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WPA Resources

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Public Works - Bronx - A W.P.A. [Works Progress Administration] project.,[Sewer construction.], Digital ID 732756F, New York Public LibraryWorks Progress Administration or the WPA (renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939) was in my opinion, an amazing relief program. Established in 1935 as part of the New Deal by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the WPA was an ambitious federal jobs program created to provide blue collar and white collar jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression. Work ranged from road construction to theatrical productions to research for the Library of Congress and the program employed millions of individuals.

Opponents of the WPA criticized its work as nepotistic, wasteful and communist. Regardless, however, of one’s opinion about the WPA, the wealth of resources it provides us in the form of photographs, posters, interviews and writing is invaluable to research of this time period. There are far too many sources produced by the WPA at the New York Public Library to list but I want to highlight a few from the Milstein Division which would benefit the local historian and genealogist.

The Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA produced guide books to various cities, states and regions. Many of these are on our open shelves in section 33, including a guide to New York City. The Division of Community Service Projects created guides to vital statistics of church archives for several cities. New York City’s guides are also on our open shelves on section 15, divided by borough and then denomination. These can be very helpful when searching for church records like baptisms, marriages and funerals which took place in the metropolitan area of New York City prior to 1940. In a future blog post I will go into more detail on how to use this resource.

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