Thursday, May 05, 2005

Death by Railroad


This is an example of how a "newbie" researcher makes a posting on a
genealogy mailing list and receives assistance from another member of the
group via email:

----- Original Message -----
From: Dorothy Lowe

Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 2:26 PM
Subject: Death by Railroad
My great grandfather was Thomas E. Noakes, who worked on railroads in Ohio,
Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1871 he married my great grandmother, Elizabeth
Catherine Kesling , and they had two children. Elizabeth died about 1876 or
1877. Thomas then moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky and worked for the
railroad out of that place. He remarried - Nannie Beck - and had three more

Family history states that he was crushed between two train cars and his
body fell into the Mississippi River. Apparently his body was found
downstream a couple of days later.

I don't know the name of the railroad he worked for. Finding records for
railroads has been very difficult for me. He died after 1886 but before
August of 1889 when Nannie Beck remarried.

How can I find something out about Thomas' railroad career - and more
importantly to me - his death? I'd be grateful for any help on this.

-----1st REPLY Message-----
From: bob gillis <>
Subject: Re: [AMER-RAIL] How to find Railroad Employment Information fro
1880s was [Death by Railroad]
Date: Mon, 18 Apr 2005 15:56:33 -0400
The only railroad in Bowling Green KY in 1910 was the Louisville and
Nashville. The predecessor railroad between Bowling Green and Memphis TN was
the Memphis and Ohio. However the L&N/M&O did not cross the Mississippi.

In the 1880 Census Thomas Nokes was living with his sister Clara Funk and
her husband H S and his brother John. H S and John were railroad engineers
and Thomas was a fireman. His daughters were not living with him.

However I suspect the Mississippi River is wrong. Bowling Green is a
division point 114 miles from Cincinnati, Memphis is 266 miles from BG and
probably the next division point would be Paris TN 133 miles from BG. If he
did die as you think it would more likely be in the Ohio River at

A railroad man being crushed between cars before 1900 and the automatic
couplers was a common accident. I would look in the Bowling Green newspaper
for the period. If it was in Memphis the only way to find out something
would be to go through the Memphis newspapers from the period and hope to
find an news article.

The L&N is now part of CSX, I think, and the CSX would not have any
employment records from that long ago. You can do a Google search on
"Louisville & Nashville" +historical and find the society that is interested
in the railroad. Possibly it would have some further information.

-----1st REPLY Message-----
From: "Divina Johnston"
I think you'll have to determine his place and date of death first. If you
know where he died, some one in that area can check vital records for you.
With a date of death in hand then I'd check the newspapers for one or two
days after the date of his death. There will likely be a news account of the
accident. Most likely a front page story. Note that you'll be looking for
more than just a death notice or obit.

Instead of checking vital records, you could also ask the reference
librarian [for the area where your ancestor died] to check the obituary
index, if they have one. Then look for the news account of the accident.
That's how I found my 2g grandfather. He was also killed by a train. As for
his work history, check RR workers unions and fraternal orders of the time.
I'm afraid that employment records per se are gone. -- Good luck!

So, my dear readers, did you notice how the original question included lots
of other names, dates? That's good. That shows the person has been doing her
homework. Bob, who has more knowledge of hisorical US railroad lines
replyed, including a lookup on the 1880 US Federal Census. (indexed at Davina had some practical advice about checking the
more than just the obit page in old newspapers. You will likely find them on
microfilm through, or through your local library

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Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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