Lisa Louise Cooke is the author of several books including The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 3rd edition. She produces and hosts the popular Genealogy Gems Podcast, and the free weekly YouTube show Elevenses with Lisa at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. She offers a Premium Membership service at her website ( https://lisalouisecooke.com ) featuring exclusive on-demand genealogy education. And she writes a regular column for Family Tree Magazine and produces the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.
Lisa found her passion for family history at her grandmother’s knee at the age of 8. She is now the owner of Genealogy Gems, a genealogy and family history multi-media company founded in 2007. She is Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, the popular online genealogy audio show available at www.GenealogyGems.com, on your smartphone’s native podcast app, and through the Genealogy Gems app available through app stores. Her podcast brings genealogy news, research strategies, expert interviews and inspiration to genealogists in 75 countries around the world, and has been downloaded nearly 4 million times. She also produces the weekly genealogy YouTube live show Elevenses with Lisa at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
Lisa’s offerings are not limited to online. She is a sought after international genealogy speaker. Whether in person or online, Lisa strives to dig through the myriad of genealogy news, questions and resources to deliver the gems that can unlock each genealogist’s own family history treasure trove!
Family is not just a priority professionally. Lisa is a doting wife to Bill, the proud mom of three daughters, and has added the role of Grandma to her resume. She counts her blessings every day for the love, fulfillment and laughter that family brings to every aspect of her life.
Lisa in the Press
Click here to listen to interviews and read articles about Lisa and Genealogy Gems
The Genealogy Gems Team:
Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. You can find her at the Genealogy Gems booth at many conferences and seminars, hosting webinars, and contributing behind the scenes with product development and content creation. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She loves taking genealogy on the road with Lisa (who just happens to be her mom) and exploring new places.
After a successful career in hospital administration Bill now serves as CFO for Genealogy Gems. He holds a degrees both in Accounting and Business, and the official title of “Bumpa” to his grandkids.
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.
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.
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.
We are celebrating our 1000th Genealogy Gems blog post with a list of our Top 10 Posts. Share this post on Facebook and you could win an inspiring family history writing video!
I can hardly believe it. This month, the Genealogy Gems website will reach a milestone 1000 blog posts! Thank YOU for your emails, phone calls and comments at conferences. I often share your success stories and use your feedback to bring you more great content.
Below is a list of our most-read posts so far. Did you miss any? Keep reading to learn how to win a a great family history writing prize by sharing this post on Facebook!
Our Top 10 Blog Posts
1. Ancestry Up for Sale? By far the most-read post in 2015! We weren’t just talking about the sale rumor, but sharing advice on saving your Ancestry trees, sources and DNA, which everyone should do.
2. Best Genealogy Software: Which You Should Choose and Why. This is my spiel on why you should keep your master family tree on software at home–not on your favorite genealogy website. It includes my top picks for family tree software, including free options.
3. Four Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy. A lot of you are interested in the Library of Congress’ online resources for digitized photos, newspapers and how-tos for archiving your family history. Read all about it!
4. Free Google Earth for Genealogy Class. The conference lectures I give on Google Earth for genealogy are so popular that I created a free video that everyone can watch from home. Click on the post, and you can watch the video, too.
5. AncestryDNA Review and Breaking News: Updates Launched. Our own DNA correspondent Diahan Southard penned this popular post on AncestryDNA’s ground-breaking integration of our genetics data and our genealogy trees.
6. Seven Free Google Searches Every Genealogist Should Use. Are you getting the most out of free Google search technologies? Scan this list and see what’s missing from your search strategies!
7. NEW! Try This Now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. For U.S. researchers, this was the blockbuster database of summer 2015. Millions of parents’ names, birthplaces and more now beef up this go-to Social Security database–its’ far better than its sparse predecessor, the SSDI.
8. Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This Post. Another hit from DNA expert Diahan Southard! A great explanation of how to use your New Ancestor Discoveries on AncestryDNA.
9. How are We Related? Use a Cousin Calculator. It’s a simple, easy online tool, shared in response to a listener’s question.
10. New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love it! Diahan reports on a fabulous online tool that pulls out shared genetic matches between two people at AncestryDNA.
Will you please share this post on your Facebook timeline to help me spread the word about the “gems” you can find on the Genealogy Gems blog?
Here’s a little extra incentive: Use the hashtag #genealogygems and SHARE THIS POST ON YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE BY FRIDAY (November 20, 2015), and you’ll be entered in a contest to win the Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download. It’s presented by Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton and donated by our friends at Family Tree University. Of course you’re welcome to add any comments on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.
Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping me celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.