Historical Records Survey

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The Historical Records Survey (HRS) was a project of the Works Progress Administration New Deal program in the United States. Originally part of the Federal Writers' Project, it was devoted to surveying and indexing historically significant records in state, county and local archives. The official mission statement was the "discovery, preservation, and listing of basic materials for research in the history of the United States."

Organized on November 16, 1935 under the direction of Luther H. Evans, it became an independent division of Federal One in October 1936, and in 1939 became part of the Work Projects Administration Research and Records Program, Professional and Service Division. The program was shut down February 1, 1943.

In 1939 the federal government handed off the program's activities to willing state governments. Because of the program's short lifespan, many of the indexes were not published and remain in only piecemeal form in local and state record repositories.

The HRC, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was organized into subdivisions (regional, state, district) and much of the work was done at the behest of the National Archives and Records Administration or state archive agencies. The HRS sometimes cooperated with the Daughters of the American Revolution and other volunteer groups with an interest in local history and genealogy.

Among their accomplishments were the soundex indexes for the several of the states for several of the late 19th-century U.S. Censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920), indexes of vital statistics, book indexes, bibliographies, cemetery indexes and newspaper indexes, the American Imprints Inventory, the Atlas of Congressional Roll Calls Project, a historical index of American musicians, surveys of portraits in public buildings, maritime records, a history of grazing, a food history project called America Eats, and a necessary survey of the federal Archives—NARA itself had been established only in 1934.

The HRS was generally considered the most efficient and inexpensive of the Federal One projects.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Hefner, Loretta, The WPA Historical Records Survey: a guide to the unpublished inventories, indexes, and transcripts, Society of American Archivists. ISBN 0-931828-25-2
  • Child, Sargent B., Check List of Historical Records Survey Publications, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969.

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