Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Railroad Records
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 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:
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
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:
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..
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.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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