She’s Been Workin’ on the Railroad! Researching Railway Records

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers his centenarian cousin once worked for the U.S. Railway Mail Service—and delves into some railroad history.

As a genealogical historian, one of the aspects of family history I love the most is discovering something new about an ancestor. Then I can take some time off from working on my family tree and spend it learning about this new aspect, or area, that I have uncovered. So it was recently as I found myself once again working on my Bohemian (Czech) ancestors in Ohio.

This time I was delving into one of my first cousins, twice removed, Theresa (Sluka) Armstrong. I was reading her obituary in GenealogyBank.com and among all the other tidbits of great information I was finding, I came upon the statement that she was a retiree of the United States Railway Mail Service.

As you can see by reading my cousin’s obituary, Theresa was 100 years old when she passed away. She must have loved the city as she was the wife of a Cleveland policeman and the sister of Frank and Albert Sluka, who were also both Cleveland policemen. (You can read about the tragic murder of Albert Sluka in my previous GenealogyBank.com blog article found at http://blog.genealogybank.com/author/scottphillips.)

obituary for Theresa Sluka Armstrong, Plain Dealer newspaper 19 February 1991

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 February 1991, page 11

The more I thought about it, the more intriguing this organization called the United States Railway Mail Service became to me. Additionally, I found it quite interesting that my female cousin worked for them. Having never heard of it before, I began investigating her occupational history with the railroad almost before I realized it.

Still on GenealogyBank.com, I began searching on “U.S. Railway Mail Service” and was instantly treated to amazing railroad background and historical information.

Unbeknownst to me, in about 1863, the United States Postal Service began outfitting and utilizing specially-designed railway cars to accommodate the collecting, sorting, and distributing of mail aboard railroad trains as they traversed across the United States as an integral part of the early postal system. This efficient railway system was even designed so that at many locations, usually smaller, rural towns where the train did not stop, mail pouches were hung by the railroad tracks where a special “arm” attached to the train would snag the bag while moving. Then the postal clerks on board would retrieve the pouches, open their locks, and sort and process the mail as the train roared along. The train never slowed down or missed a beat!

Quickly I was treating myself to multiple stories about the development, history, and operations of the United States Railway Mail Service. One of my early favorite stories was from an 1891 newspaper article that not only explained the functioning and design of this delivery service, but even contained a drawing of what the mail pouch pick-up looked like.

Mail on the Rail, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 October 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1891, page 13

Then I really found myself hitting pay dirt with a 1909 newspaper article from North Dakota. This historical article is an entire page of the newspaper explaining in detail the U.S. Railway Mail Service and containing six extraordinary photographs of the working areas of these specialized train cars. It even contains the names of the postal clerks working that run. Lists of employee names are always a treat for genealogists and family historians!

U.S. Railway Mail Service in North Dakota, Grand Forks Herald newspaper article 24 January 1909

Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 24 January 1909, page 16

I am now engaging in a full pursuit of finding the employment and pension records for my cousin, which for the U.S. Railway Mail Service are held at the Civilian Personnel Records Department of the National Personnel Records Center, housed at the National Archives and Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

I am keen on discovering more about the employment history of my centenarian cousin and finding out if her working career involved actually “riding the rails” or staying on the solid ground at the station in Cleveland.

 

 

NGS Newsmagazine – Latest Issue

The April-June 2008 issue of the NGS Newsmagazine (National Genealogical Society) just arrived in the mail.

Articles:
Alpert, Janet A. President’s Message. pp. 2-3
Kerstens, Elizabeth Kelly. Editor’s Corner. pp. 4-5
Freilich, Kay Haviland & Ann Carter Fleming. Research in the States Series Expands. pp. 10-11.
Jennings, Arlene V. Reconstructing family history from museum visits. pp. 18-22.
Mieszala, Debbie. Courage on the Seas: Records of the United States Life-Saving Service. pp. 23-27, 51.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Reaching Genealogists through Words (ISFHWE, Genealogical Speakers Guild). pp. 28-31.
Hovorka, Janet. Care and Repair of Photographs. pp. 33-37.
Gray, Gordon. What is APG? pp. 38-41.
Pierce, Alycon Trubey. Adding final pension payment voucher records to the researcher’s toolbox. pp. 42-48.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Research dilemmas of broken homes. pp. 49-51.
Swanson, Andree Brower. Not so plain Jane (Jane Crawford). pp. 52-54.
Schneck, Barbara. Review of Family Tree Maker 2008. pp. 55-58.
Smith, Drew. Papa’s got a brand new genealogy bag. pp. 59-61.
Hinds, Harold E., Jr. A paradigm shift? Biology vs. lineage. pp. 62-63.

Halvor Moorshead Retires

For more than two decades Halvor Moorshead has been in the forefront of genealogy.

Consistently on target his four publications Family Chronicle, Internet Genealogy, History Magazine and his newest title Discovering Family History are the best in the field. Readable and useful, you save each issue, mark them up and act on the suggestions, tips and ideas. I wish we could say that about every genealogy magazine.

Halvor has the pulse of genealogy. He knows where we need to be researching, the tools of the trade and the “next big thing” – and he knows how to present it. As publisher we all could see his hand in framing each issue so that it would be up to date and on target.

I personally have been grateful to know him and benefited from his candor, knowledge of the field and smiling good humor.
And hey, he’s a heck of a nice guy too.

Halvor is not leaving the stage just yet – he will be a consultant for the new publishers and he will be at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Kansas City in May. I am organizing an event there in Halvor’s honor and will post the details to this blog. Be sure to be there to wish him well.

Here is the official announcement from Halvor Moorshead:

I am retiring on Friday, 29 February 2008I wish I had the capacity to e-mail everyone with whom I do business – and my friends –individually about the following but this is not practical so I am sending out this general announcement about important changes affecting our publishing company.

I have sold Moorshead Magazines – which includes Family Chronicle, Internet Genealogy, History Magazine and the new Discovering Family History and will be retiring. The sale finalizes on Friday 29 February 2008.

This is not quite as radical as it first sounds. I am selling the company to two of the staff – Ed Zapletal and Rick Cree. They have made it clear that their main reason for buying the company is that they do NOT want any changes. There will obviously be some differences as I will be out of the picture, but there will be no staff changes. Victoria, Marc and Jeannette will be continuing in the same roles.I turned 65 in November and want time to travel and do other things with Marian (my wife) while we are still capable (I also plan on spending a lot of time researching my own genealogy!). I also want to do more lecturing.

I am intensely proud of what we have done with Moorshead Magazines – we have dedicated loyal and highly experienced staff. Ed and Rick have both been with me for 24 years – way, way before we published Family Chronicle. We work very well together and we have been pretty successful. Things are going well – Discovering Family History looks as though it will become another success story and this is important to me; I very much want to retire on a high note. Part of the sale agreement is that I will act as a consultant related to the magazines for three years so I am not entirely cut off. In addition, I plan to be at the NGS Annual Convention in Kansas City in May, largely to say good bye personally to the many friends I have made in the genealogy field over the years.

Halvor