W.P.A. Oregon Historical Records Survey records , not yet dated

Overview of the Collection

Oregon Historical Records Survey
W.P.A. Oregon Historical Records Survey records
not yet dated
45.75 linear feet, (90 containers)
Collection Number
Bx 066
The Historical Records Survey (H.R.S.) was initiated by the federal government in 1935 as one of five programs under the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A., renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939). All W.P.A. projects ended in February 1943, and most H.R.S. records were deposited in public repositories. The Oregon Historical Records Survey collection, arranged according to its original order, contains detailed documentation of Oregon history and records.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Additional Reference Guides

See the Current Collection Guide for detailed description and requesting options.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

The federal government initiated the Historical Records Survey (H.R.S.) in 1935 to relieve high levels of white-collar unemployment. Established as one of five programs under the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A., renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939), the H.R.S. employed clerical workers and professionals to inventory public and private archives across the nation. The H.R.S. was federally funded and directed until August 1939, when federal law required states to assume complete administrative control and greater financial responsibility for the project. With the beginning of World War II, however, W.P.A. projects unrelated to the war effort were discontinued, and by mid 1942 the H.R.S. project was at a standstill. All W.P.A. projects ended in February 1943, and most H.R.S. records were deposited in public repositories.

The H.R.S.' primary goal was to survey and inventory public state, county, city, and town archives across the United States, as well as private collections and archives. HRS projects were conducted on both the national and state level. The first national project inventoried county records, but surveys of church records, imprints, and manuscripts soon followed. State projects included such diverse topics as Transcriptions of Cemetery Inscriptions (New Hampshire), an Inventory to the Eugenics Records Survey (Vermont), an Index to Indian Depredations (Georgia), the Erie Canal Records Survey (Pennsylvania), and Letters of Famous Oregon Pioneers (Oregon).

The H.R.S.' secondary goal was to publish record inventories to make historical records and documents more accessible to amateur and professional researchers. Attainment of this goal fluctuated greatly between states and individual surveys, and H.R.S. officials estimated that only twenty percent of completed inventories were published. A third goal was archival reorganization and record preservation. In the process of surveying collections, workers often found records neglected, unorganized, stored under bad conditions, or, in the case of one Iowa county courthouse, used for kindling. Workers' efforts saved many collections from disposal or irreversible damage.

State projects deposited their records in various institutions when the H.R.S. officially ended in 1943 in hope that the survey would continue after the war. The Oregon H.R.S. deposited its records with the University of Oregon and the Oregon State Library at Salem. Other collections received less favorable treatment, however. Archivist Leonard Rapport found the Massachusetts H.R.S. records "in 132 bundles, wrapped like laundry but feeling like short-weight sacks of Portland cement" in the "surrealist circus-tent setting" of a Forbes Library attic. He also reported that some records were misplaced or discarded for lack of space. The Maine H.R.S. records, for example, were dumped into Casco Bay soon after the project ended as no repository was willing to accept them. In the 1970s Rapport and the Society of American Archivists brought attention to H.R.S. work by locating the surviving unpublished records and publishing The Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts (Chicago, 1980).

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Oregon Historical Records Survey collection is arranged according to its original order, and most of the documents are in excellent condition. It is valuable because it contains detailed documentation of Oregon history and records, and because it provides insight into H.R.S. administrative and editorial processes. It is arranged by series, and is composed primarily of historical essays, standardized forms, transcriptions of documents, interviews, research notes, and W.P.A. instructions and correspondence. Some photographs, floor plans, and pamphlets are also included. The series are: County Records Inventory Survey, Individual Manuscripts Survey, Historic Buildings Survey, Maps and Photographs Survey, State Boards of Commission, Out of State Files, County Commissioners' Journals, Education Survey, Oregon Church History Survey, American Imprints Survey, Manuscripts Survey, Radio Scripts, Letters of Famous Oregon Pioneers, WPA Historical Records Survey Administrative Documents, Oregon State Survey, Miscellaneous Documents, Oregon Imprints, and Photographs. Note that the last arrangement of records ("Oversize Materials", Boxes 87-88) is not a separate series but a flat box and a flat file drawer created during rehousing to protect and preserve large documents.

The Oregon H.R.S. was the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time. The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid- to late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection. Historical essays introduce some of this information, but most information is supplied by standardized forms. The usefulness of the forms varies significantly, as some provide only a document's general description, location (circa 1942), and physical condition, while others include a full transcription of the document.

This collection also reveals a great deal about H.R.S. administrative and editorial processes, as most series contain project-specific administrative correspondence and instructions. H.R.S. Director Luther Evans implemented strict procedural guidelines and assembly line techniques to facilitate uniform project results across the nation. To this end H.R.S. workers received detailed instruction manuals and standardized forms such as the Individual Record Form and the Church History Form. Editors subjected H.R.S. work to rigorous editorial standards, which included checking and double-checking facts, requesting more information, and correcting and reorganizing prose. Questions in the margins of Oregon H.R.S. forms and essay drafts reflect these procedures. In spite of federal attempts at uniformity, however, the quality, precision, and extent of information provided by essays and standardized forms varied from worker to worker.

Researchers may compare the (circa) 1940s locations of county records referred to in this collection (in standardized forms or transcriptions) with their current depositories by consulting the Oregon County Records Inventories (Oregon State Archives: Oregon Historical Records Project, 1995). These four volumes are located in the reference section of the University of Oregon's Special Collections department. Among the county records series that appear in the Oregon H.R.S. collection that can be cross-referenced with the 1995 inventories are, among others, birth, death, marriage, and divorce records, County Commissioners' Journals, and Married Women's Property Registers.

It is likely that some Oregon Federal Writers Project (another W.P.A. program) records were combined with the H.R.S. records in our collection. The Radio Scripts Series provides the clearest example of this likelihood. Researchers interested in H.R.S. records for counties not listed here should contact the Oregon State Library (Salem), with whom the Oregon H.R.S. records collection was divided in late 1942.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • County government--Oregon
  • Education--Oregon
  • Historic buildings--Oregon
  • Pioneers--Oregon--Correspondence

Corporate Names

  • Oregon Historical Records Survey
  • United States. Works Progress Administration

Geographical Names

  • Oregon--Church history
  • Oregon--History--Archival resources
  • Oregon--Politics and government