1844 Invention of telegraph enables real-time communication
1855 Bessemer mass-production process revolutionizes steel industry
1859 US oil drilling begins
1860 Gas-fired internal combustion engine is the first produced in large numbers
1866 Transatlantic telegraph cable is laid
1869 Transcontinental Railroad connects New York and San Francisco
1870 Standard Oil forms and quickly dominates oil industry
1876 Alexander Graham Bell patents telephone
1882 Thomas Edison’s electric lights power New York City
1886 Karl Benz patents the first gasoline-powered automobile
1897 Highly-efficient diesel engine is developed
1914 Henry Ford introduces assembly-line production of Model T
1918 U.S. coal production peaks at 680 short tons annually
- The Archives of Industrial Society at the University of Pittsburgh holds business records of many regional companies, national union records and other labor-related materials, and a collection on African-Americans in the steel and other industries.
- The Steelworks Museum in Pueblo, Colo. documents the legacy of Colorado Fuel & Iron, reputed to have been the largest steel provider west of the Mississippi. A vast archive is attached, with original company records (such as employee applications and personnel files) and plenty of community documents (including indexed company publications).
- The American Textile History Museum covers the historical New England industry centered in Lowell, Mass. The museum’s Osborne Library has some business records, including personnel records and employee payment lists. The museum also recommends looking for mill records at Harvard University’s Business School Archives and the Center for Lowell History.
- Online directories of miscellaneous employment records are available for you to peruse at Family Tree Connection and the Corporate Archives Index.
- The Sierra Nevada Logging Museum in Arnold, Calif. honors the history of the logging industry through historical exhibits, a research resource center and a website with plenty of local history, an active blog and lots of researchers trading questions.
As you can see, most industries have a legacy you can mine. It might require some heavy-duty labor, but with perseverance and a little genealogical luck, you’ll forge a solid story of your relatives’ working lives.
- Union or trade publications can be secondary sources for birth, wedding and death announcements and other personal information.
- Visit heritage museums for a hands-on experience of your ancestor’s everyday work life.
- Personnel files, union rosters and employee-oriented publications are difficult to find. But trade history lives on in gritty detail in photographs, oral interviews, documentaries, museums and archives.
- Research Your Ancestor’s Occupation
- Occupation Station
- Books about historical jobs
- Top 10 Job-Hunting Sources
- Finding Employment Records
- Finding Records for Defunct Businesses
- Occupation websites
- Blue-Collar Ancestors Toolkit
- The Source edited by Loretto Denis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking
- Newspaper Research 101 Family Tree University course
From the December 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine
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