Thursday, November 17, 2005

WPA & West Virginia

Tuesday's DearMYRTLE's FAMILY HISTORY HOUR (still available at 24/7 at briefly discussed a query from Myrt's message board from Natalie Dailey who states: "Help! My grandfather's Social Security application [SS5] states that in 1937 his present employer was WPA #354. He was Thomas William Dailey and lived in Monongalia County, West Virginia. Where do I go from here? Thanks in advance for anything information offered."

Ol' Myrt's response was to explain that WPA was the Works Projects (sometimes also called Progress) Administration. I Googled for WPA +West Virginia and found all sorts of online links explaining the program including:

-- (WPA), "former U.S. government agency, established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Works Progress Administration; it was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, when it was made part of the Federal Works Agency. Created when unemployment was widespread, the WPA—headed by Harry L. Hopkins until 1938—was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects. WPA's building program included the construction of 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 mi (1,047,000 km) of road and the improvement of 800 airports. Also a part of WPA's diversified activities were the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. Close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through WPA, and many public buildings (especially post offices) were decorated with murals." See:

-- "While some of these projects are fairly well-known, such as the Soundex Index to the U.S. Federal Censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920), and Soundex Indexes to Naturalization Petitions in several regions of the country, many of the projects were smaller and may have escaped the attention of many researchers." See:

MOST NOTABLE, is the Federal Writers' Project, which is housed at the Library of Congress. Online versions of many of these projects are found at: Here we read the overview as follows: "These life histories were written by the staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers' Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936-1940. The Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant's family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations. Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts."

A BOOK ON WEST VIRGINIA was compiled by the WPA. The Broward County, Florida Library has a reference, and scanned image of the dust jacket. The book is described as "WEST VIRGINIA: A GUIDE TO THE MOUNTAIN STATE/Compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of West Virginia.— New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.—xxxi, 559 p.: ill., maps, b&w photos; 21 cm.—(American Guide Series)." Scroll down the page to see the entry at:

More about this book and West Virginia history by Jerry B. Thomas is located at:

A MESSAGE BOARD POSTING from Chris Dunham explained "I assume that this would be Work Projects Administration Project Number 354. The National Archives has a ton of records from the WPA:
This page says that field-office records from West Virginia alone fill 27 microfilm rolls. It also says that these projects "were planned, initiated, and sponsored by cities, counties, or states." You might have better luck checking West Virginian sources before wading through the federal records. Contact county and state historians/archivists to see what WPA records exist. You might also check newspapers published in the area in 1937, to see if any local WPA projects were mentioned."

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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