WPA Synagogue Surveys

Explanation modified from Genealogical.com
During the Great Depression circa 1936-1942, 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. Synagogues were among those inventoried.

Different kinds of inventories were done in each state, some as part of a federal survey of church and synagogue 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. 

Each of these resources may differ in format and content. One state’s inventory form requests the religious organization's name(s), address, clergy name, details about the building(s), race and size of congregation, location of records, and other relevant information. There’s a section for a brief history of the synagogue, 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 You may find a published or unpublished inventory for a single county, a single denomination within a state, or for all religious organizations in the state. The information they contain is about eighty years out of date. An increasing number of these resources are within reach, thanks to online cataloging and digitiza­tion. Like city directories, these WPA compilations are often cataloged differently by different libraries and archives.