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Railroad Records Research: Overview

Overview

The Minnesota Historical Society holds the records of the Great Northern Railway, the Northern Pacific Railway, and the Soo Line Railroad Company, in addition to the records of hundreds of predecessor, subsidiary, and branch companies; collectively, the records date from 1855 to 1994 and comprise over 15,000 cubic feet of materials. These records can support research on many different topics, from family history to station architecture, bridge and culvert records, land settlement, and much more. 

 

About the Records and Getting Started

Because the two major railroad record collections in the MNHS Library--the Great Northern Railway Company and the Northern Pacific Railway Company--are so large, they have each been split into separate series and arranged by the office that created the records. Both the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific collections include records from branch lines, subsidiary and related companies, as well as the files of preceding and succeeding companies, as does the records of the Soo Line Railroad Company. Records for branch and subsidiary companies can also be found in the library catalog, MnPALS.

The railroad records span over a century, and the corporate offices sometimes had overlapping responsibilities, which occasionally makes finding a particular piece of information a challenge. Below are some hints to help you get started with your research.

  • For researching an ancestor who may have worked on the railroad, try out the resources on the Family History page.
     
  • If you are interested in architectural drawings, blueprints, plans, mechanical and technical drawings, or photographs, check out Pictures & Plans.
     
  • Timetables & Route Maps also contains links to resources about traveling on the railroad, particularly the development of tourism by train.
     
  • For land records, valuation records, and accident reports, see Law & Land
     
  • Finally, for listings of the best resources to support research into labor history, immigration history, or African American history, see the History Topics section.

Resources Outside MNHS

Directory of Railroad History Research Locations 
A state-by-state listing of major railroad record repositories from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc.

Records Relating to North American Railroads.
A 2001 paper describing the railroad records available through the National Archives, including:

Research Options

Related Research Guides & Webpages

Guide Author

Sarah Quimby 
Head of Reference

MNHS Reference Staff

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Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
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