Some 922 biographical sketches written in 1939 as part of the North Dakota Writers’ Project have now been added to the online North Dakota Biography Index. This rich collection of ethnic biographies is based upon interviews conducted by WPA county field workers with immigrants from across Europe and Canada who settled in North Dakota. The majority of the biographical sketches are for Norwegians, Germans from Russia and Germans. Many other ethnic groups are represented including Greeks, Jews, Syrians, Finns, Danes and Ukrainians to name just a few. Also represented in the collection are biographical sketches of children of immigrants.
The county field worker who interviewed each person worked from a prescribed list of questions, to include when and where born, childhood experiences, education, religious and social life in the ‘Old Country,’ reasons for emigration and the trip to America, their work experience in North Dakota, raising family, recreation in America, the person’s view on America’s entry into World War I, and their current view of the events taking place in Europe and their native country.
The original records are preserved at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. They microfilmed the complete set of records, for which the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies has the film available for research use. The historical society staff indexed the collection for all the names of written biographical sketches. The Institute staff added life dates when available and developed the data so that it could be incorporated into the NDBI.
To browse the ethnic group files, use the ‘Browse by Publication Title’ on the NDBI home page and go to the ‘N’ listing to find North Dakota Writers’ Project Ethnic Group Files. Just click on one of the three links which are based upon the location on the three microfilm reels. Reel 1 includes names from American to Germans from Russia-McHenry County; Reel 2 includes from Germans from Russia-McIntosh County to Norwegian-Traill County, and Reel 3 includes from Norwegian-Williams County to Ukrainian.
For those not familiar with the North Dakota Biography Index, it is the best single place to begin a search for information about North Dakotans, both living and deceased. Searching NDBI will enable you to quickly determine which publication to consult for biographical information. The total number of biographical sketches indexed by NDBI is now over 243,000 names, found in 832 publications.
The Institute staff continues to expand the data file. All North Dakota county histories have been indexed and work is nearing completion to include all North Dakota community histories. All community histories published before 1981 have been indexed.