Mapping our labor ancestors
It’s the first Monday in September.
Hard to believe, as always, that the summer is speeding to an end, kids are back in school, sunrises are later and sunsets earlier.
And that it’s the first holiday of the fall season here in the United States:
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.
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 her in the steel mills of Illinois — hot, dirty, difficult labor.
So… how to honor him and other ancestors like him on this Labor Day 2023?
Pull out the map.
This map — created by Conor Casey for the Labor Archives Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists. Its title says it all: Interactive Map of Labor Archives in the United States and Canada: A Directory.2 (Note: If that link doesn’t work, try this one or this one!)
Highlighting everything from Dalhousie University’s collection (manuscript material and photographs concentrating on Nova Scotia unions and local chapters of national and international unions) in the east to the Center for Labor Education & Research Labor History Archive at University of Hawai’i (contracts, union newsletters, books and pamphlets focusing on Hawai’i’s labor history) in the west, this tool can help us find the labor resources we need.
It works like any other Google map: there are pins on the map showing the repositories and zooming in lets us choose which repository we want to look at if there’s more than one in one location, like New York City or Minneapolis.
Clicking on any pin produces a description of that specific repository:
Here, I clicked on one of the pins — the one in Missouri — and the left hand column showed me it was the for the Ozarks Labor Union Archives at Missouri State University, gave me the web address and a full description of the holdings — including that it is the “Missouri’s leading repository of records documenting labor union history in the Ozarks. OLUA contains over 1,500 linear feet of records including union constitutions, bylaws, contracts, correspondence, financial records, dues books, grievances, and apprentice programs.”
Now… some of these listings are out of date. But that’s when we might want to head over to another cool resource that Casey created and put on the web: a listing called Labor Archives in the United States and Canada: A Directory, most recently updated by the Labor Archives Section of the Society of American Archivists in 2021.3
Resources we can use to find the repositories we need to begin to research our labor union ancestors.
Happy Labor Day.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Labor Day 2023,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 4 Sep 2023).
- “An Act Making Labor Day a legal holiday,” 28 Stat. 96 (28 June 1894). ↩
- Conor Casey, Interactive Map of Labor Archives in the United States and Canada: A Directory, Google Maps (https://mapsengine.google.com/ : accessed 4 Sep 2023). ↩
- “Labor Archives in the United States and Canada: A Directory,” Labor Archives Section, Society of American Archivists (https://www2.archivists.org/groups/labor-archives-section/ : accessed 4 Sep 2023). ↩