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A history stop

National Archives’ railroad records hold research gems

The National Archives at Atlanta holds the national collection of 1.5 million Railroad Retirement Board files from 1936 until the late 20th-century. Director of Archival Operations Robert Richards said each file contains hidden bits of family history that would be valuable to genealogists.

The National Archives at Atlanta holds the national collection of 1.5 million Railroad Retirement Board files from 1936 until the late 20th-century. Director of Archival Operations Robert Richards said each file contains hidden bits of family history that would be valuable to genealogists.

MORROW — Stuart H. Smith went to work for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad as a railcar repairman in March 1913 when he was 15. He worked his way up the ranks over the next 30 years, eventually becoming a freight brakeman and then a freight operator, according to his railroad retirement pension records.

Smith, a native of Springfield, Mass., was the son of Henry Smith, an immigrant from London, and Carrie Brown of Connecticut. His wife was Lillian and they had two children. Their son was Stuart Smith Jr. and their daughter was Jean Smith.

He had arteriosclerosis heart disease and died April 26, 1963, from a pulmonary infarction he suffered after undergoing a coloproctostomy and tumor removal operation at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Hartford, Conn., according to a copy of his death certificate found with the retirement records.

He was two months shy of his 66th birthday.

That is the kind of genealogical information family history researchers can find buried deep in the National Archives at Atlanta’s collection of 1.5 million “Railroad Retirement Board Inactive Claims” files, said archives Director of Archival Operations Robert Richards.

“You just get a better understanding of what they did as an individual,” said Richards. “A lot of genealogy is about finding names, and finding dates, which I like to consider the bones of the skeleton. But if you’re going to put any meat on that person, you’ll have to find out about what they did and who they were.

“Finding out this person we were just talking about [Stuart Harold Smith] was a car repairer and later a freight brakeman, you understand what he did for the railroad.”

All of Railroad Retirement Board’s records for the entire nation are available at the National Archives’ facility in Morrow. Richards said the available records begin with pension paperwork filed in 1936. He said people in their 70s or 80s who retired from railroad work 20 or 30 years ago could also find their paperwork in the files.

The federal retirement benefit program for railroad workers across the U.S. is administered by the Railroad Retirement Board and the records are transferred to the National Archives after they have been “inactive” for seven years, according to the National Archives. “Inactive” means no claims have been filed on the person’s account and no pension payments are being made to the retiree.

The archives in turn has made the records for deceased retirees available for public research but any living person whose records are held by the archives would have to give their written permission before someone from the general public would be able to view their file.

The paperwork has been stored in 54,200 boxes at the National Archives at Atlanta since 2010, but their importance to genealogical research emerged earlier this year with the release of the 1940 federal census records. The census asked people if they worked for the railroad.

The railroad retirement board records include several documents about how much money each retiree made. They also, however, include other documents which outline the person’s family history. Each file also includes the retiree’s death certificate.

“You could find out about his immediate family, a spouse, children, possibly about his parents and you’ll find out about his work history,” said Richards.

People interested in learning more about the National Archives’ collection of Railroad Retirement Board records can call Richards at (770) 968-2485. They can also visit the archives at 5780 Jonesboro Road, in Morrow.

The archives asks that people who want to search for someone in the files be able to provide that individual’s full name, railroad retirement board claim number, social security number, year of birth or year of death.

The archives are open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. The facility is closed on federal holidays and Saturdays that precede any federal holidays that fall on a Monday.

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On the Net:

National Archives at Atlanta: www.archives.gov/southeast/