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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Occupational Records by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Occupational Records-Finding Aids And Resources-A Basic Overview
The following is a review of specific occupations.
The development of the railroad system in the United States opened up new frontiers. It employed people in all aspects from surveying and construction to the porter, conductor and engineer. Some of these individuals worked directly for a specific rail line while others worked for companies that contracted with the rail lines.
The first place to begin research for a railroad employee that was employed after 1936 is the Railroad Retirement Board.
The Railroad Retirement Board was formed in the mid-1930s, under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1935 and began maintaining records in 1936. Railroad workers received a special Social Security number until 1964 and a separate pension plan. The railroad employee Social Security numbers were between 700 and 728. The board primary function is the administration and payment of railroad pension funds.
The Railroad Retirement Board maintains an Internet site with helpful information to research railroad employees, both before and after the inception of the board in 1936.
The Board will perform a search of the records for a fee, which is currently $27. They do not guarantee results and do not refund the fee if the individual is not located. This search will only be performed for deceased individuals or with the written consent of a still living person. The following data is requested for the best search results:
- social security number
- employee’s full name including middle name or initial
- complete dates of birth and death
If the individual worked for a railroad before 1936 the Board does not have these records. The Railroad Retirement Act did not include street, interurban, or suburban electric railways.
The information received from the pension will assist you in locating the rail line that employed the individual. The name of the rail line is needed to assess information related to the occupation of the individual. To locate a record before the inception of the Railroad Retirement Board the researcher will need to know the name of the rail line and the current name of the company that owns the line. This is necessary before the researcher can access the proper archived records.
The mobility of these employees makes placing the individual in a time and place more difficult. Railroad employees move with the work. In addition, the records might indicate that they are changing companies, when in reality it is just the process of name changes and mergers.
There are several tools that will assist the researcher in locating rail line that employed a specific individual before 1937.
Directories of Railroad Employees
The directories, such as the Biographical Directory of Railway Officials of America that was issued between 1885 and 1922, gave a listing of mid to senior employees in the railroad industry. This was followed by Who’s Who in Railroading which continues today. These listing include short biographical sketches of the individual such as the Internet site devoted to the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Blanchard, Edwin C.
Active Rail Lines
Second, would be to determine what rail lines were active in the area that the individual lived. This is easily done with the use of maps. Because of the continuous growth changes in the rail lines it is important that the map is of the same exact time period that you are researching. Many of these maps are available online, in particular the large collection at the National Archives.
This collection is based on Railroad Maps of the United States: A Selective Annotated Bibliography of Original 19th-century Maps in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, compiled by Andrew M. Modelski (Washington: Library of Congress, 1975)
There are also books available that will list all of the rail lines in a specific state, however the researcher will usually have to construct a list of rail lines at the county level using maps of the time period.
Census records will list the occupation as “railroad” or possibly a conductor (the occupation). In the latter years, the name of the company will appear in the column , such as Northern Pacific. Do not move ahead until you have at least two good sources that will confirm the name of the rail line. These records are large and often not microfilmed and can be difficult to use thus you do not want to be working in the wrong files. And as mentioned earlier, some individuals might be working for a company that contracts with the railroad and not work directly for the rail line.
Once that you have determined the name of the railroad you will be accessing corporate archived records. Same procedures will apply.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.