Search for Railroad Worker Ancestors in New, Free Online Index

By Diane Haddad

Got ancestors who worked on the railroad? Now you can search a free index of 1.5 million US Railroad Retirement Board pension records on the Midwest Genealogy Center (part of the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Mo.) website.

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers a federal retirement benefits program similar to Social Security, but for railroad workers. The program started in 1936, so these records don’t cover earlier railroad workers, or workers for local streetcar or interurban lines. Those who worked for railroads on a short-term or casual basis also might not have participated in the program.

Start your RRB index search on the Genealogy Quick Look website—choose US Railroad Retirement Board from the Collection menu.

Results give you the last name and usually just a first initial, along with dates of birth and death. This search result (which is missing birth and death days, but has the month and year) might be for someone from my husband’s family, but I don’t know when this particular relative died. I need to find his death date and clues he might’ve worked on the railroad before ordering the full pension record:

The RRB index covers records from 1936 to the early 2000s. Once you find a relative , you can order copies of his or her pension records for about 80 cents per page from the National Archives Atlanta office. Use the provided link to Print This Page and then click on Submit Your Request, which gives instructions on how to request copies.

Before this index launched, you had to pay $27 to have RRB staff check their index, even they didn’t find your ancestor’s name, or request a search from the National Archives. The Midwest Genealogy Center’s RRB index saves you the $27 and gives you the flexibility to do further research on potentially relevant search results.