Labor unions, the very institutions that were founded on a desire of better working conditions for the workingman and whose activism spurred the institution of the holiday we all enjoy, can hold realms of archives important for genealogists.
Though the identity of the true founder of Labor Day has never been discerned, the evolution of labor unions certainly gave bloom to the holiday's creation. It was spun out of the Labor Movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.
And it is important to gain awareness of why labor unions were created and the history surrounding its beginnings. A workingman's life was much different in the late 1800's than ours is today. While we are fortunate to enjoy forty-hour work weeks, eight-hour a day jobs and paid vacations, our ancestors average work day during the height of the Industrial Revolution meant twelve-hour days, seven days a week, just to eke out a paltry living.
Our ancestors worked in mines, factories and mills that were unsafe, most lacking access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks. Our grandfathers and great grandfather's lives were literally placed at risk just by going to work everyday.
So they became unified in their desire for improved working conditions and wages and labor unions were formed, thus improving the workingman's lives, their families' lives and eventually our lives.
Many labor unions have preserved volumes of records, some of which may contain relevant information for genealogical purposes. It is not a source we immediately consider but as I have learned, almost any type of archived record of an ancestor can be useful in genealogy.
If you are uncertain of your ancestor's labor union membership, consider their trade if known and then research for the appropriate chapter of a union in their state of residence.
If your ancestor was active in one of the twentieth century trade or labor unions, the Archives of Labor at Wayne State University in Detroit, may hold information on him. There you can find the record holdings of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Union of Farm Workers and Industrial Workers of the World, to name a few.
Other sources to explore are the United Mine Workers, Teamsters, United Automobile Workers and International Ladies Garment Workers. And if you are not confident of you grandfather and great grandfather's trade, explore the 1930 and 1940 US Census for clues.
As genealogy grows, so do our resources and with every turn, new avenues for research are discovered. And just imagine the possibilities if you discover your great grandfather's records within his labor union archives.
It will be another great source to explore and an even better story to retell.
Keep searching for answers,
(Source: Ancestry.com Wiki Index)