Monday, September 02, 2013

I've Been Working on the Railroad: Resources

My paternal line has worked for the railroad going back four generations so there's a lot of railroad research that can be done in our family.

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Dorothy Lucke, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa via Flickr the Commons
Researching railroading ancestors can be difficult due to company mergers and lack of personnel records but the following ideas may help you find some information you can use. Because it can be difficult to get personnel records for railroad workers, you may want to tackle the research by looking for  historical information so that family members can better understand what it was like to work on the railroad.


Various genealogy subscription sites have documents relating to the railroads. One example can be found at Genealogy Today.  You can see what railroad employee records they have by looking at their homepage for these records here . To access these records you will need to purchase a subscription to Genealogy Today.  You can learn more about a paid subscription to the site here.

While starting with railroad specific sources are important, don’t neglect to research the catalogs of regional archives as well.  One example is the Online Archive of California  which lists various railroad records from the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, among others.  The Online Archive of California is a catalog of archives throughout California. These records contain everything from administration records to a photograph album of employees.

Also consider local museums that are close to or in the same city as a railroad hub. These museums might have information or artifacts about the history of the local railroad.

Railroad Retirement Board

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board  is one of the first sources that people think of when they contemplate researching their ancestor.  However, not every ancestor who worked for a railroad will be found in the records of the Railroad Retirement Board.

The Board only has records for those who worked for the railroad after 1936. To learn what information to send to have them conduct a record search for a worker consult their genealogy page .

Some records involving railroads may be at the National Archives, however you can still consult the Railroad Retirement Board and they will let you know what your next steps should be. To learn more about railroad records at NARA, see the article Riding the Rails up Paper Mountain:Researching Railroad Records in the National Archives by David A. Pfeiffer.


Railroad archives and museums provide resources donated from individual workers as well as railroads.  Consult a railroad archive in the area your ancestor worked.


The Library of Congress, site American Memory has a webpage entitled  Railroad Maps 1828-1900. Aside from these maps helping you learn more about the routes of the railroad your ancestor worked on it also provides historical information about the development of the railroad through time.

Other websites you may be interested in include  Cyndi’s List: Railroads and the National Railway Historical Society 

Women on the Railroad

Did you female ancestor work for the railroad?  You might want to check out these websites:

As with any genealogical research, remember that research begins with the Internet (genealogy sites, history sites, archives and libraries) and continues with brick and mortar repositories like archives, museums, public libraries and university libraries.


Jacqi Stevens said...

Gena, coincidentally, I've been working on railroad employees among my ancestors right now, too, so your post certainly is timely!

I'd like to add that if someone is researching a railroad employee ancestor from long ago, another resource might be historic newspapers from the ancestor's home region. Unfortunately, railroad work from the late 1800s and early 1900s was plagued with worker injuries and deaths. Many times, those stories made it into the local paper.

I've found several articles providing a chronology through injury, then death, then lawsuit and settlement for a couple of my family's ancestors--one in Indiana, one in Tennessee. It's a sad history, to be sure, but helped me glean details of what life was like for these families and those time periods.

Gena Philibert-Ortega said...


Absolutely! Newspapers are a great source. One newspaper article I found was about a train accident my grandfather was involved in.

Thanks for pointing that out.


Jana Iverson Last said...

Great information! Thanks Gena!

Gena Philibert-Ortega said...

Thanks for taking time to read the post and comment Jana. I appreciate it.


Jana Iverson Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Charlie Purvis said...

Don't overlook this site:

Gena Philibert-Ortega said...


Thanks for pointing that out. I love the GenDisasters website.

Thank you for commenting.


Gena Philibert-Ortega said...


Thanks for the mention in your Fab Finds. I really appreciate it.