top of page

Workin' On The Railroad - An Update

colorful block train with smoke

Here are some more helpful hints about finding information about ancestors on the railroads after this post from last Fall generated some new questions from you! Without further ado, here are some more sites to check out, the original blog follows in its entirety.

2. The Railroad Genealogical Society charges a "reasonable" fee of $20 to look for your ancestor in current and FUTURE records of American and Canadian railroads.

3. My favorite, The National Archives of the United States, for info that helps genealogists as well as railroad fanatics.

4. The original "Google" of the Genealogical World, Cyndi's List, has websites for info about railroads from all over the world. By the way, its founder, Cyndi Ingle will be conducting a seminar for the Dallas Genealogical Society on July 22. This will be in person, or via Zoom call, and there will be a recording. Check the DGS site for reservations.

I was also contacted by an injury law firm, Copper Hurley, who advised that they have a free guide of resources for railroad workers, and I am including it here just in case some of you may find it helpful. I am not being compensated for this link.

Thanks for stopping by again this week. I am working with some nice people with some really complicated families right now, and would be glad to try to help you too!

Leslie Ryan

I receive no compensation for any of these references or links, and there is no intention to violate anyone's copyright.

green type writer and paper with cup of tea

Here is the original blog post from last Fall to refresh your memories about these sources too.

The construction of the US rail system was key to the western expansion in the 1840's we talked about last week.

The first railroad line to be built in the US was the Baltimore and Ohio (aka The B&O RR of Monopoly board game fame) in 1827. By 1833 there were an estimated 380 miles of railroad in operation in the US.

Five years into the Era of Manifest Destiny in 1850, railroad mileage was up to 9,000 miles, which is equivalent to the rest of the world combined! Refrigerated cars added in 1851 allowed the transportation of crops and supplies to distant states, including the settlers in the newly expanded western territories and states.(1)

The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. It connected the middle of the US following the basic path of the Oregon trail and the Pony Express from Omaha to Sacramento.

As you can imagine, the number of people employed in constructing and operating the railroads grew as exponentially as the miles of lines did. It is estimated that the work force on the railroads tripled in the 1850's. The first time that railroad employees were specifically counted on the census was in 1880 with 418,956 employees in the industry.(2)

no copyright infringement intended

I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the railroads! My grandmother was the daughter of a railroad man named Peter Traynor working for the Erie Railroad and living in Meadville, PA. Peter's brother, James, was also a railroad man working at the other end of the Meadville line, in Port Jervis, NJ with a daughter named Theresa.

Theresa got married in 1913 to my paternal granduncle James, and he took her with him to Tucumcari, NM when he became a conductor on the El Paso Southwestern Railroad. My grandmother (daughter of Peter) came to New Mexico to visit her cousin Theresa and there met the brother of Theresa's husband James, whose name was Martin. My grandparents were soon married and began their lives together in the Southwest, and rest is history.

Did your ancestors work on the railroads too? As I said, the 1880 census was the first to list them as a separate profession. I found several city directories on Ancestry that listed their professions, so be sure to look there or at other sites, for those. Family Tree Magazine has a great source for some railroads, click here to see what they have. This is a subscription site, but you can have a couple of looks for free.

If your ancestor was an employee after 1926, their retirement information may be available at Railroad Retirement Board.

no copyright infringement is intended

The end of every train has a caboose and we will let this photo from the Tucumcari Historical Museum signal the end of this week's blog. I hope found it enjoyable as well as informative.

What are you working on this week? Can I help with a brick wall or maybe deciphering a census entry? Drop me a line! I love hearing from you.

Have a great week!

Leslie Ryan

I receive no compensation for any of these references or links (all last accessed 6/21/23), and there is no intent to violate anyone's copyright.

(1)Chronology of American railroads, last accessed 6/21/23

(2) Railroad Workers and Rail Work, last accessed 6/21/23


bottom of page