Railroad Records

This past week the ever-popular Craig Pfannkuche came to our Aspen Drive Library and spoke to us about how to find and use railroad records in our family history research. Here are a few takeaways from his entertaining program:

  • The railroad industry was a HUGE employer, especially of immigrants who might have had no special skill but were willing and able to work hard.
  • If your ancestor had a Social Security number that started with a 700 number, that ancestor was probably employed by the railroad. You can write to the Railroad Retirement Board, give them the Social Security number, and ask politely for information on your ancestor. Railroad Retirement Board, 844 Rush Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60611.
  • Many railroad lines have historical societies and archives. Craig is the Archivist for the Chicago & North Western Historical Society. He described the wealth of information available in their archives and encouraged everyone to seek out archives and historical societies for their ancestors’ rail lines.
  • The Newberry Library in Chicago has a good collection of railroad archives as well.

My great-grandfather Erik Falk worked as a machinist in the Aurora, Ilinois shop of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy rail road. I located the Burlington Route Historical Society, the historical society for the CBQ (thank you, Google!) and plan to follow up on some of the information I saw there. I found pictures of machinists at work in shops of the CBQ in the Newberry’s online photograph collection. None of these men is my great-grandfather, but the pictures give me an idea of what his work was like.

What rail lines did your ancestors work for? What can you find out about them, or the railroad? Share your research finds with us!
-Sonia

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