The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the most popular New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered jobs to unemployed young men. Most of them, aged 18-24, were from families on public relief during the Great Depression, and had few other prospects for employment. Some three million of them applied, passed a physical, and made their promise of a minimum 6 months’ service, before they were sent to work constructing parks, planting trees, working on public roadways, and constructing buildings on public lands. In return, they were given room and board, plus a small wage. They were required to send money to their families back home.
I had heard that my father-in-law, Bob, had taken a job with the C.C.C. when a young man, but had no details. While we know a fair amount about his life, the years from 1930 to 1950 were somewhat fuzzy. I contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis several times inquiring about records before finally receiving an answer informing me that his records were available. I filled out the paperwork required, sent in $60, and waited. Within two weeks, I had a packet of about a dozen pages of information. I was hoping what I found was worth the cost and the persistence.
Through the information found in these records, in addition to information I already had, I was able to put together a fairly good timeline. The family moved from Hand County, South Dakota to Spearfish sometime in 1937. Bob attended his first year of high school in Spearfish, but went to work at the Red Owl Grocery store in January of 1938 as a “helper”. He worked there three months, and was unable to find another job until his enrollment in the C. C. C. in July.
He was AWOL for 3 days after Christmas in 1938, and “AWOP” for five days after that, all for unknown reasons. He was “Absent With Out Pay” from 6/19/1939 (the day his step-father passed away) to 6/26/1939 (when he was discharged) for “Emergency Leave”. Before the year was out, Bob, his mother, and his siblings had relocated back to their home in Hand County.
I learned a few personal details about Bob that I had not known. He was barely 17 when he quit high school to go to work, but during his first three months with the Corps, he expressed interest in completing some high school coursework. Had he put aside his own education to help his family financially? Or had he quit school for other reasons? The interest in completing high school was apparently still there.
I learned that Bob considered himself best suited for work as a mechanic, but was hoping to work as a traveling salesman after completion of his C. C. C. enrollment. While he did work at implement and hardware stores, he never did sell his wares on the road.
I didn’t know he was small kid - 5’5” and 124 pounds – when entering the C. C. C. camp. Upon his discharge a year later, he had grown an inch, and gained 11 pounds. Later photos of him depict a slightly stocky build.
He was called “honest and reliable” by his camp adviser, and described as an “able and dependable workman.” He enjoyed reading while at the camp.
While the C. C. C. file did not reveal any surprising news, it did present a snapshot in time of Bob’s youth, his interests and abilities, and his character. Since he died young, learning these little bits of information from whatever sources we can find is especially important, as there aren’t many people left who knew him directly, particularly at this stage in his life.
Some of the more interesting pieces of information in the file, besides the basic birth date, birth place, and address, included an educational and work history. Results of the physical exam were also in the file. Work preferences, as well as the kind of work actually done, was also noted.
To find if your Great Depression era ancestor has C. C. C. records available, write to the National Personnel Records Center, Civilian Personnel Records, 111 Winnebago Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63118-4126. Be sure to include as much information as you can about your ancestor: name, birth date and place, home address, parents’ names, specific dates of C. C. C. employment, if known, and any other applicable information.
Bailey, Thomas A., "The American Pageant: A History of the Republic", D. C. Heath and Company, Boston.
Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy (www.ccclegacy.org)