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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Case Studies in American Migration: Part Six: The Railroads

By Andrew J. Russell (1830-1902), photographer - National Park Service., Public Domain,
About the same time canals were beginning to be developed in the United States, railroads were being developed in Europe, primarily in England. England already had an extensive canal system by the time the railroads began to be developed. In the United States, the first railroads for carrying passengers got going just about the time the Erie Canal was finished. See Wikipedia: Oldest railroads in North America for a timeline of the earliest railroads in the United States.

The earliest railroads were relatively short and used primarily for hauling coal and other freight. The first railroad considered to be a "common carrier" was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that was chartered on February 28, 1827, and the first section of the railroad began operation in 1830. As it states in Wikipedia: Baltimore and Ohio Railroad:
It came into being mostly because the city of Baltimore wanted to compete with the newly constructed Erie Canal (which served New York City) and another canal being proposed by Pennsylvania, which would have connected Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. At first this railroad was located entirely in the state of Maryland, with an original line built from the port of Baltimore west to Sandy Hook.
By 1854 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was earning $2.7 million a year with 19 million passenger miles. An interesting sidelight since we are now living in Maryland is that Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, broke ground for the railroad. We have visited the Carrollton House here in Annapolis, Maryland and we travel to Washington, D.C. from the New Carrollton Metro Station.

The B&O's right of way was also used by the United States government to build the first experimental telegraph line in America.

Once railroads got started, the proliferated at a furious pace.  The rail lines became the major connecting influence for travel and movement with the United States. By 1869, the first transcontinental railroad across the United States was completed by the symbolic "golden spike" that forever changed the way people would view crossing the plains or traveling across the entire continent.

There is an interactive website showing the entire world railroad system called Here is a screenshot of North America from the website.
If you are tracking any of your ancestors, it may be a good idea to look at the possible rail routes. This reference may help to explain both where and why they settled in a particular place. If you zoom in on a place, such as Kansas City, you will see the detail of the location of all the lines both present and historical.
My own family benefitted from the railroad. Many of my relatives crossed the Plains to Utah before the advent of the railroad, but as time passed, the trips became shorter and shorter. In addition, my Great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner's family worked on building the railroad in Northern Arizona. The addition of cash-based jobs helped them survive in the hostile climate of the high Colorado Plateau.

You may wish to look at the records of the railroad companies if you suspect that any of your ancestors worked for the railroads. Here are some links to railroad resources. Some of these links have long lists of additional record sources.
There are many more sources. I suggest searching for records using the name of the railroads near your ancestors' location. 

Here are links to the previous Case Studies:

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4:

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