From our eLibrary: New York State WPA Archive Inventories and Abstracts

Saturday, August 20, 2016 - 2:45pm

Many of the buildings, parks and roads that we use in our local communities today are there thanks to the Works Progress Administration, one of the most successful relief agencies from the New Deal.

But the WPA did more than just build infrastructure. Genealogists will be thrilled to see the results of the Historical Records Survey, which are still immensely valuable to genealogical and historical research.

The goal of this ambitious project was to discover, preserve and inventory all of the basic materials for researching the history of the United States. We have 29 publications related to counties and cities of New York State in our eLibrary.

Women in the WPA

The Historical Records Survey began as part of a different initiative, the Federal Writers' Project, but was moved into the "Women's and Professional Division" of the WPA in 1936.

Since the beginning of the Depression, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had been working hard to make sure the economic needs of women were not ignored by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.


Ellen Woodward with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

With the assistance of Ellen Woodward - the Federal Director of Relief Work for Women -  opportunities were created for women to contribute to the recovery effort beyond canning fruit or working at sewing stations.

Many women became heavily involved in combing municipal and religious archives, historical societies, and public and university libraries for valuable records.

It is only thanks to their hard work, dedication and skill that many of these record inventories and abstracts are preserved today.

What is in this collection and why is it so useful?

These publications are enormously helpful to the genealogist who is searching for a specific record set, or would like to know what materials are available for a certain municipality.

Though many of these documents were published in the later 1930's or early 1940's, many of the collections they detail are still located in the same place. In that event, this collection becomes a guidebook that is difficult to find elsewhere, but could save a significant amount of time otherwise spent hunting for certain record collections.

Even in the case the collection has been moved, it's helpful to know that it existed in the first place. Furthermore, any lead will help - even if the collection has moved, the archive or repository that housed it at the time of the inventory will be a vital clue to finding its location today.

Though the data in each volume will differ, you can generally expect to find information on the following types of records:

  • Vital records
  • Church histories and records
  • Inventories of local records
  • Local histories
  • Societies' histories

We have a searchable version of these records, as well as one that allows you to browse each collection page by page.

Here is a list of our 29 volumes, broken down by category:

Church Archives Inventories

  • Eastern Orthodox Churches and Armenian Apostolic Church
  • Lutherans
  • Methodist Church
  • Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
  • Protestant Episcopal Church, Brooklyn and Queens
  • Protestant Episcopal Church, New York, Bronx, Richmond
  • Reformed Church in America
  • Roman Catholic Church, Archdiocese of New York
  • Protestant Episcopal Church, Diocese of Rochester

Vital Records

  • WPA Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in New York State, Volume I: Birth Records
  • WPA Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in New York State, Volume III: Death Records
  • WPA Guide to Vital Statistics Records of Churches
  • WPA Guide to Vital Statistics Records of Churches in New York State
  • WPA Guide to Vital Statistics, Borough of Brooklyn Churches
  • WPA Guide to Vital Statistics, Borough of Queens Churches

County Records

  • WPA Albany County Archives, Inventory of the County Archives of New York State
  • WPA Broome County Archives, Inventory of the County Archives of New York State
  • WPA Chautauqua County Archives, Inventory of the County Archives of New York State
  • WPA Chemung County Archives, Inventory of the County Archives of New York State
  • WPA Public Archives Inventory, Bronx County Archives
  • WPA Public Archives Inventory, Bronx Borough Archives
  • WPA Public Archives Inventory, Kings County Archives
  • WPA Public Archives Inventory, Richmond County and Borough Archives (Volumes I and II)
  • WPA Transcriptions of Early County Records of New York State: Records of the Road Commissioners of Ulster County, 1722-1769
  • WPA Transcriptions of Early County Records of New York State: Town Minutes of Newtown, 1656-1688
  • WPA Cattaraugus County Archives, Inventory of the County Archives of New York State

Manuscript Depositories

  • WPA Guide to Manuscript Depositories in New York City
  • WPA Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in New York State (Exclusive of New York City)
  • WPA Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in New York State (Exclusive of New York City)

Browse the collection

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