I was reading through the recent Chicago Genealogical Society Newsletter (December 2015) and saw an article in there describing one of the databases at Ancestry.com (also the Ancestry Library Edition). It is a database for anyone doing Chicago ancestral research or Midwestern research to consider to search .
The database is titled “U.S., Chicago and North Western Railroad Employment Records, 1935-1970”.
I tried leaving a link for you to go to it directly but the link would only link you to the general Ancestry.com page after a while. So your best bet is to go to Ancestry.com or our library edition product and just access the Card Catalog under the Search Tab. Then use the database name I noted above. That way you can explore all about the database as well as the description of the material for the database.
The database is searchable and also browseable, but I did see records that came up in my search for which there was no image of the record. Perhaps, these are the records considered as being unavailable for privacy concerns.
The Chicago and North Western Historical Society had these personnel records in their possession but did need to move them to another location. That location was the Newberry library in Chicago, IL. Prior to the move the society was able to work with Ancestry.com and have the data scanned so it could become a database within Ancestry.com.
Here is the database description of this material as found in Ancestry.com:
This collection of railroad employee records from the Chicago and North Western Railroad and the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway was digitized from the collections of the Chicago & North Western Historical Society. The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway was a smaller railroad established in 1880 and 1881 with the mergers of several rail lines. In 1882, the Chicago & North Western (CNW) bought controlling stock interest in the railway, which passed through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.
This collection includes Chicago & North Western Work Cards and Social Security applications for the years 1937–1970 and retiree records from the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway, a smaller semi-independent railway the CNW owned a controlling interest in.
- employee names
- occupations within the company, with dates and locations of service
- Social Security numbers (redacted for those born after 1912)
- birth dates
- death dates
- start dates with the company
- employee signatures
- absences from service of the company
- parents’ names (on Social Security applications)
Research Tips Pay special attention to leaves of absence. Some farmers worked railroads during the winter and requested leaves of absence during the summers to work their family farms.
Note: For potentially living persons, images have been withheld for privacy reasons.
Craig Pfannkuche, a speaker we have had in the past for our genealogy programs, was at one time the archivist of these paper records. I had seen him give a presentation on these Railroad Records. He noted that he would be happy to do some look-ups on surnames given to him. I gave him just a few of my surnames of interest and he was able to find employment records and information on the names provided. WOW! That was a great discovery. My ancestors were in the Chicago area which made searching railroad records a meaningful search. Craig had mentioned that railroads back to the 1850s going forward were often the largest employers of people in the country.
So if you have ancestors from all over the country, just do a search in Google looking for “railroad historical societies” to see if you can find a railroad society in the geographic area of your ancestors. These societies just like the Chicago and North Western society may have similar records in their possession.
Also do a search within the card catalog of Ancestry.com using the search term “railroad” to see what Ancestry may have in their databases for railroad records or other data related to railroads.
Take a look at these records as well as read the database description above. Perhaps you may find something within this database if you had Midwestern ancestral connections as well as Chicago connections.
Schaumburg Township District Library