically feeling yuk, I bought and downloaded Lisa Louise Cooke‘s new book “Turn your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse.” It is FABULOUS! I worked my way through the book, taking notes and then downloaded and played with some of the apps she suggested! Thank you Lisa Louise! I will say it’s a terrific book even if you’re NOT a genealogist. Many of her suggested apps could be applied to many different hobbies and interests. You can buy it through Lulu.com.”

GEM: Interview with author Denise Levenick, The Family Curator

Archiving, organizing and digitizing family treasures is one of the greatest challenges for genealogists. In her book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records, Denise Levenick presents a game plan that breaks down the steps and provides a clear picture of the end goal. The worksheets and checklists provide the kind of practical advice I look for in “how to” books. No fluff, just common sense, and usable information that lead to success.

Get your copy of Denise’s book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records and start getting organized now! 

     

Denise May Levenick is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes and creator of The Family Curator blog http://www.TheFamilyCurator.com, voted one of the 40 Best Genealogy Blogs in 2010 and 2011.

Gem: One More Thing
From Tina in the UK: “Your recent blog post about items found when clearing out a house reminded me of my most significant find in my stepfather’s attic. He died in July 2009 and my mother wanted to clear out and sell their big house and move to a retirement flat to be near the family in Bristol. I should explain that my mother and father divorced when I was a baby and my stepfather was like a father to me.  We threw out masses of stuff – he never did, EVER! – but this was mostly correspondence, company reports for all his shares etc which we sifted through without much of note being found. Then, in the attic there were two extraordinary finds:

(1) a box full of the small notebooks he kept from his schooldays till a few years before he died…early ones and especially the ones of his years in the Army in India and Burma…The later notebooks are a record of his expenses – with dates, items and expenses which brought back many memories (eg doll for Tina – bought  in New York on holiday in 1958 – I remember it well, it was a sort of pre-Barbie!). Every ice-cream he ever bought us – there was a LOT of ice-cream (he loved it)!

(2) my grandfather’s old attache case – full of letters from my stepfather’s mother between about 1978 and her death in 1993. There were hundreds of them – and yes, I read every single one and they have formed the basis of the story of her life (yes, she also left a small diary, a collection of her own recipes of family favourites, and a very simple family tree), which I am now writing…what VERY little there was seemed to be in answer to some of his questions…It just shows how the smallest things can provide clues.”

Thank you Tina for sharing this – it certainly does remind us that clues can come from anywhere. But it also reminds us of something else – that while it’s wonderful to have our history recorded so it can be remembered, sometimes it’s the smallest things that are remembered most:  Like ice cream.  I think I’m going to sign off now and take my grandson Davy out for a cone. I hope he remembers it, because I know I will. Who will you invite out for a an ice cream and spend your precious time with today?

Check out this episode

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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