Horace Johnson and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps)

1930s. The Great Depression. Dust Bowl. WPA (Works Projects Administration).  CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). Do any of these terms sound familiar to you? If your family tree includes young adults in the 1930s, then they may have found work through one of these programs. My husband’s maternal grandfather, Horace Clayton Johnson, was one such person. In this post, I share pictures and a document about his service.

First, a brief history lesson. The Works Projects Administration (WPA), established in 1935 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, employed millions who were unemployed after the stock market crash of 1929. Many projects involved construction of public buildings and roads. The WPA Graves Registration Project surveyed cemeteries and created indexes for the burials. Those tombstones have since aged another 90 years and may now be unreadable. Also, you may find grave markers not listed on other sites. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted trees and constructed trails and shelters in national and state parks.  

Now, about Horace. Horace Clayton Johnson was born 7 April 1915 in Ben Hur, Limestone county, Texas to Henry Louis Johnson and Nellie Black.[1]  Henry, a farmer in 1920[2], moved his family to Mexia City, Texas by 1930 and was listed there as a carpenter.[3] In 1935, twenty-year-old Horace, the third of 8 siblings and second of two boys, probably needed work to help support his family. So, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.  

CCC work crew, 1935, near Trinity, Texas; Horace Johnson member of this crew. From personal photograph collection held by Horace’s daughter, 2021.

He was a member of Company 839, established 1.6 miles east of Trinity, Texas, on June 8, 1933. Trinity is about 100 miles southeast of Mexia. This was probably the furthest young Horace had ever traveled from home.  The men constructed and maintained fire lanes, fire break roads and telephone lines. [4] Membership in The Corps included an educational component. In March, 1935, Horace received a Certificate of Proficiency in Simple Arithmetic and Spelling.

We are not sure exactly how long Horace served in the CCC. In 1937, he married Mable Venette Reed, a native of Cherokee County, approximately 70 miles northeast of Trinity. Perhaps they met when Horace was in the CCC?

In summary, discovery of these items adds to Horace’s story. And, places him within a specific time period in American history. I wonder how many other treasures might be found in old suitcases and boxes!

For more information:

Wikipedia (Yes, I know this isn’t always the best source):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration

Civilian Conservation Corps: https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/civilian-conservation-corps

Example of WPA Graves Registration Project: https://iowawpagraves.org/index.php


Mother-in-law and I found these pictures and document when going through a box of old family pictures. All items have now been placed in archival quality sleeves and the appropriate notebook. I was especially surprised to find the Certificate of Proficiency. This kind of document is all too often discarded by later generations. The fact of Horace’s residence for a time in Trinity County presents a clue about how he may have met Mable, a native of Cherokee County.

I discovered the Iowa WPA Graves Registration website about 10 years ago, when researching a possibly related branch of Dad’s family. I am not sure how many counties or states had similar projects. Also, I am not sure how many are readily available on public internet sites. If you can’t find cemetery records for a person who died before the 1930s, contact your local county or state historical society. You may be surprised at what you find!

What I learned: more about the Civilian Conservation Corps, which I vaguely remembered from American history classes. Specifics about what Horace’s group did.

What helped:  retrieving  pictures and document with my mother-in-law. Internet sites with information about WPA and CCC.  Less than 1000 words! I like these shorter blog posts!

What didn’t help: nothing specific.  


[1] Texas, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health, delayed birth certificate LL18432 (23 February 1942; copy issued 26 Oct 2011), Horace Clayton Johnson; Limestone County Texas County Clerk, Groesbeck, Texas.

[2] 1920 U.S. Census, Limestone county, Texas, population schedule, Pt Enterprise School District, enumeration district (ED) 81, p. 3A, dwelling 41, family 47, H.L. Johnson head, age 32; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : viewed & downloaded 1 March 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T625_1829.

[3] 1930 U.S. Census, Limestone county, Texas, population schedule, Mexia, enumeration district (ED) 11, pg. 6B, dwelling 135, family 149, Johnson Henry L, head, age 46; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : accessed & downloaded 1 March 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T626, roll 2371

[4] “History, Civilian Conservation Corps,” Trinity, Texas (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Trinity,_Texas#/Civilian_Conservation_Corps  :  accessed 26 April 2021).

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021

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