How many times have researchers kicked themselves for not knowing that someone else had already done their spadework for them? It’s for this reason, if you are about to delve into church records, that you must learn about the WPA Church Inventories. As Sunny Morton and Harold Henderson explain in Chapter Three of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records, this Great Depression-era federal agency inventoried thousands of church record collections and published or at least compiled them in handy directories. Even better, Morton and Henderson have prepared the most comprehensive list of those guides anywhere in print. Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect to find in the WPA section of their book.
During the Great Depression in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the federal government employed people to inventory historical records in each state as part of the Works Progress Administration (later Work Projects Administration), commonly known as the WPA. Church records were among those inventoried.
Different kinds of inventories were done in each state, some as part of a federal survey of church records and some as part of state-level transcription projects. According to one source, directories of churches and religious organizations were created for twenty-five states; church archive inventory projects were undertaken in an overlapping twenty-seven states. You may also find guides to church vital statistics records for some places.
SEE WHETHER WPA RESOURCES EXIST
Each of these resources may differ in format and content. One state’s church archives inventory form requests the church name(s), address, pastor name, details about the building(s), race and size of congregation, location of church records, and other relevant information. There’s a section for a brief history of the church, and for a description of existing records and where they were located at that time.
As in the case of other WPA projects, not every project was completed statewide or for all denominations. Projects were not uniformly carried out or completed, and some of those completed were never collected or maintained by any national agency. Some were published, and some are now online. You may find a published or unpublished inventory for a single county, a single denomination within a state, or for all churches in the state. The information they contain is about seventy-five years out of date but is closer in time to the pre-1900 years this book focuses on. An increasing number of these resources are within reach, thanks to online cataloging and digitiza tion. Like city directories, these WPA compilations are often cataloged differently by different libraries and archives.
The list in the table on pages 30-33 (only p. 30 is shown in this excerpt) represents the most current and comprehensive compilation of WPA church directories and church record inventories known. For easy access, readers are directed to digitized versions online. See WorldCat for physical library holdings. Additional digitized publications will likely surface; we encourage you to search for them even if not listed here.
WPA Church Inventories
The University of Oklahoma Western History Collections (https://libraries.ou.edu/content/westernhistory-collections-0) has a multistate Historical Records Survey Collection that spans 33 states; finding aid at https://libraries.ou.edu/locations/docs/westhist/pdf/wpahistoricalrecordssurvey.pdf.
African American Directory of Negro Baptist Churches in the United States. 2 vols. Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Resources by state
Guide to Vital Statistics Records in Alabama Church Archives, 1942. Available at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
An Inventory of the Protestant Episcopal Church Archives for Alabama. Digitized at https://exploreuk.uky.edu/ and in Multistate collection, above.
Alaska: None (not a state yet).
Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in Arizona. Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in the State of Arkansas. Digitized at http://libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections/wpa/msh62.asp.
Guide to Vital Statistics Records in Arkansas (church records inventory in vol. 2). Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations for San Francisco, Los Angeles County, Alameda County, San Diego County, and Southern California, all in Multistate collection, above.
Inventory of the Church Archives of Colorado, Jewish Bodies. Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Inventory of the Church Archives of Connecticut for Protestant Episcopal and Lutheran Churches. In Multistate collection, above. Protestant Episcopal republished as Historical Resources of the Episcopal Dioceses of Connecticut.
Guide to Vital Statistics in the Church Records of Connecticut. Digitized at FamilySearch.org.
Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in Delaware. Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Inventory of the Church Archives of Delaware. Digitized at HathiTrust.org and https://archives.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/156/2016/10/WPAChurch Archives.pdf.
District of Columbia
Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in the District of Columbia. Digitized at Ancestry.com (subscription required).
Inventories of Church Archives in the District of Columbia and Inventories of Records of St. Patrick’s Church and School.
Church records inventory at Florida Memory, searchable at http://www.floridamemory.com/collections/churchrecords/.
A Preliminary List of Religious Bodies in Florida. Digitized at HathiTrust.org.
Guide to Supplementary Vital Statistics from Church Records in Florida, vols.1 and 2. Digitized at FamilySearch.org.
Inventory of the Church Archives of Georgia. In Multistate collection, above.
Hawaii: None (not a state yet).