Railroad Pension Records

By Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer Premium

Q: Where do I find the records of deceased railroad employees who received pensions/annuities? I’m probably wrong, but I seem to recall this system was similar to the current social security program.

A: Records of railroad employees who received pensions after 1935 may be available through the US Railroad Retirement Board. The web site includes a page for genealogists at which says:

“The US Railroad Retirement Board administers a federal retirement benefit program covering the nation’s railroad workers. The records it maintains deal primarily with the administration and payment of these benefits. The board will provide information from its records on deceased persons for the purpose of genealogical research. However, it will not release information on persons who are still living without the written consent of that person.

“Effective Oct. 1, 2000, the fee for searching our records increased to $21 for each employee on whom records are requested. The fee is payable before any search is attempted. It is not refundable, even if we are unable to locate the information requested or if the file has been destroyed. Your check or money order should be made payable to the Railroad Retirement Board, and sent to the Office of Public Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, 844 N. Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2092.”

This agency does not have records for people who died or retired from the railroad before 1936. If your ancestor died or retired before 1936, it is possible that the railroad for which he worked might have records related to pension or death benefits. In this case, you must identify the location of that railroad company’s archives to track down the records. You may run into two problems in this search. The records of many of the hundreds of railroad companies that existed in the US no longer survive. In addition, even companies that retain some personnel records may have destroyed earlier ones. But it’s worth a try. Good luck with your research!

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