Federal Writer’s Project Collections

Federal Writer’s Project Collections

Works Projects Administration (WPA) employees created all kinds of records for your genealogical enjoyment—including oral histories. Here's how to find them.

The Historical Records Survey’s sister program, the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP), assigned writers a variety of tasks, including taking oral histories. The Library of Congress has posted two FWP collections on its American Memory Web site.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts, such as 72-year-old Josephine Howell’s. “My mother was Rebecca Jones. She was born in Nashville, Tenn,” she told FWP interviewer Irene Robinson. “Grandma was a cook and a breeding woman she was the mother of twenty-one children … Mama said she was 8 years old when Gabe McAlway come to Nashville and got her. He bought her. He was a young man and a saloon-keeper at Augusta, Ark.”

More than 300 FWP writers interviewed people from all walks of life-including Ella Lea Dow, purportedly the first white baby born in Roswell, NM-and recorded 10,000-plus life stories. Many are part of American Life Histories: Manuscripts From the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.

You can search the full text of both collections and browse interviewee names of the slave narratives. Both sites also have images and sound recordings for several interviews.

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