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Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Searching for Lost Relatives With Railroad Connection

(Posted September 18, 2007)

Question 635: I am trying to find information on a great uncle who was a conductor with the Southern Pacific line out of Alameda. He worked at the Oakland Pier. How do I get information on him? I am looking for his survivors.

Answer: Searching for information about long deceased relatives with a railroad connection is often very difficult and time-consuming. The following information might be useful in planning the search.

Social Security numbers were not issued until late in 1936. Both Social Security and Railroad Retirement began collecting information on workers' earnings in 1937. Before that time, individual railroads were the primary sources for finding individual worker's records. Each railroad issued it own employee identification numbers.

Many of those early records have not survived. It is very difficult to find records of rail workers before 1924.

You face a difficult challenge finding records more than one hundred years old.

The first thing you need to establish is exactly where your great uncle worked and the approximate dates of his service.

Local historical sources can help find the names of the railroads operating at that location. You will then need to trace the numerous mergers and consolidations in the rail industry to find the name and address of the current company. You can then write that company and ask about any available employment records for your relative.

If you believe that your relative worked for a railroad after 1936, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) has records of all railroad service beginning in 1937. To contact the RRB, write to the following:

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board
Congressional Inquiry Section
844 North Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2092

Be sure to include the rail worker's full name and Social Security number. If you do not have the Social Security number, include the worker's parents' full names and the worker's place of birth. There is a $27 fee for the search.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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