02 January 2020

The October-December 2019 Issue of NGS Magazine is Now Online

The October-December 2019 issue of NGS Magazine, Volume 45, Number 4, is available online in the Members Only section of the website and will be mailed to members in the coming weeks.

EDITOR'S NOTE by Deb Cyprych

Whether a family's community was researched during a WPA project, or an ancestor was one of the eight million people who worked for the Work Projects Administration during the Great Depression, the WPA’s records and products are worth exploring.

The WPA was established as the Works Progress Administration in 1935, when 20 percent of Americans were unemployed, to create jobs for laborers and professionals alike. The 1940 census helps identify whether a person was working for the WPA in the last week of March 1940. Cara Moore Lebonick describes the organization of WPA projects, eligibility rules for employment, and typical contents of personnel records, and provides tips to ensure an effective search in the records held by the National Archives at St. Louis. 

Paula Stuart-Warren chronicles the breadth of the materials produced by employees of the WPA’s Historical Records Survey that can be used for genealogy: inventories of county, municipal, state, and federal records; guides to vital statistics and manuscript collections; church directories and inventories; record transcriptions; indexes; bibliographies; and many more. Review of these products can help immensely in developing and implementing a thorough research plan.

The employees of the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) produced materials valuable for genealogists such as the American Guide series covering every state and many cities, life histories for ten thousand Americans, record transcriptions and indexes, and unique narratives. These products contain contextual details and descriptions of places and customs that may no longer exist. C. Ann Staley’s article about the FWP includes summaries of three associated projects in art, music, and theater.

Another achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project is its interviews of four thousand former slaves. The narratives based on these interviews are powerful records of the impact of slavery. Besides the narratives on the Library of Congress website, many others have been published. Kathy Petlewski outlines the methodology used by FWP employees, describes dynamics affecting the interviews and narratives, and explains how to access most of the narratives by state. Ten photographs of the narrators illustrate the article.

The quantity and variety of published and manuscript WPA resources in numerous places may seem overwhelming. Shelley Bishop provides strategies for locating the resources and discusses online finding aids, digital library collections, databases and online resources, and library and archival collections.

Also in this issue, Lynn Turner profiles the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, which holds the largest collection of genealogical records in the world, and Paul Woodbury uses story-telling to explain how the inheritance patterns of mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA can help in solving research problems.



  • The Family History Library: Premier Destination for Genealogists by Lynn Turner, AG
  • The Historical Records Survey: A Researcher’s Dream by Paula-Stuart Warren, CG
  • The WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project: A Treasure Trove by C. Ann Staley, CG, CGL
  • Finding WPA Resources in Digital and Archival Collections by Shelley Bishop
  • WPA Personnel Records at the National Archives by Cara Moore Lebonick


  • PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE by Ben Spratling
  • EDITOR’S NOTE by Deb Cyprych
    • Special Events for NGS 2020 Conference Week by Erin Pritchett
  • REFERENCE DESK The Slave Narratives of the Federal Writers’ Project by Kathy Petlewski, MSLS
  • DNA DISCOVERY The Journey of DNA’s Inheritance Paths: mtDNA and Y-DNA by Paul Woodbury

NGS Magazine is published quarterly to update members of the National Genealogical Society on NGS activities and to provide genealogists with special information and guidance on conducting effective genealogical research. The magazine is sent to libraries by subscription. Online access to NGS Magazine is available only as long as membership is active.

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