Both my grandfathers, William Stephen Abromitis and Emerson Clinton Neifert, were union members; Pop-Pop Abromitis belonged to the United Mine Workers (UMW), and Grandpa Neifert to the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. My great-grandfathers on the Abromitis side, William Abromitis and Anthony Sakusky most probably also belonged to the UMW or one of its precursors because they worked in the anthracite mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. One of my Neifert great-grandfathers, Roland R. Neifert worked for an electric railroad in Wilkes Barre/Scranton and belonged to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
How do you tell whether one or more of your ancestors might have belonged to a labor union? Home sources and interviews with family members are a great place to start. Beyond personal knowledge, family tradition, and memorabilia, look for mention of labor union affiliations in newspapers–union affiliations are often mentioned in obituaries. Here, for example, are excerpts from Roland Neifert’s obituary: “Mr. Neifert… had been a resident of Wilkes-Barre for many years. He was employed as a trainman on the Laurel Line. Mr Neifert was… offiliated [sic] with the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.” 2
The identification of Roland’s employer and his union led me to books, articles, and websites with information about the Laurel Line and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. I learned that in 1918 Roland was one of the key players in a street car strike. He even traveled to Washington, DC, to appear before the Railroad Wage Commission. 3 Google searches revealed that records of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, mostly dealing with the union after 1928, shortly before Roland’s death, are at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University. 4 I found digitized volumes of the union journal, The Railroad Trainman, on Google Books (http://www.books.google.com), and records of union lodges or locals in various archives. (For example, Washington State University Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections holds an attendance register for Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 833 in Malden, Washington.) 5
Do sources such as census records or city directories tell you that your ancestor worked in an industry where labor unions developed? Besides railroads and mining, labor organizations were active in textiles, hatting, agriculture, and communications. Wikipedia is a great place to get an overview of labor history and develop a bibliography of books, articles, and website links for further research. Try reading “Labor History of the United States” 6 as a starting place, then follow the links and references. Also look for articles on industries (for example, coal mining in the United States), companies, and labor unions.
- Judy G. Russell, “Put in a Laboring Oar,” 5 September 2016, The Legal Genealogist, (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/2016/09/05/put-in-a-laboring-oar/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheLegalGenealogist+%28The+Legal+Genealogist%29 : accessed 5 September 2016). ↩
- “Rowland R. Neifert,” The Wilkes Barre Record,” 27 December 1934, p. 6, col. 3. ↩
- “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line; Want Wage Jump,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, p. 2; digital image, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 17 February 2013). “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line,” The Scranton Republican, p. 1, col. 5, p. 2, col. 3; digital image, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 11 August 2014).“Talk of Strike on Laurel Line; Want Wage Jump,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, p. 2; digital image, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 17 February 2013). “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line,” The Scranton Republican, p. 1, col. 5, p. 2, col. 3; digital image, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 11 August 2014). ↩
- Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library, “Guide to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Records, 1883-1973,” Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/EAD/htmldocs/KCL05149.html : accessed 20 January 2015). ↩
- “Guide to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 833 (Malden, WA) Attendance Register 1927-1961 Cage 5057,” Washington State University Libraries (http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu/masc/finders/cg5057.htm : accessed 5 September 2016). ↩
- “Labor History of the United States,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_history_of_the_United_States : accessed 5 September 2016). ↩