Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: Exploring Ancestry's "U.S., Northern Pacific Railway Company Personnel Files, 1890-1960" Database

Last April, I wrote a Tuesday's Tip on using the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association website. Imagine then my delight when I realized that Ancestry.com had recently updated a new-to-me database called "U.S., Northern Pacific Railway Company Personnel Files, 1890-1960."

Here is a screenshot of the description of the database:

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Please note that although the description says the company was in Minnesota, that is where its headquarters were. The line stretched for 6,800 miles across the northern tier of the United States from Wisconsin to Washington State, so if your ancestors lived in any of those states, and perhaps even in adjoining ones, they well could have been employed by the NPR. Additionally, even if you have found your ancestor's occupation to be a farmer or some such other trade, don't hesitate to check this database. According to the description, "some farmers took railroad jobs during the winter and requested leaves of absence during the summers to work their family farms." Such seems to have been the case of my children's great-great-grandfather, George Rice WESTABY, III.
I did a simple surname search for "westaby" in the database and it came up with the following three results:

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Besides George, the second result, I recognized the names of two of his four younger brothers, Guy Steven WESTABY and Charles Wilson WESTABY.

When I clicked on the View Images icon to the far right of George Westaby's entry, I was brought to the following screen:

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This appears to be his application to the Northern Pacific Railway in Glendive, Dawson County, Montana, dated 30 September 1913. Note it gives the names and address of his parents, as well as a physical description of himself.

A few images later, I found the following document, a resignation which was dated a year earlier (12 October 1912), and had his personnel file number (79761) written on it:

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Apparently, like the database description states, George took occasional leaves of absence to work other jobs or help his family. The following document "How and Where Previously Occupied" shows George's work history. You can see he was helping his father, George "Rice" WESTABY, II on his farm from 2 August 1910 to 28 May 1911. This was one of several such cards in his file:

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The card also contained his signature at the bottom:

I decided to see how many images of documents I could find in George's file. The filmstrip feature made it easy to scroll back and forth. First I clicked on the filmstrip icon near the image number:

The filmstrip option then showed up at the bottom of my screen, giving me thumbnail views of the preceding and succeeding images:

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I could also scroll to the left and the right quickly, using the arrows on each side of the screen. By using this feature, I was able to find the first and last images of George's personnel file to determine he had twenty images of documents in this database. This is important, because when you do a search on a name and then click on the "View Image" icon, you don't necessarily go to the first image in that individual's personnel file. Check backward and forward through the images, and use the personnel file number to help you. It may not appear on all documents.

Even though I knew quite a bit about George's life with the railroad from other family documents and stories, this added quite a bit more information and generated much interest on my part to this period of his life. I'm looking forward to checking out his brothers' files as well. I also searched for two other railroad ancestors of my children, John Franklin MARTIN, and John Franklin MIDKIFF, II. I was unsuccessful, but I believe "Frank" MARTIN actually worked in Idaho for a different railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, a.k.a. the Milwaukee Road. John MIDKIFF was an NPR station master in Mabton, Washington, but I can't find his file. Nor can I find my own NPR ancestors, father and son Martin and John Martin HOEKSTRA, who worked as railroad carpenters and painters in Tacoma, Washington. However, the database description does state "this database does not yet include the entire collection of personnel files." More will be added at a later date.

Did you have ancestors who worked for the Northern Pacific Railway? Check out this useful database!

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Ancestry.com, and as such, receive compensation for products advertised on and linked from this blog.

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