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Spring 2003
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 3   No. 2


Help!! provides an opportunity for readers to ask for assistance with genealogical queries. We invite our readers to contribute solutions to questions featured in this section. See the Contact section for e-mail and postal addresses. Put GFH-HELP!! in the subject line.Help!!


Question: I am having trouble locating information on an ancestor who appears to have died while fighting in the Civil War. What sort of documents might exist?

Answer: First, check his service record. There should be a clear indication of his death and, perhaps, place of burial. You may find hospital information, forms for disposition of effects, or burial information. Bodies could be taken home for burial by relatives, but normally were buried in the area where they died. If your veteran was married or had other dependent relatives, check for a pension record, which may provide additional information. Another place to check is the probate records in your veteran’s home county. If a soldier had money or property, it had to be probated just as if he had died at home. There are also various cemetery transcriptions that may be of assistance, and most states have an Honor Roll of deceased veterans.

Question: Someone told me I should check a city directory for my ancestors. What is a city directory, and where can I find it?

Answer: City directories are lists of residents in a town or county, somewhat like a telephone directory. However, they go back much earlier than telephones – for some places, the earliest city directories go back to the 17th century. They usually only list the head of household and sometimes other employed adults, such as boarders or adult children, though, in 20th century directories, spouses and college-age children may be listed. The information usually included is name, address, and occupation and/or place of employment. There are also business listings similar to the yellow pages in a phone book.

Many city directories are available on microfilm through Latter Day Saints Family History Centers or your local public library. St. Louis Public Library owns a full set of St. Louis directories and selected directories for Kansas City, New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, and many smaller metro-area communities such as East St. Louis and Belleville.

Question: I have an ancestor who worked for the railroad, and I have heard that there are genealogical records for former railroad employees? Can you tell me about this?

Answer: You are thinking of the records of the Railroad Retirement Board, which can provide a wealth of information. The Railroad Retirement Board was established the same time as the Social Security Administration to provide a retirement program for railroad employees. A special set of Social Security numbers was established for the railroad employees.

The records that may be available include the pension application, statement of railroad service, application for annuities, description of eligibility, record of service, certificate of termination of service, death certificate of employee, and notice of death & statement of compensation.

The Railroad Retirement Board has a website that provides tips and links for railroad-related genealogical research, in-cluding tips on researching prior to 1936, when the RRB was established. The URL is: If you would like to request a search, mail a fee of $27.00 to US Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Public Affairs, 844 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611-2092.

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