American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 – http://www.loc.gov/collection/federal-writers-project/about-this-collection/
Updated 3/15/2014 to reflect new interface.
Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:
- What was it like to live through the Great Chicago Fire?
- What are some names associated with mining in Montana in the 1930s?
- Where can I find an account of the Cult of Father Divine?
In the 1930s, writers making $20 a week working for Uncle Sam interviewed over 10,000 people for their life’s history. According to the website:
People who told stories of life and work during the 1930s include an Irish maid from Massachusetts, a woman who worked in a North Carolina textile mill, a Scandinavian iron worker, a Vermont farm wife, an African-American worker in Chicago meat packing house, and a clerk in Macy’s department store.
Many Americans in the thirties remembered the nineteenth century as vividly as some people now recall the Depression years. The life history narratives tell of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the Chicago fire of 1871, making the pioneer journey to the Western Territories, and fleeing to America to avoid conscription into the Russian Czar’s army.
In a number of cases, pseudonyms were used to protect privacy. The collection can be searched by keyword. Results can be filtered by the following criteria on the left hand side of the page:
- Original Formats
- Online Formats
- Sites and Collections
On the results page, be sure to note the “look inside” on each item. Clicking on this will take you to a different results page for that one document that will note exactly where your search term appears.
Items may be read online or downloaded in a number of formats, including gif and XML. Neither plain text nor PDF is provided for you.
Aside from being a great source of daily living lore from 1850s-1930s, this collection could help you with back story. For example if you were writing a story about Roswell New Mexico, you might connect your characters to people who lived in Roswell before the UFO era. People like Sidney L. Prager, pioneer merchant of Roswell in the 1880s/1890s who happened to work with the Jaffa brothers. Spelled the same way as the Jaffa of Stargate SG-1.
This is another open collection free of copyright restrictions, so material from it can be directly incorporated into your story.