FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression

Cath Madden Trindle

WPA Federal Arts Project

1935 – 1939 (NARA 69.5.2)

File:Archives of American Art - Employment and Activities poster for the WPA's Federal Art Project - 11772.jpgEstablished in August 1935. Terminated September 1939 with instructions for states to allocate all project art work to eligible tax- supported public institutions. Reputed to have created more than 200,000  works, FAP artists created posters, murals and paintings. It was the goal of the FAP to employ out of work artists and provide art for non-federal buildings, such as schools, hospitals and libraries.

Artists wishing to be considered for the Federal Art Project  had to prove they were impoverished and had to submit samples of their work. Before they could be apply, they had to be accepted for Home Relief. If chosen for the Project, artists were paid a salary of about $24 a week.

There were three primary divisions of the project: art production, art education and art research. The primary product of the art research portion of the project was the Index of American Design,  consisting of approximately 18,000 watercolor renderings of American decorative arts objects from the colonial period through the nineteenth century.  The education component resulted in art centers, classes, lectures and exhibits around the country.  The production aspect p

Like many Federal agencies the National Park Service benefited by the work of FAP artists. (Public Domain Images Online)

roduced many of the wonderful murals that are still in existence today.

The Autry Historic Southwest Museum in Los Angeles has a collection relating to a Federal Arts Project  sponsored by the National Park Service at the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art from 1936-1937.

You will find administrative records which include correspondence,  instructions and personnel reports. The photographic collections include field notes, file notes and the photographs themselves. A third section of the collection includes chalk and ink drawings, maps, oil paintings and watercolors depicting the collectinos and historical figures from California History.

This is just a sample of what might exist for other projects. If your family members were employed by the FAP look in local repositories for collections on the art works in the area where they lived.

The Letter - Burlingame Post Office - funded by Section of Fine Arts - Department of the Treasurry

The Letter – Burlingame Post Office – funded by Section of Fine Arts – Department of the Treasurry

The Department of the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture  (Section of Fine Arts),  was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division. It continued until 1943.  Unlike the other New Deal art programs,  commissions were awarded through competitions and artists were paid a lump sum for their work. Competitions were open to all artists, regardless of economic status. Proposals were reviewed without identifying the name of the artist who had made the submission.

Find more on New Deal Arts Programs:

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Join the California State Genealogical Alliance at Jamboree 2014

The Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree is just around the corner. Once again the California State Genealogical Alliance will be a society Exhibitor (Booth #137), from Friday, June 6 to Sunday, June 8, 2014.

If your genealogical group would like to share its brochures, information on upcoming events, or lend a hand at the booth, please contact Catherine Luijt at opzoeker@gmail.com. We will incorporate your handouts as part of the display. There is no cost. Don’t miss this opportunity.

We look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Posted in California Events, California Genealogy, CSGA News | Comments Off on Join the California State Genealogical Alliance at Jamboree 2014

FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records From the Great Depression

Cath Madden Trindle

WPA Historical Records Survey 

1935 – 1943 (NARA 69.5.6)

 The Historical Records Survey was organized under the direction of Luther H Evans as part of the Federal Writer’s Project on 16th Nov 1935.  It became an independent division of Federal Project 1 in October of 1936.  In 1939 projects were handed off to state and local governments with oversight by the WPA’s Research and Records Program, Professional and Service Division.

Never eager to recreate what someone else has done well, I suggest you read Bryan Mulcahy’s  Work’s Progress Administration (WPA) – Historical Records Survey for a good background of the Survey, a listing of its objectives and an overview of the records useful for genealogical research.  Some California materials are listed below. Most are online, click on any link to go to online description or publication.

California Historical Records Survey 
Online publications are available through
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Society Update


29 Mar – Genealogical Society of Stanislaus County – Early Spring Workshop – Family History Research: Using LDS Resources – LDS Church, 731 El Vista Ave, Modesto, CA  –  Jeff Wells :  JEFFREYWELLS3533@Comcast.net (209) 579-2510 or GSSC : GSSC@worldnet.att.net (209) 667-0536


April 26 – Sonoma County Genealogical Society- 2014 Spring Seminar – featuring – Donna Moughty – Harry A. Merlo Theater, Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Hwy 101 at River Road, Santa Rosa, CA


Apr 3 – Vallejo-Benicia Genealogy Society – Timelines and Historical Context – Check website or contact program chair for more information.

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FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression

So it Begins…

Cath Madden Trindle

On the Road – 1929
Mary Geraghty English Photo Album

 In June of 1929 John and May packed daughters, Dolores, Clare and Jean, none of whom had never been out of Minnesota and May’s mother Mary Walsh Geraghty, a native of Ireland, into the family car and headed out on the adventure of a lifetime. Three months on the road, west to Washington, south to Mexico and northeast back to Minnesota.

 Little did they know that shortly after returning home the world as they knew it would start to crumble.  The market crashed, family businesses followed.  Places noted in May’s journal of that journey were among some of the hardest hit by the ensuing years of depression.  Relatives visited were among the jobless.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Great Depression.  My direct families were lucky, John was a postman, a job that was still essential in a declining economy.  My other grandfather was in business with his brothers, transporting cars from Detroit across the Great Lakes.  That business eked it’s way through the depression, only to be ended by WWII when their leased boats were confiscated by the government for scrap metal. Many collateral families, were not so lucky.  Families moved in together, cutting costs.  Many needed the help of one government agency or another as their resources diminished.

2My mother remembered the markings on her back gate.  Signs that told the out of luck wandering by that her mother would share a meal with them. Many of my memories of my grandmother center around her kitchen, I happily add her generosity to them.

The country was in turmoil, bank after bank was failing.  Businesses imploded, farms were lost to debt and drought.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt believed the only way for the country to survive was to keep the infrastructure strong.  He firmly believed his vision was in keeping with that of  George Washington.  Roosevelt’s New Deal created program after program with the aim of building that strength. Some were successful, some were not.  Many were modified as the realities of implementation provided feedback on their success.

It is hard to find a family this was not impacted in some way by the New3 Deal.  Records, carefully archived in many facilities, abound.  They are waiting for the interest of future generations to peak.  I think the future is now.  The release of the 1940 census has provided us with the means of locating our relatives in both 1935 and 1940.  We also learn if they were employed or supported by the government.  With this information in hand, it is possible to look at programs in place in the locales where they lived and learn more.  There are records at NARA as well as documents and pictures in state, local  and university archives.  Books, articles and websites await your perusal.

Look for discussion of individual agencies of the New Deal in upcoming newsletters and on the CSGA blog.  Share your stories and interesting record finds by sending an email to projects@CSGA.com. Guest bloggers and authors are encouraged.

I leave you with the thought that along with the programs that brought strength back to the US there were many mistakes.  Although never an official program of the federal government, the repatriations of the 1930s were a point of shame for both the United States and the Mexican governments.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals, including many children who were US citizens were affected.  Some barely spoke Spanish and were too “Americanized” to fit in rural Mexico.  Most were not deported, but rather encouraged to return to their “homeland” as there were no jobs here.  Whole communities made the journey as barrio businesses could not survive the lack of customers.  Always in the forefront was the promise that if they left voluntarily they could return. But as many found, those who had been “on the dole,” were not allowed to legally return.  Some who were born in the United States and therefore were citizens could not find the papers to prove their eligibility to return, others chose not to return to the country that abandoned them.

On the other side of the border the promised farmlands were scarce and often local government was riddled with corruption.  But I can’t tell this tale in a paragraph or two.  I recommend reading Francisco E Balderama and Raymond Rodriguez’s Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s for a better understanding of all sides of the repatriation issue.   If you are lucky enough to have relatives living who were among the repatriated, talk to them now.  There are few records for those voluntary repatriations and too few stories shared.


Originally Published in the CSGA Newsletter  Nov-Dec 2012

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