â€œ110 Rookies Enrolled in Oct,â€ read the newspaper headline. Below the headline it read, â€œAverage Age is 17 Years and 11 Months — Educational Level Varies — All are Interested in Self-Improvement.â€
The headlines summed it up. Those were the typical characteristics of the young rookies. But, that wasnâ€™t just any group of rookies; my father was in that group. The newspaper? It was the Camp Ames News, published by CCC Company 1709 in Ames, Iowa.
In the 1930s, the Great Depression gripped America; unemployment and poverty affected millions of households. Shortly after taking office in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt spearheaded a bill through Congress creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Focusing on natural conservation projects, the CCC promised to put young men to work across the country. Enrollees, aged 18-25, (later expanded to 17-28) had to be poor, unemployed, single, and healthy.
They also had to send most of their $30-a-month pay home to their families.
With a stunning display of bureaucratic speed, CCC camps began to open across the country just a few months after the bill passed. Iowa, for example, responded quickly with thirty-four camps in operation by the end of 1933. Over the programâ€™s nine years, nearly 46,000 young men labored in Iowa as CCC enrollees; more than eighty Iowa state parks owe their development to the efforts of the CCC.
In fact, 2.9 million young men served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942. State parks throughout the country sport plaques and markers identifying the handiwork of the CCC.
They built roads, picnic shelters, bathhouses, dams, bridges, and fences. They dug irrigation canals and fought forest fires. They learned trades and took education classes. And, they received food, clothing, and shelter–a welcome change for many of the impoverished men.
When the United States entered World War II, however, the funding for the CCC stopped and the camps quietly disbanded. Many of the enrollees, including my dad, went directly into the military.
If any of your relatives served in the CCC, there are a number of resources available for researchers. At the national level, the National ArchivesÂ in Washington D.C. has extensive records on the CCC in its Record Group 35 including photographs, official correspondence, camp directories, inspection reports, and accident reports.
You can also request copies of the enrolleesâ€™ records from the Civilian Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
Include as much information in your request as you can, including date and place of birth and death, location of CCC service and the CCC company number. If the individual is deceased, provide proof of death. When requesting my fatherâ€™s records, I sent in the funeral card and that worked fine.
The individual record files include enrollment and re-enrollment paperwork. Youâ€™ll also find a record of the enrolleeâ€™s duty and camp assignments. Other data includes a list of previous employment, education, and a medical history. Genealogical clues include parentsâ€™ names, birthplaces, occupations, and education.
Payroll disbursement records provide another interesting snapshot of the CCC enrollee. My dad sent $22 of his monthly pay to his mother and put $7 a month into the bank, keeping just $1 a month for himself.
Check the state archives where your relative served for additional records. The New Mexico State Archives, for example, has 11,000 enrollment cards, rosters of enrollees, lists of discharges, and other miscellaneous documents. Keep in mind that enrollees didnâ€™t always serve in their home state. My dad was a rural Missourian, but he served in the CCC in Iowa.
Look also for camp newspapers. These provide an excellent glimpse into camp life. The Camp Ames News was a fine example. Its articles outlined the various projects camp members worked on; sports news recapped the camp baseball team and boxing squad efforts; lists of new arrivals and profiles of enrollees were in each paper; plus, little bits of gossip about camp members rounded out each issue.
Search an online database for camp newspapers at the website for the Center of Research Libraries. They have microfilmed many CCC camp newspapers and the microfilm is available via interlibrary loan.
Other camp newspapers are at state archives and historical societies. The Kansas State Historical Society has a large collection from various states.
To learn more about the CCC, go to the Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni website. Youâ€™ll also find information about the CCC Museum in St. Louis.
I never knew that my dad served in the CCC until after his death. If he ever talked about it, I forgot it, or, even worse, didnâ€™t pay attention. He did talk often about his WWII experiences, so I have those stories to remember and pass on to my daughter.
Now, as with most of our genealogy research, I just have the documents left behind to help me piece together that part of his life. I did find his CCC-issued trunk in the basement and an autograph book that he had while in the CCC. Filled with addresses, signatures, and little one-liners from his camp buddies, itâ€™s a poignant and touching symbol of my dadâ€™s youth.
Many of the men who served in the CCC have died, and more pass away each day. If any of your CCC relatives are still living, grab the video camera or tape recorder and preserve their important role in history.
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Genealogist Mary Penner writes “Lineage Lessons,” a weekly genealogy column, for the Albuquerque Tribune. She can be reached through her website.
Photograph: Enrollees arrive at Fort Roosevelt, Virginia. Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service (www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/lee/cultural/ccc/index.shtml).