As the Age of Canals absorbed huge numbers of Irish and other laborers in that time, such was also true to an even greater extent in the “Age of Railroads.” Rights of way, cuts and fills, and ditches and tunnels were excavated most often by sheer muscle power. Ties were hand laid and spikes to hold the rails in place were manually hammered home. A massive infrastructure of stations, water and coaling towers, round houses, section houses and a vast array of other supporting structures were built and maintained by hand. Rail cars were hand built of wood. Miles of wooden trestles were erected and maintained. Armies of section hands inspected and maintained many thousands of miles of track. Agents, telegraphers and signal maintainers worked to keep trains running on time. Swarms of crossing guards kept watch over street and road crossings. An almost uncountable number of clerks and office workers filled out bills of lading and handled ticket finances. Engine wipers, oilers, hostlers, coalers, ash pan dumpers, water tenders, wick trimmers, carpenters, painters, wheel knockers, and a wide variety of blacksmiths and other metal specialists worked behind a train’s engineer, fireman, conductor, and two or three brakemen to get it over the line. Switchmen in huge numbers aligned switches to get trains to the correct destinations. Clearly, railroads were the largest employer in the nation of workers, both male and female, of any industry outside of agriculture in the 1850 – 1930 period.
Railroad companies were meticulous record keepers. Large amounts of family history data were collected by the numerous railroad companies which spun their web of rails across the nation. These records cover work done by millions of working men and women even up to the present day. Much of this material survives and is a potential treasure of family history data to researchers.
You are invited to attend the Chicago Genealogical Society’s next program on Saturday, May 5, to learn about using Railroad Records in family history research Our speaker, Craig Pfannkuche, Genealogical Archivist for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Historical Society, will discuss the type of such records which exist, how they meet genealogical research needs and how to access them by using the archives of the Chicago and North Western Historical Society as an example.
This FREE program will be held at the Newberry Library at 60 West Walton, Chicago, and begin at 1:30 p.m on Saturday, May 5th.