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First Monday in September

The Cleveland Public Library.

The University of California at Berkeley.

The University of Kentucky.

The University of Montana.

The University of Texas at Arlington.

Columbia University.

The Meyer Library of Missouri State University.

The Widener Library at Harvard University.

Bowling Green State University.

Those are just a few of the archival repositories The Legal Genealogist might turn to today, on this first Monday in September.

Here in the United States, it’s is the first holiday of the fall:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the first Monday of September in each year, being the day celebrated and known as Labor’s Holiday, is hereby made a legal public holiday, to all intents and purposes …1

Today, we call it Labor Day — a day to celebrate the efforts of all those who came before us to give us amazing things like eight-hour work days, 40-hour weeks, paid vacations, employee health benefits, worker safety laws, compensation for on-the-job injuries and so many of the other myriad benefits we think of today as perfectly ordinary and routine.

Labor Day parade 1909

Each of these was fought for by our working ancestors and the unions they formed to stand up to big business. They fought for them, and sometimes died for them.

I think of my own German immigrant grandfather, trained as a locksmith, whose job opportunities in his new country dwindled as the Depression deepened, and who spent much of his working life in the steel mills of Illinois — hot, dirty, difficult labor.

Labor that undoubtedly contributed to his cancer death at the age of 54.

And labor that made it possible for his son to become an engineer, and his grandchildren doctors and lawyers and college professors and more.

So today, as genealogists, we can honor all those who worked so hard by researching the labor movement and, if we’re lucky, our own ancestors’ roles in it.

And a great place to start to find some of the repositories that hold labor-related materials is ArchiveGrid: “a discovery system focused on archival materials,” one that “includes over 7 million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. With over 1,400 archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.”2

That’s where those 10 institutions listed above showed up, just on the first page. The first 10 of 26,565 results returned from a keyword search for labor union. Put those words in quotes and you’ll get 4,561 results, including Cornell University’s Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and the amazing Labor Archives at the University of Washington and the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University.

There are vast resources for researchers interested in the nation’s labor history. Check out the union newspapers published over the years. The Duluth (Minn.) Labor World, for example, began publication in 1896;3 the New York Union and Trades Advocate began publishing around 1865.4 Information about these and many other union newspapers is available through the Library of Congress’ historic American newspaper collection Chronicling America.

At the site’s U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present, we can opt for only labor press newspapers in the “More search options” section at the bottom, and limit the results to just the publications that focused on the labor movement.

And the Library of Congress is the repository for the American Federation of Labor records, 1883-1925: 172,300 items, 354 containers. 90.3 linear feet, 341 microfilm reels.

Let’s spend some of our time this Labor Day holiday taking a closer look at those who ensured we could have this day to celebrate.

Image: “Labor Day parade, marchers, New York,” 1909, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Labor Day 2022,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 5 Sep 2022).


  1. “An Act Making Labor Day a legal holiday,” 28 Stat. 96 (28 June 1894).
  2. About ArchiveGrid,” ArchiveGrid ( : accessed 5 Sep 2022).
  3. See “About The labor world. (Duluth, Minn.) 1896-current,” Library of Congress, Chronicling America ( : accessed 5 Sep 2022).
  4. See ibid., “About The Union and trades advocate. (New York (N.Y.)) 1865-18??.
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