"Our Loose Ends" Genealogy Column
by Lynna Kay Shuffield
Houston, Texas

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Printed in the Taylor Daily Press - 4 May 2000

“WPA Life History Collections”

In 1933, when the Great Depression hit the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the “New Deal,” as a series of programs to get the American economy back on its feet. One of those programs was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which began in 1935 and employed out-of-work Americans who were paid $15 to $90 dollars a month.

One of the divisions of the WPA was the Historical Records Survey (HRS), which documented resources for research into American History. The HRS created the Soundex indexes of the federal census, which genealogists today rely heavily on. The HRS also compiled indexes of vital statistics, cemetery interments, school records, military records, maps, newspapers, etc.

Researchers overlook a seldom utilize asset of the WPA, which are the “American Life Histories Collection.” These life histories were written by the staff of the Folklore Project in the Federal Writers’ Project and are now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

This collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the collection consists 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.

The collection contains 445 first-person accounts of life in Texas and includes topics related to Pioneer Reminiscences, including immigrants from Europe; Cowboy and Ranching Reminiscences and Lore, including African-Americans and Hispanics; some discussion of Indians; and more.

Places described include: the counties of Real, Uvalde, Grayson, McLennan, Tarrant, Lamb, Erath, Borden, Coryell, Lubbock, and more; and the towns of Lampasas, Waco, Amarillo, Fort Worth, Reagan, San Angelo, Brandon, Eldorado, Coleman, Wichita Falls, Waxahachie, Stephenville, Palestine, Maverick, Ballinger, and more.

The American Life Histories Collection is now on-line at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress at: http://rs6.loc.gov/wpaintro/wpahome.html. You can search this collection by keyword or state.

Additionally, WPA workers interviewed over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South for the “Ex-Slave Narratives Collection.” These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms.

The entire collection of narratives can be found in a four volume set entitled The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, George P. Rawick, ed., (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972-79). For information on this collection visit the Library of Congress website at: http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam015.html.

“First Families of Alabama”

What is the First Families of Alabama? It is a program offered by the Alabama Genealogical Society and is designed to identify and honor the memories of the early settlers of the State of Alabama. Early settlers include those individuals who resided within the present-day boundaries of the Alabama prior to statehood on 14 Dec 1819. You will receive a certificate for each qualifying ancestor.

Applications and documentations filed with the Alabama Genealogical Society will be preserved and available to the public at the Special Collections Dept. of the Samford University Library in Birmingham, AL.

To receive an application to participate in the First Families of Alabama program, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Alabama Genealogical Society; First Families Certificate; Mildred T. Kent, Registrar; 2561 Mountain Woods Dr.; Birmingham, AL 35216-2605.

“Montgomery County Genealogical & Historical Society Seminar”

On June 24, 2000 the Montgomery County Genealogical & Historical Society (at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~txmcghs/) will hold a seminar at the Montgomery Collection, 3200 College Park Dr., Conroe, Texas from 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Dr. Robert (Bob) Clay, a Virginia Genealogist will be the speaker. For more information contact Jane Sanford Keppler at e-mail: RELPPEK@aol.com or write: P. O. Box 867, Conroe, TX 77305.

In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.

Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/2670/ COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: lksfriday@sbcglobal.net

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This webpage was last created on 30 Apr 2000 and was last revised on __________ 2000

Copyright © 1999, 2000 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.
P. O. Box 16604
Houston, Texas 77222-6604