The National Archives at St. Louis began service to the public as the St. Louis Federal Record Center in 1961 and is home to archival records of military and civil service personnel, including federal employees of the New Deal agencies. From Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees to Labor Secretary Francis Perkins, all federal New Deal employees’ records are accessible under one roof. In a nutshell, my job is to help researchers connect the dots and make the nation’s archives accessible to everyone.
Genealogy buffs contact us to learn about how the New Deal provided jobs to their relatives during difficult times. Academic researchers—from undergraduates to published authors—call on us to help them dig into the details of federal programs and how the New Deal impacted specific communities.
The records from the New Deal vary in what they contain. Works Projects/Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), Civil Works Administration (CWA) and CCC enrollee records were all put on microfilm in 1943— a final project of the WPA. None of these microfilmed records contain pictures, but they do detail the specific projects that every individual worked on, their pay, the type of work, and sometimes more.
Unfortunately, some employment records were destroyed before the National Archives could take possession of them. The CCC rosters, for example, are not here, but may be found in some museums and local institutions. The National Youth Administration (NYA) student records are, likewise, no longer available. The youth were not considered federal employees and their files were temporary, therefore destroyed. However, the faculty personnel records for the NYA do exist at our facility.
Some researchers start with as little as a name, job description, and location. Others already have a good deal of information and are seeking confirmation. Most of our records are textual. All are organized first by employing agency, then alphabetically—except for the WPA, which is organized by project location, so researchers need to know where the WPA employee worked in order to locate that record.
The National Archives employs archivists and archives technicians to help locate these records. Because so many New Deal agencies endured name changes and lateral movements within the government in order to hold on to funding, we who work here need to know the full histories of federal agencies and their lineage to unearth the records. The WPA/CWA/FERA had an especially complicated past, but that can make for some gratifying success stories.
Recently I worked with a researcher who was exploring the Federal Arts Project of the WPA, and seeking information about some New York City FAP artists. Together we were able to locate a pay ledger that hadn’t been looked at since being transferred to the National Archives. I was as delighted as she was to discover this rich source for her research.
All of us here have heard stories that make our work interesting and rewarding—from conspiracy theories to love stories, and everything in between. I’ll never forget the one about a daughter who had to work picking sweet peas to send money to her daddy for cigarettes while he worked in the CCC three states away. (We helped with that one, too).
Our website will soon receive much-needed updates that will make the path to our records even easier. For requests or questions, please contact [email protected] or write National Archives at St. Louis, PO Box 38757, St. Louis, MO 63138.