In the United States, the first steam locomotive was the Tom Thumb built by Peter Cooper for the B and O Railroad in 1830. Less than 40 years later, in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad, built by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was completed across America from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. My own ancestors were impacted in a variety of ways. From 1847 to 1868, my ancestors crossed the American continent by wagon and by foot from the East to the Salt Lake Valley, in Utah Territory. In the early 1880s, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner and his family were financially benefitted from the railroad when the second transcontinental line was built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1882. This rail line passed within a mile or so of their homestead in Northern Arizona and some of the men in the family worked on the railroad. Of course, the isolation of the town was erased by the proximity to the rail line.
Railroad records are a rich source of information about the men and families of the men who worked on the railroads both in Europe and in America. Like many other types of records, they are generally unknown or ignored by genealogical researchers. There are some railroad records in the larger online, database companies.
FamilySearch.org's Catalog shows a few records, mostly dealing with the history of the railroads or railway accidents. But there are a few records showing railroad employees. Here is a screenshot of a subject search for "railroad."
Some of the entries, refer to the movement of escaped slaves from the South to the North by the Underground Railroad before and during the U.S. Civil War and have nothing to do with railroads as such.
The Ancestry.com Card Catalog has a list of 67 collections of records, mostly from the United States, but mostly contained in the section of Stories, Memories and Histories. Here is a screenshot of the list on Ancestry.com found by searching for the keyword "railroad":
A search on AmericanAncestors.org produces about 2800 references to railroads. Here is a screenshot:
There are a wealth of railroad records in the U.S. National Archives with well over 600 record groups. Here is a screenshot of a search for "railroad" as a keyword on the Archives.gov website:
If you do the above searches, you will see that there are a lot of different types of records that were maintained by the railroads and the government entities that regulated or reported their activities. Many of these records deal with the individuals who worked for the railroads. Some of the activities that might contain genealogically important documents include the following:
- Retirement Records including retirement claims
- Labor Union Records
- Concessionaires such as the Fred Harvey Company in the United States
- Railroad Accident Reports
- Construction Records
- Government Agency Administration Records
- Employment Records
- Railroad Employees Reports and Responsibilities
- Employees Magazines
- Railroad Land Records
- Court Cases involving railroads
Here are a few websites dealing with railroad records in the United States. I suggest that you will find similar record collections in each of the world's countries that maintain a system of railroads.
- The Great Search-Finding Railroad Employment Records
- Locating Railroad Employee Records for Genealogy ...
- Records of the Railroad Retirement Board
- Interstate Commerce Commission Historical Railroad Reports, 1911-1994
- Railroads in North America
- Erie Railroad Internet Employee Archives
- Kansas Historical Society, Railroad Research
This list could go on for a long time. I found pages and pages of entries by a simple Google search on the term "railroad records."
Here is another list of a selection of a few of the books available on the subject:
Allen, Carol. Yancey County, North Carolina, Railroad Records: C.R. 107.925.2 to C.R. 107.925.7. Baltimore, MD: C. Allen, 1990.
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Personal Records from Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Southern California Area, Trainmen and Yardmen, 1894-1900. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
———. Personnel Records from Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Los Angeles Division, California, 1915-1925. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and California State Railroad Museum (Sacramento). Employee Records, 1894-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
Douglas, Althea, J. Creighton Douglas, and Ontario Genealogical Society. Canadian Railway Records: A Guide for Genealogists. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1994.
Edwards, Cliff. Railroad Records: A Guide to Sources. Richmond, Surrey: Public Record Office, 2001.
Hansen, Holly T. Researching Railroad Records: Asking the Right Questions and What to Expect. Croydon, Utah: HTHolly Research Services, 2000.
Hawkings, David T, Great Britain, and Public Record Office. Railway Ancestors: A Guide to the Staff Records of the Railway Companies of England and Wales 1822-1947. Stroud: A. Sutton, 1995.
Historical Records Project (Tennessee). Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap and Charleston Railroad Minutes, 1854-1860, Hamblen County, Tennessee. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1939.
Historical Records Survey (U.S.), United States, and Works Progress Administration. Hamblen County, Tennessee Minutes of the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap & Charleston Railroad, 1854-1860, 2014.
Howells, Cyndi. Cyndi’s List: A Comprehensive List of 40,000 Genealogy Sites on the Internet. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1999.
———. Cyndi’s List: A Comprehensive List of 70,000 Genealogy Sites on the Internet. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001.
Jo Daviess County (Illinois). Clerk of the Circuit Court. Applications and Proof of Preemption Purchases of Railroad Land, Civil War Discharges, and Other Records, 1853-1883. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988.
Kittitas County Genealogical Society. Northern Pacific Railroad Land Records, Kittitas Co., WA, 1882-1900. Ellensburg, WA: Kittitas County Genealogical Society, 1994.
Klenow, Rosemary, and Huron Shores Genealogical Society. Index to Several Detroit & Mackinac Railway Records, 1949-1990s. Oscoda, MI: Huron Shores Genealogical Society, 1997.
Montgomery, Linda, and Mo.) Greene County Archives and Records Center (Greene County. Railroad Grantee [buyer] Listings in Greene County, Missouri Recorder of Deeds Records. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].
Queensland Railways. Central Division. Employees’ Records, 1866-1919. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
Queensland Railways. Maryborough District. Employees Records, 1882-1981. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1989.
Railroad Case Files, 1860-1930. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1992.
Railroad Records and Railroad History Methods of Tracking. Arlington, Va.; St. Louis, MO: National Genealogical Society] ; Jamb Tapes, 2007.
Richards, Tom, and Federation of Family History Societies. Was Your Grandfather a Railwayman?: A Directory of Records Relating to Staff Employed by Railways in the Following Countries with Details of Material and Repositories : United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Eire, India, New Zealand, South Africa, United States of America. Clifton, Bristol; Birmingham [England]: T. Richards ; Federation of Family History Societies, 1995.
Richley, Pat. The Everything Online Genealogy Book: Use the Web to Discover Long-Lost Relations, Trace Your Family Tree back to Royalty, and Share Your History with Far-Flung Cousins. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media Corp., 2000.
Southern Pacific Railroad. Employee Record Cards, 1900-1930 (Southern Pacific Railroad). Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990.
Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company. Texas & New Orleans Railroad Company Payroll: Second Period, October 1917, No. 2. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1998.
Vernon, Kaye, and Billie Jacobsen. Railways and Tramways Roll of Ambulance Corps Members, 1886-1923, State Records, NSW R306. [Beacon Hill, N.S.W.]: [Kaye Vernon and Billie Jacobsen], 2009.