As a way to help provide jobs and conserve America’s public lands and natural resources, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed in his New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This public work relief program (from 1933 to 1945) gave single men ages 18 to 25 employment as laborers–paving roads, planting trees, constructing buildings, etc. We owe the existence of many of our state parks to the sweat of the men of the CCC.
Growing up, I had heard of my maternal grandfather’s affiliation with the CCC. But my family didn’t know the specifics. I discovered a couple of years ago that the National Archives has an office in St. Louis, Mo., called the National Personnel Records Center, which houses military records of discharged vets and work records related to federal relief agencies, including the CCC, the Civil Works Administration (CWA), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), National Youth Administration (NYA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). All one has to do is send in a written request to find out if records exist for the individual you’re researching.
A request for CCC records should include the following information* (proof of my grandfather’s death had to accompany the request):
*Note: I’ve bolded the only questions that could be answered about my grandfather. Even with the limited information provided, they were able to find his file.
- Name used at the time of the claimed service (provide exact spelling and include the middle name if known)
- Date of Birth
- Home address (city and state) at time of the claimed service
- Parents’ names
- Dates of service (day, month & year)
- CCC Company numbers
- Location of employing office (city & state)
- Title(s) of position(s) held (if known)
- Rate of pay (if known)
- Name and location of school
- Name and location of sponsoring agency and bureau (if the claimed service was on a project sponsored by a Federal agency)
CCC enrollees went through several weeks of conditioning, which would include manual labor and exercise. In 1935, when he was 19, my grandfather went to Camp Dix in New Jersey for his training. The first project he was on was in Blauvelt, N.Y., doing road construction at Palisades Interstate Park. He was part of Company 1251. A few months later, he was one of the group of black CCC workers in Elmira, N.Y. (part of Company 1251-c–the ‘c’ stood for colored. In July 1935, complete segregation was ordered among the camps.). This group worked on Newton Battlefield State Park.
I read in a 2007 article from The Preservationist, a publication of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, that Elmira’s Star-Gazette newspaper reported how events unfolded back in August 1935 with the arrival of the black CCC workers in Elmira, and how they were received by white residents.
If you know your ancestor’s company, contact the National Archives to see what type of CCC information exists. I was delighted to learn that there’s quite a bit of information that I can order on 1251-c: project reports, inspection reports…even a sample menu for the camp.
One of my projects for this summer is to go to Elmira and read through those old Star-Gazette articles to get a sense of the time, and visit Newton Battlefield State Park. It was reported last year that the park was among dozens in danger of closing due to budget cuts. I’ll be sure to write about my discoveries, as well as the NARA records on 1251-c.
For more information on the Civilian Conservation Corps, watch PBS’ 2009 American Experience special on the CCC here.