Did Grandpa Work on the Railway? Railroad Records You’ll Want

railroad records

Library of Congress image. Click to see citation.

Railroad records helped this woman FINALLY find the names of her grandfather’s parents.

Trisha has been searching for a while for the names of her grandfather’s parents. We gave her several suggestions for where to search for parents’ names, but in her case, they remained elusive.  But she didn’t give up, and she continued using some Google search strategies we taught her for locating old records online. She wrote in recently with this success story:

“I wanted to touch base with you about my grandfather’s parent’s names…..I found them!!!!! After your advice and the newsletter I continued to look in various places. And then I remembered that he worked for the railroad, but didn’t know which one.

I found there is a railroad retirement commission in Chicago that has information on all the different railroad systems. So I contacted the railroad retirement commission in Chicago to see if they still had any records from the 1930s and 1940s. They replied…that those records…have been sent to the Atlanta National Archives.

I emailed my grandfather’s information to see if they could find his file. And they were able to find his file that was 385 pages long (1937-1964)….They were able to go through the file and copy 25 pages of what they thought had the most genealogical information for $20. I received that yesterday and I did the happy dance with my son when he handed me the mail. It took about two weeks.

One of the documents was his original pension application that he documented his parents’ names on, as well as a handwritten letter from my grandmother to the disability department regarding an on-the-job injury that happened and the doctor visits my grandfather had to have during his recovery. And I learned that my grandmother’s first marriage that ended in divorce was filed California in 1938.  And that’s why the Jackson County [Missouri] Clerk couldn’t find the records. I am very eager get and go through the entire file hoping for more genealogy gems. Thanks so much for helping me get this information. You have made me start thinking outside the box for additional research ideas. This has truly been more appreciated than you will ever know.”

The National Archives has an entire webpage dedicated to its Railroad Retirement Board records. Click to see what kinds of records they have and how to order them. If you discover what railroad a relative worked for, look for railroad historical societies, books, archival collections and other materials about that railroad. Google the name of the railroad and see what you find (click here for Google search tips or consult Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox).

You might also visit the list of chapters of the the National Railway Historical Society on its website or this index to railroad historical societies. Some historical or employment records may even be online, like the Chicago and North Western Railroad Employment Records, 1935-1970 at Ancestry.com.

railroad retirement board paperworkHere’s one kind of document you may find in your family archive that would point to railroad employment. My aunt and I discovered this Certificate of Service Months and Wages recently in an old box. It was sent to my grandfather by the Railroad Retirement Board in 1943.

Unfortunately, he didn’t appear to have served long enough for the Retirement Board to have kept a permanent file on him. But this document does shed light on how my grandfather (recently graduated from high school) could be listed as a semi-skilled switchman for the railroad on his WWII enlistment papers the year before. He must have worked for them temporarily, as the National Archives says was sometimes the case.

With a grandfather and great grandfather (father and son) who both worked on the railroad, Lisa has been inquiring about railroad records as well. She tells me, “I emailed the National Archives at Atlanta, and within 24 hours received a response saying a complete response would be received within 10 business days.” Stay tuned!

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