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Map of Defunct and Ghost Counties in Texas

The Historical Records Survey, Division of Women’s and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration
San Antonio, 1939

The Historical Records Survey, Division of Women’s and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration, Map of Defunct and Ghost Counties in Texas, San Antonio, 1939, Map #2148, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched “Federal Project Number One” as part of his New Deal in 1935 to combat the effects of the Great Depression. Renamed the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in 1939, it provided federal oversight of the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects (WPP), a subsidiary of the Federal Writer’s Project. This division created economic opportunity for “out-of-work historians, teachers, clerical workers, and others skilled in the humanities,” with the specific focus on adding women to the workforce. Personally endorsed by then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the WPP supervised projects like the Historical Records Survey (HRS).[1]

The map’s key identifies three types of shading that indicate different types of defunct counties.

The national HRS mission consisted of processing various archival collections, and making them available to the public. In Texas, the project began shortly after the state’s centennial. Its extensive scope included the inventory and publication of all federal archival resources in the state. The program aimed to produce a survey publication for every county, but this plan achieved minimal success, only publishing records for twenty-four counties. Additionally, it conducted an inventory of GLO records which provided some source material for this map.[2]

[left] The map lists all of Texas’ defunct counties with references to Gammel’s Laws of Texas. [right] An inset shows the extent of the Republic of Texas’ territorial claims into the Rocky Mountains.

The WPA created this map to show the five different types of historical defunct counties in Texas. It features sixteen unconstitutional judicial counties that courts rejected because they lacked a member of the Texas House of Representatives. It also illustrated five “ghost counties” that were authorized but never fully organized and eventually disbanded. Five additional counties were renamed after their creation, and four Reconstruction-era counties were declared invalid. An inset includes three extra-territorial counties that were dissolved because they embraced land outside Texas’ present-day boundaries.[3]

[upper left] The U.S. government determined that Greer County (H) was part of Oklahoma. The map details other defunct counties in the state’s northeast [upper right], southeast [lower left], and southern [lower right] regions.

In 1939, state sponsorship of the program became mandatory, and the University of Texas assumed administration on behalf of the state. By 1942, when the program officially ended, the HRS had produced seventy-one publications for Texas.[4]

  1. “Women’s Work Relief in the Great Depression,” Women’s Work Relief in the Great Depression | Mississippi History Now, accessed March 25, 2020, http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/251/womens-work-relief-in-the-great-depression
  2. For more information about WPA programs associated with the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects (WPP), Historical Records Survey (HRS), and work on GLO records, see boxes 4F126, 4G291, and 4H154, Works Progress Administration Records, 1933–1943, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin. “Commercial Mapping: History of Mapping the Civil War,” The Library of Congress, accessed February 25, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-war-maps/articles-and-essays/history-of-mapping-the-civil-war/commercial-mapping/.
  3. Anonymous, “Defunct Counties,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 31, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/defunct-counties. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  4. Loretta L. Hefner, ed., “The WPA Historical Records Survey : a Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts,” HathiTrust (Chicago : Society of American Archivists, 1980.), p.33; Joseph M. Nance, “Texas Historical Records Survey,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 31, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-historical-records-survey. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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