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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Railroad Records
by Rhonda R. McClure

December 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

As a genealogist, can you say that you have even considered employment records to help you in the pursuit of your ancestors? Most of us seem to overlook these valuable resources, preferring to concentrate on the tried and true vital records, census records and probate records. And because we seem unable to dare to branch out from these records, we are overlooking some records that could perhaps hold the key that solves the very question we have.

Many of us have an ancestor or two who worked on the railroads. After all, for some time the railroad was the main method of transportation whether going to the next town or going across the country. And it was our ancestors who worked on these railroad lines. If you wonder how pervasive the railroad was, look in the grantee index some time and you will see many entries where the local railroad is purchasing land.

The Railroad Retirement Board has records for employees of ten years of service or more who died after 1935.

The Creation of the Railroad Retirement Board

What would become the Railroad Retirement Board was actually created first as a federal railroad retirement organization by a congressional act in 1934. Two additional congressional acts would affect the board and its operation, the first in 1935 and another in 1937.

However, before you all immediately flock to the Railroad Retirement Board it does not include records for everyone who ever worked for the railroads. While this may not seem like good news, there may be other ways to find information on your ancestors if the Retirement Board does not have records on your ancestor or your ancestors services do not fit their requirements.

Records at the Board

There are nine different types of records you are most likely to find through the Railroad Retirement Board. Many of these records will have duplicated information. However, don't discount the information, as there are times when answers to the same question found on different forms will have differences in the completeness of the answer.

The different records include:

  • Employee's Death Certificate
  • Form 70-R001.6 - Application for Employee Annuity Under the Railroad Retirement Act
  • Form G-91 - Description and Certification as to Eligibility of Evidence Submitted
  • Form G-86 - Certification in Support of Employer Service for Which No Records Are Available
  • Form AA-1 - Application for Employee Annuity Under the Railroad Retirement Act
  • Form AA-15 - Employee's Statement of Compensated Service Rendered
  • Form AA-2P - Record of Employee's Prior Service
  • Form CER-1 - Employee Registration
  • Form 70-R047.9 - Employee's Certificate of Termination of Service and Relinquishment of Rights

In order to access these records, you will need to contact the Railroad Retirement Board directly. Keep in mind that they do not have records for everyone. Only those who were employed for over ten years and were employed at the time the Railroad Retirement Board was created will be found in the Board's records.

You can contact them at:

United States Railroad Retirement Board
884 Rush Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Rail-Company Records

If you know that your ancestor worked for a railway, but they either weren't employed n 1935 or they did not stay with the railway for over ten years, then you will need to turn your attention to the actual railroad companies. Their records are generally more detailed and they often date back to those 1800s when your ancestor might have worked for them.

The records most often available from the railroad companies include:

  • Employment Applications
  • Surgeon's Certificates
  • General Employment Files
  • History Cards
  • Other Records

Finding Railroad Company Records

If you find that you must look for your ancestor in the records of a specific railroad company, you may not be aware of where those records are available. In many cases your first stop should be railroad museums. There are many states that have railroad museums and libraries. You will also want to look at regular museums and the state and local historical societies.

In her article in volume 75 of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Wendy L. Elliott strongly suggests that anyone researching these railroad company records at the various historical societies and museums, should do so in person or hire a professional who can go there in person..

In Conclusion

Even if your ancestor didn't work for the railroad, these records give you an insight into the types of records possibly generated by various companies. You should keep employment records in mind whenever you are conducting your research, especially if they did work for the railroad.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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