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---------------Railroad Employee Genealogy:

Southern Pacific & other western railroad
employee seniority rosters & timebooks


When meeting somebody for the first time, it is a common thing for the converstation to turn towards occupations. When I offer that I was a locomotive engineer, a surprising number of people have responded that one of their relatives worked for a railroad, though they frequently were unsure of company, or occupation. Statistically, I would guess that these sort of exchanges between folks must occur with everyday frequency, given that the industry once held such a predominate spot in our economy and lives.

I first began posting the time book records and rosters on this page mostly for my fellow railroaders to puruse, looking for old workmates and relatives. It took awhile to make a connection between these and genealogy, for which I now judge they can be quite illuminatory. My thanks to Bob Melbo, John Signor, George Faithorn, Charlie Wherry and Chris Hart for their generous contributions.
E.O. Gibson

The following PDF's were copied from old commercial time books and RR published rosters:

Operating and Clerical Crafts - SP, or as noted

Non - operating employes

Time books of Coast Div. Engineer L. H. Cleveland

L. H. Cleveland went firing on June 4, 1925 and was promoted to engineer on July 19, 1941. We know nothing of him - not even his given names - other than what can be deciphered from his books. His time books date from his late fireman days in 1940 until 1962, which we presume was near the time of his retirement. The latter books are loose leaf, and many individual pages have been lost, but enough have survived to give a good indication of his progress up the seniority ladder. None of the books contain seniority rosters/

deciphering R.R. time book rosters
for the uninitiated non railroader

Railroaders were/are divided into two classes based upon the military model: Officers (aka officials or managers) and employees. On large railroads (but not on many small ones), the latter were union members. For an employee, everything revolved around his entry date into the craft (occupation), called a seniority date. Specific jobs within crafts were periodically placed up for bid and awarded to the bidder with the oldest seniority date. Candidacy for promotion from one craft to another, say fireman to engineer, was also based upon seniority, so keeping track of one's seniority standing was extremely important and the reason behind including rosters in commercially-produced time books.

Company managers promoted from the employee ranks retained their union seniority and continued being listed on rosters until they retired. Until the mid-20th Century, railroaders were almost exclusively male. Absolutely no women served as engineers, trainmen and switchmen until about 1970. The large exception was clerical crafts, where a fair number of women were employed as secretaries and occasionally as station agents/operators.

Seniority rosters were/are divided by railroad, craft and location, and are arranged by seniority top to bottom. Your likelihood of locating an individual is necessarily a function of your knowledge of these, along with a general idea of when the person was employed. It is also helpful to know the individual's middle initial, as rosters universally listed people by family name, followed by first and middle initials.

Most of the rosters here are for the operating crafts - trainmen, switchmen and enginemen, but clerical crafts, as well as track and mechanical department employees are represented, as well.

For the most part, seniority was established on a railroad division, or at a point within a division. Railroad divisions were semi-autonomous territorial units that comprised a railroad. An example is the Southern Pacific Coast Division, which once extended from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Engineers and trainmen had seniority over the entire division, whereas switchmen at one time only possessed seniority, and therefore could only work, in one of either San Francisco, San Jose, Watsonville or San Luis Obispo. These seniority arrangements changed over time, and the particulars of seniority rights varied by craft

Since these rosters are arranged by division and points within a division, you may wish to consult a valuable set of 1946 SP division maps hosted on a website run by Bill Roberts. These should aid in placing a location with a division. Division names and territories changed considerably over time, however, but their names are indicative of their locations. Of note, the Western Division gobbled up the Coast Division, and the Oregon Division was formed out of the Portland and Shasta Divisions in the 1960's.

Yes, this all is very esoteric stuff, so before throwing up your hands, send me an email. I would be happy to help with your search.
- Ed Gibson wx4org@yahoo.com

Vernon Frazier ( left) entered his work history into a "Big Four" time book published by E.J. Elbury, a man who, some years prior, had been ejected from the Fresno Lodge of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. He originally labeled his booklet as an "Official Time and Seniorty Record" - which it apparently was not - causing the BRT to cry foul. (click on the image for the sordid details)