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30 August 2014

Hopping on a Train?

How easy was it for your ancestor to hop on a train to get to the next county, state, etc.? Before automobiles and highways were the preferred method of transportation, it may have been easier than you think for your ancestor to take the train to the next county to marry, look for work, escape from creditors, etc.


  1. I did that for a 2x great-grandfather who had changed his name. He signed loan papers in Vincennes, Indiana, using his 'DeBuisseret' surname two days before he and his wife (they may have been married civilly in Belgium) were married in the Catholic Cathedral at St Louis, Missouri, in late Jan 1856. There he used his real name Englebert, named his parents and as his wife name her parents, who I had independantly proven, then my ancestor was proven to be the Englebert I found in Belgium. But could they get to St Louis within a day? Turns out the railroad was completed between Vincennes and the east bank of the Mississippi River by 4 July 1855. That may have been early enough for them to have taken the train to Vincennes as well as their first record in Knox County, Indiana, was on 30 July 1855 - if they entered the US at New Orleans and took a riverboat north to St Louis. An aspect of the family story that he first thought of taking up as a lawyer in St Louis (though he had been accused of fraud as Camille Englebert in Belgium) might be one one clue that they did come to Vincennnes via St Louis.

    But then while he did not lie about some things - he was an attorney and he did see to it that his two sisters were given their mother's inheritance before he left for America (but then the notorial act he created was ruled to be fraudulent) - he lied about others, such as his surname, Buisseret, and his origin, claiming he was from Paris, France (instead of Glimes, Belgium). Even his wife continued the lie to her death in 1903, a full 30 years after his death. One has to find evidence to determine what one should believe about your ancestor. Embellishment or downright lies may abound!

  2. My grandmother rode the train to high school in the next town, so yes, the trains were a very common mode of transportation that we sometimes forget about!

  3. My home village was born when the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley RR came through in the 1880's. I guess they had freight trains, but passenger trains ran from the very beginning. When my mother, her sisters and friends were young women in the 1920's, they could get on the south bound train and ride the 35 miles to the capitol city; walk up and down Capitol Street, shop, then ride on the train back home. The north bound route carried them 12 miles to the county seat. This was really progress for this rural area where there were few automobiles and the roads were all gravel. Passenger service was discontinued in the 1930's. Only freight trains were on the tracks after that. Amtrak uses that route today for the Chicago to New Orleans train.