Our Chicago Genealogical Society has provided critically important help in preserving a very large mass of early Chicago genealogical records. These records include over 80 linear feet of Abstract of Title records which list the names of sellers and buyers of properties purchased by the Chicago and North Western Railroad from all across Chicago and Cook County. The names in the abstracts date from the mid-1830s to the 1950s. Beautifully hand drawn and colored maps of the properties can be found in those abstracts.
Another saved record group consists of monthly payroll records of all employees of the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad between 1856 and 1886. That line today is the line which runs from Chicago through Crystal Lake and Harvard, Illinois to Janesville and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Further, a huge mass of employment applications and work records of employees of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad from the mid-1890s to the late 1920s covering employees from the northwest quadrant of Wisconsin were also saved.
Additionally, over 25 large employment ledgers listing work records of C&NW employees from all across that system were saved.
Finally, 15 large cabinets filled with employee record cards which include C&NW retirements with employee birthdates often dating back to the 1840s as well as a massive collection of W-4 Social Security application cards dating from 1936 which include mother’s maiden names and employee birth dates back to the 1880s were saved.
All of these records were given to the Chicago and North Western Historical Society before the railroad was sold to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1995.
When the Chicago Genealogical Society found out that these record were in danger of being destroyed because of pressing space needs at the C&NW Historical Society’s archives, our society asked what they could do to help preserve the records. One of our Board of Management members is an archivist with the C&NW society. Knowing of the close relationship of the CGS with the Newberry Library, he reached out to the Newberry Library to see if they would be interested in holding those records. When Matt Rutherford, the Newberry’s genealogical librarian and Martha Briggs, the Newberry’s acquisitions librarian, visited the cramped C&NW society’s archives in Berwyn, their eyes “lit up.”
While the Newberry holds Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad records, Illinois Central Railroad records, and Pullman Car Company records (all mostly corporate and management records), they did not hold any Chicago and North Western records. The Chicago and North Western railroad (originally – Galena and Chicago Union Railroad) was the first railroad to be built in and out from Chicago in 1848. The railroad records mentioned above are almost entirely of on train and track workers. Martha began pointing to the various masses of records and said “We’ll take this and this and this!”
The problem was that neither the Newberry nor the railroad historical society had the funds available to finance the move. This is where our Chicago Genealogical Society stepped in to save the day (and the records). The rail society’s archivist obtained a low bid from Chicago’s “Windy City Movers” to make the move. When the rail archivist came to the August 2015 Summer Planning Session, to ask (beg, actually) for help in funding the move, your Board of Management, knowing what a genealogical treasure these collections were, authorized the funds to make the move. The Chicago and North Western Historical Society is and (and will be for years to come) eternally grateful to the Chicago Genealogical Society for providing the funds to make the move from Berwyn to the Newberry Library.
The “Windy City Movers” group carefully and quickly loaded the collections on 17 September 2015 and promptly delivered them to the Newberry Library on the morning of 18 September. The collections now safely reside in the Newberry’s safe, clean and humidity controlled storage area.
It will take some time for the Newberry librarians to organize, archivally describe and catalog the collections so the data in them will not become immediately available. The personnel cards in the 15 cabinets were scanned in 2014 by Ancestry.com. Ancestry has promised that scans of those cards will go on line on their web site as soon as they can get to it.
The Chicago and North Western Historical Society still retains a huge collection of right of way and station maps as well as a photograph collection of communities and equipment along with much other community related materials. Their web site is www.cnwhs.org.