Using Work Projects Administration(WPA) to Research

Updated: Feb 11

The Works Progress Administration, aka WPA, was established in 1935 by the presidential order of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A few years later it was renamed Work Projects Administration. The program was designed to help employ millions of unemployed Americans. The WPA provided paid jobs to help people survive through the Great Depression. During the peak in 1939, the WPA provided three million unemployed men and women paid jobs. Between 1935 and 1943, 8.5 million people were employed under the program. Long term employment was not the goal of the WPA. They wanted to provide one paid job per family in which the main member of the household was suffering from long-term unemployment.

Lee, Russell, photographer. WPA Work Projects Administration work as visualized by Homer Tate. Safford, Arizona. May. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

A majority of the projects the WPA initiated were sponsored by states, counties, and cities. The work of the WPA contributed to the building of 40,000 new and 85,000 improved buildings. New buildings included 5,900 new schools; 9,300 new auditoriums, gyms, and recreational buildings; 1,000 new libraries; and 900 new armories. Infrastructure projects included 2,302 stadiums, grandstands, and bleachers; 52 fairgrounds and rodeo grounds; 1,686 parks that covered 75,152 acres; 3185 playgrounds; 3,026 athletic fields; 805 swimming pools;10,070 tennis courts; and 65 ski jumps. Construction programs helped to build more than 1 million km of streets and over 10,000 bridges, airports, and housing. 325 firehouses were built and 2,384 firehouses were renovated across America. Water mains were installed across 20,000 miles to help combat fires across the country. There were so many projects that it was impossible to list everything in this short blog.

The focus direction of the WPA throughout the course of the program changed as the needs of the country were uncovered. As WWII approached the focus was moved to defense-related. The need for the WPA was no longer needed once millions of men joined the military services. Roosevelt ordered a prompt end to the WPA activities to conserve funds that were needed in the war effort.

Projects that were complete by the WPA that would be beneficial to genealogist include:

Survey of County Records

Survey of Federal Archives

Survey of Church Records

American Imprint Inventory

Soundex Indexes of State & U.S. Federal Censuses

Index to Vital Statistics

Book Indexes


Cemetery Indexes (Headstones could have been readable at the time.))

Newspaper Indexes

The Atlas of Congressional Roll Calls Project

Historical index of American Musicians

Survey of Portraits in Public Buildings

And so much more....

Below are a few websites that I have used and recommended checking out to find out more about these projects. Google Books also has some of the records available to look at for free.

The Historical Records Survey is definitely beneficial to the genealogist.

To view the Works Progress Administration projects by state

Recent Posts

See All

© 2019 by Design by The Simple Living Genealogist.

Proudly created with

Your information is 100% secure and will never be shared with anyone.