N.P. Ry.

The Northern Pacific and Genealogy


Include as much information as possible. Where did they work? What years did they work? What position did they hold?

Often the best place to start is with the U.S. Census, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, local newspaper collections, or a local History Center of the Latter Day Saints.

Mid- or high-level official will often have a short biography available through The Biographical Directory of the Railway Officials of America (published from 1885 to 1922 and available through many libraries) or the follow-on Who's Who in Railroading (published through the present day). Some examples of the type of positions listed in these volumes are superintendent, chief mechanical officer, general freight agent, chief engineer, etc. A few extracts from Northern Pacific entries may be seen at Who's Who on the Northern Pacific. This is only a draft, I hope to add more biographies as time becomes available. If you have a relative you would like to add to the list, please send an e-mail to Whstlpnk@ix.netcom.com.

Unionized crafts, such as locomotive engineer, conductor, or dispatcher, often produced seniority lists. These will show the date someone was hired for a particular craft, and what date they were promoted. (A locomotive engineer's roster may show the date someone was hired as a fireman, and what date they were promoted to engineer.) Engineer's seniority rosters are the most common form of roster available, they become harder to locate for other crafts.

The corporate records of the Northern Pacific Railway, along with the records of the Great Northern Railway and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway, are located at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minn.

The records of other Northwest railways are at the following institutions. The records of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad are held by the Newberry Library in Chicago, Ill. The records of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway are held by the Milwaukee Public Library.

If you know where your relative worked, when they worked, and what position they held with the Northern Pacific, it may be possible to find information about them either through biographical directories of officials, or seniority lists. Please feel free to contact me at Whstlpnk@ix.netcom.com and I will try and answer your questions for you. There are no guarantees that anyone can answer your question, but there are many veterans and fans of the Northern Pacific who are more than willing to try.

The Minnesota Historical Society has a number items which may help you in your search through the Northern Pacific's corporate records. These are:

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board -- set up in 1936 -- is the equivalent of the Social Security Administration for railroaders. Their Web site has two pages devoted to railroad genealogy. These are:


I cannot help with requests for information about railroads other than the Northern Pacific. Over the years My suggestion is to contact the Railroad Retirement Board, or try using your favorite Web search engine to look for information about the railroad your relative worked for.

Unless an individual was a senior manager/executive on the NP, it is very unlikely that a search of NP records will be successful. A more conventional genealogical search would be more likely to produce results. Here are some suggestions:

1. I would start by going to a Latter Day Saints (Mormon) church library and ask for help deciding what records to search for. Perhaps someone has already done some relevant family research. This can be checked. The volunteers at these libraries are very helpful to anyone who comes in. The library can also order microfilms from the big library in Salt Lake City.

2. I would try to trace where your relative lived at various times. Many NP people moved from place to place during their career; others stayed pretty well in one place. It helps to pin down any moves.

3. I would check census records.

4. I would look at the roll of microfilm at the Minnesota Historical Society that contains a card file record for some NP middle and senior officials. It is far from complete, has only fragmentary information, but is easy to check.

5. I would go to the county courthouse that has records from their home town and look for the marriage record, birth records, and property records. The latter might show where and when your relative settled there, if they did, and when they may have left.

6. I would get the local newspaper on microfilm through interlibrary loan and search for additional information, though this is a slow process and hard on the eyes.

Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: The Northern Pacific and Genealogy. URL: www.netcom.com/~whstlpnk/genealogy.html.

© March 20, 2002