Recently, my family lost someone dear to us: my best friend’s father. He’s been around and part of my life’s tapestry since I was still excited about having a double-digit age. Mr. Charlie was a train guy through and through. What do genealogists do when we suffer a loss in the family? We memorialize them. He’s not on my own family tree so there’s no entry in my database. However, he was part of my self-made family, so my mind went straight to trains. The railroad was only second in his heart to his family, so it’s fitting that I started pulling together my list of genealogy links and resources to use when researching your ancestors who were roughnecks (brakemen) and parlor boys (flagman.)
The following resources are only a small portion of what is available to you when researching your railroad ancestor. If you are lucky enough to have this area of research in your family history project, milk it for all you can! This type of research is rich in content for really making your ancestor’s story pop. Take the time to look at maps and histories so that you see the entire picture of their experience.
These sites make a great start in your research. (I always check them first to see what treasures they hold!)
And now, onto the fun stuff! I love lingo. Vocabulary is more refined and meant for function. Lingo, on the other hand, is what our ancestors would have said. It’s the straight talk of the real world. It’s also the slang (which is far more interesting!) Here are a few links to help you understand the terms the men (and later women) of the railroad would have said as they lived the life.
The Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive is an amazing machine. I wasn’t raised around trains like my friend, and even I look at the 611 in awe. It’s beautiful. It was technologically advanced for its time. And, though she has been in retirement at the Virginia Museum of Transportation since 1994, the 611 might just run again if funds can be raised for the restoration. If you’d like to help in that effort, you can donate to FireUp611.org here.
What’s your favorite resource for researching those ancestors associated with the railroad? Or, even better, do you have a story about your own roughneck or parlor boy? If so, link them below! I’d love to read them!