Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your ancestor's been working on the railroad

Craig Pfannkuche, of the McHenry County and Chicago genealogical societies, and of the Chicago & Northwestern History Society, made a strong case at last week's Illinois State Genealogical Society conference for genealogists to pay a lot more attention to railroad records.

How come? At least four reasons: the railroads were the largest single industrial employer in the US in the 19th century; they were record-intensive operations, having to run widely scattered operations consistently and efficiently; they were labor-intensive operations, and needed to hire people of almost all trades, and none; and many of their records have been lovingly preserved by both general-purpose archives and by history societies like the CNWHS. If the listing linked above doesn't make you drool, check your pulse.

Better yet, Pfannkuche, as genealogical chairman of this latter group, will respond at no charge to requests for lookups -- if you have a reasonable idea of the time, place, and railroad your people may have been involved with. Given that tiny hamlets with no visible rail presence today were often thriving centers of activity a century or more ago, that requirement may not be as hard to fulfill as you think.

1 comment:

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Awesome news, Harold! Thanks for sharing.