A. Start with the US Railroad Retirement Board’s genealogical research section <www.rrb.gov/mep/genealogy.asp>. Founded in 1936, this agency administers federal retirement benefits to railroad workers and their families. For $27, the agency will look up the records of anyone now deceased who worked for the railroads (excluding temporary workers) after 1936. To make the request, you’ll have to provide your great-grandfather’s full name and dates of birth and death or his Social Security number — which you can search for in the Social Security Death Index <stevemorse.org/ssdi/ssdi.html> if he died after 1962.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum’s Hays T. Watkins Research Library <www.borail.org/genealogical-inquiries.shtml> has some records for employees whose payroll cards were in the Baltimore office; the collection spans 1905 to 1971. (A 1904 fire destroyed earlier records.) With the worker’s full name and date of birth, library staff will conduct a search for $25. Aside from birth dates, the records don’t include genealogical information, but they may give his job title, division, department, station, salary, and date of retirement, resignation or dismissal.
Three other potentially useful sources are the Ancestry.com Railroad Workers message board <boards.ancestry.com/topics.occupations/mb.ashx> (scroll down to Railroad Workers), Cyndi’s List <cyndislist.com/railroad.htm>, and the American Railroads mailing list, whose archives you can browse or search from <archiver.rootsweb.com/th/index/american-railroads>.
If your ancestor was involved in a serious accident or was more than a junior employee, other records could hold additional information — for example, check newspapers for reports of an accident.
From the May 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine.