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Archives - Biographies

The Historical Data Project was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program designed to preserve the rich history of the United States. Established in April 1936, the Historical Data Project was sponsored by the WPA Division of Women's and Professional Projects and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. One purpose of the Historical Data Project was to gather biographical and historical information on early settlers in North Dakota. To limit the scope of the survey, a "pioneer" was defined as "a person who was born before 1870 and who lived in Dakota Territory prior to the division into North and South Dakota, or considered the first settler in a township." Project personnel compiled supportive documentation on the history of counties, cities, townships, agriculture, fraternal organizations, political parties, population, railroads, climate, natural resources, prominent citizens, etc., and prepared transcripts of early North Dakota county and township records having genealogical and historical value. The survey work of the Historical Data Project ceased in 1940.

The records consist of three series:

  • Pioneer Biography Files
  • Local History
  • Transcripts of Local Government Records

The Pioneer Biography Files (Series 30529), now available on microfilm (available also at North Dakota State University, Fargo and University of North Dakota, Grand Forks), are arranged alphabetically by county, and thereafter by the pioneer's last name. The microfilm index is organized alphabetically by the pioneer's last name. The files provide more than 5,000 brief biographies of North Dakotans, and consist of forms and personal reminiscences of pioneers in North Dakota. In addition, they provide information on many ethnic cultures in North Dakota, customs, and the challenges that pioneers encountered. Most Pioneer Biography Files contain either a "Pioneer Data Form" or an "Old Settlers Questionnaire Form" which was completed by the Pioneer or by a survey worker. The questionnaire, which includes the family history section of either a "Pioneer Data Form" or an "Old Settler Questionnaire," includes the name of the pioneer, birth and death dates, nationality, name of spouse, parents, children, and other relatives, date of marriage, occupation, date of immigration to the United States, date of migration to Dakota Territory, mode of transportation, education, religion, political affiliation, family history, etc. To show the precise homestead location, the form includes a small township map and indicates locations of schools, churches, neighbor's farms, post offices, villages, groves, cemeteries and other landmarks.

The second part of each file includes pioneer biographical sketches, reminiscences, notes, correspondence concerning interviews and collection of data, newspaper clippings and photographs. The interviewee's personal reminiscences reflect that pioneer's wider experiences and attitudes. Interviews are often elaborations on a section of the questionnaire or an extensive biography of the pioneer. Files may vary greatly in content. Other Historical Data Project files available on film include: points of interest files, city history files, local histories, ethnic group files, church survey files, and folklore files.

Indexes are available in the Reading Room of the State Archives and online through the State's Biographical Index. It is necessary to request biography files by the individual's last name and county of residence. See Charges For Reference Services.

Additionally, researchers may request microfilm rolls by county using interlibrary loan services available through their local library. Microfilm copies of single counties may also be purchased from the State Archives.

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