Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, May 25, 2018

They Were Working on the Railroad: Looking at your Railroad Ancestors

A.J. Russell image of the celebration following the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, U.T., May 10, 1869. Because of temperance feelings, the liquor bottles held in the center of the picture were removed from some later prints.
While doing genealogical research, we often consider the "details" of our ancestors' lives to be supplemental to our search for names, dates, and places. I seldom see researchers list a person's occupation as an essential element of their vital personal information. However, many times a person's occupation will help to distinguish them from others with the same name. More importantly, occupations can provide additional records that may cast light on difficult research issues. One of these important occupations in the United States is whether or not your ancestors worked for a railroad. 

The first railroad in America was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, chartered in 1827. As a side note, we recently viewed the Charles Carroll House here in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1830, Charles Carroll was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence and he laid the first stone when construction on the track began in Baltimore on July 4, 1828. See, "First U.S. Railway Chartered to Transport Freight and Passengers, February 28, 1827."

Many occupational records have survived but finding them can be a challenge. My own ancestors lived in Northern Arizona and worked for the railroad to provide cash for a large family. Their construction experience likely led to their later involvement in road construction and my uncles founded what became, at one time, one of the largest businesses in Arizona. However, if your ancestors worked for the railroad records of their employment could be in an archive or another historical repository such as a railroad museum. 

To start your research, you may wish to investigate exactly where your ancestors lived and whether or not they were near a rail line. Millions of Americans worked for the railroads and records of their employment are scattered from the U.S. National Archives to local libraries. Here is an example from the National Archives:
This article mentions several categories of records that could be used to find an elusive ancestor. There is even a Railroad Genealogical Society and a National Railway Historical Society. If you begin to search for railroad records online, you may be amazed at the number of sources of records. 

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