The Welsh Family's Employment With The B & O Railroad

Submitted by Tom Welsh.

When my father, James J. Welsh, of Glen Dale, retired from CSX Railroad in 1997, it ended a family history of family railroading. Starting with my great-great grandfather, Michael Welsh, Sr. (1848-1896), of Barnesville, Ohio, the Welsh family worked for the B&O (later CSX) for over 523 years! In addition to Michael, this record includes his seven sons, four grandsons, and my father. (Other Welsh members worked for the B & O, but their years have not yet been added.)

In addition to the Welsh railroaders, railroading can be found in my other blood lines, all for the B & O: a great-great grandfather (my grandfather Welsh's maternal grandfather) served 40+ years as engineer; my mother worked several years at the B & O Building (now West Virginia Northern Community College) in Wheeling; as well as her mother; and her mother's father, all worked for the B & O.

Combined, a conservative estimate of family service to the B & O would be over 800 years!

So, when I started researching my family tree in December 1999, one of the first places I contacted was the B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD. In addition to its rolling stock of diesel and steam engines, including the Tom Thumb, various cars, and a picture of Roseby's Rock, it has a research library that contains nearly 6,000 cubic feet of unprocessed employee records on microfilm, dating from 1904. Records predating 1904 were destroyed by a fire in that year, though employees who were still in service reconstructed their records from other sources. There were also records from the B & O Relief Department, which offered life insurance to B &O workers. However, as the Relief Department records were on a different kind of microfilm (reel to reel as compared to cartridge), I was unable to review these. There is a $10 research fee for non-members of the museum. An annual family membership costs $50. (As I live in Alexandria, VA, this was worth it; just ask my two sons). The staff librarian, Anne Calhoun, can be reached at 410-752-2493.

The records themselves offered little genealogical value, other than dates of birth and death and Social Security Numbers issued by the Railroad Retirement Board. However, they do provide plenty of information for those who want to tell their story. For example, this is what I learned about my great-grandfather, Charles "Piggy" Welsh (1873-1951) of McMechen: He joined the B & O in Barnesville, Ohio, as a laborer in February 1889, just two months shy of his 16th birthday. In September 1894, he qualified as freight fireman while working in Wheeling. Less than six years later, he moved up to the throttle as a freight engineer. Only those who proven themselves to be safe and could get the train "in on the advertised" were allowed to operate passenger trains; in June 1915, Piggy had proven his worth and was cleared to operate the passenger trains out of Wheeling. Nineteen years later and at the age of 49, he gave up the passenger runs for less strenuous duty as a road engineer. One year later, in 1934, he was reduced to yard engineer and spent the next six years moving cars around Benwood Yard. He retired in September 1940 and died in 1951.

Then there was the record of Forrest Welsh, my first cousin twice removed and for whom my eldest son is named. His only had three entries: 3-9-37: Freight brakeman; 10-10-41: Leave of absence for military service; 7-27-44: Deceased. (At the age of 28, Forrest died of wounds he sustained on July 25, 1944, near St. Lo, France, while serving with the 15th Combat Engineers Battalion, 9th Infantry Division.)

Of course, as excited I was about gaining some insight about my ancestors, I treasured the time that I spent with my father who traveled to D.C. via Amtrak in order to go with me on this search. The hours we spent reviewing our ancestors' employee records generated other stories from my father. Stories that I will be able to pass along to my children and my children's children.