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Overheard in GenForum: R.R./Ore Digger Question, Oh/Mo 1850-1900
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

January 20, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I've found out that a couple of my ancestors worked for the Railroad per the Census records..... One was living in Jackson County Ohio in the 1850 census and his Occupation was engineer.. How can I find out what Railroad was around there.... Also other people were listed as Ore Diggers.... Does anyone have info of Coal mines or what this occupation is in reference to... Because later in the 1880's the family moved to Reynolds/Iron County Missouri. -- Ken

A: Railroad records can be an excellent source of information on your ancestors, especially if some sort of a pension was paid to them upon their retirement. Finding these records will lead you to a number of different repositories. Most genealogists tend to overlook the employment records and other records generated from a person's employment.

Because of the impact the railroads had on this country, and the number of individuals who ended up working for them, they affect the research of a large number of genealogists. Unfortunately, few genealogists think to use them or understand their value.

Unfortunately, few genealogists think to use railroad records or understand their value.

Railroad Retirement Board

The Railroad Retirement Board does not include records for everyone who ever worked for the railroads. While this may not seem like good news, there may be other ways to find information on your ancestors if the Retirement Board does not have records on your ancestor or your ancestors services do not fit their requirements. However, first a look at the records that are housed at the Railroad Retirement Board and for whom they have these records.

There are nine different types of records you are most likely to find through the Railroad Retirement Board. Many of these records will have duplicated information. However, don't discount the information, as there are times when answers to the same question found on different forms will have differences in the completeness of the answer.

The different records include:

  • Employee's Death Certificate
  • Form 70-R001.6 - Application for Employee Annuity Under the Railroad Retirement Act
  • Form G-91 - Description and Certification as to Eligibility of Evidence Submitted
  • Form G-86 - Certification in Support of Employer Service for Which No Records Are Available
  • Form AA-1 - Application for Employee Annuity Under the Railroad Retirement Act
  • Form AA-15 - Employee's Statement of Compensated Service Rendered
  • Form AA-2P - Record of Employee's Prior Service
  • Form CER-1 - Employee Registration
  • Form 70-R047.9 - Employee's Certificate of Termination of Service and Relinquishment of Rights

In order to access these records, you will need to contact the Railroad Retirement Board directly. Keep in mind that they do not have records for everyone. Only those who were employed for over ten years and were employed at the time the Railroad Retirement Board was created, in 1934, will be found in the Board's records.

Individual Railroads

The Rail Companies will often have more records, and for a much longer time period. The Railroad Retirement Board is limited to those who were working for the railroad no further back than the 1930s. However, in your case, the records you are in need of are probably going to be found within the local railway companies. In fact many of these railway company records can date back into the 1800s. Some of the records you are likely to find through the local companies include:

  • Employment Applications
  • Surgeon's Certificates
  • General Employment Files
  • History Cards
  • Other Records

Of course the trick is in finding these records.

Locating Local Railroads and Their Records

In your particular instance, you have not yet been able to determine the railway that your ancestor was likely to have worked for. One of the best ways to learn what railroad companies were in business in the counties where your ancestors were living is to turn to the land records.

The railroads were often buying from and selling to the local residents. They are named in the land records. That means a search of the grantor and grantee indexes will reveal which railroads were buying and selling.

Another resource that is helpful in determining what railroads were in the area and when they arrived would be county histories. These often detail the earliest settlers, the founding of the towns, and when various businesses arrived and grew. And the railroad was always a major event, as it was expected to bring prosperity to a community.

Once you have an idea of which railroad he worked for, you can then turn to the local societies and museums to see if their records have survived. And don't forget the state archives and historical society. They may also have information of use to you.

Mining Answers

The same county histories that will help you in determining which railroad companies were local will also hold the keys to the type of mining your ancestors did. Be warned that not many of these county histories have been indexed. You may find yourself having to skim page-by-page until you find the town history in which your ancestors were living.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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