Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What Was Your Ancestor's Occupation?

by Heather Murphy

This week we were playing a family history game as a family and my son had to answer the question, "What occupation did one of your ancestors have?"  He had trouble thinking of an answer right away, not realizing his grandparents count as ancestors, but he knew at least one place where he could look to find occupations for ancestors he has never met.

There are several places to find what occupation helped ancestors provide for their families.  Census records exist in many countries and often include occupations.  Other sources include city directories and local histories.  While knowing your ancestors' occupations can help you know what their life was like, that information can also help you know if you have found the right person in your record searches.  If you come across a situation in which you find two people with similar names, dates, and places sometimes their occupation can help you determine which one is the "right" one.  Additionally, some occupations can lead to additional record groups, such as railroad employment or retirement records or school catalogs or yearbooks for teachers.

Sometimes the records may list occupation titles you don't recognize.  In other situations, the meaning of a job title may have changed over time.  For instance, the job of "fireman" did not necessarily mean someone who puts out fires.  It also was the job description of someone responsible for keeping the fire going in steam engines, such as for trains and steam boats.

Here are some websites that can help you determine what an occupational title meant:

Dictionary of Old Occupations: A-Z Index by Family Tree Researcher

World Through the Lens - Obscure Old English Census Occupations

London 1891 Census Transcription Blog - Victorian Occupations

Has knowing the occupation of your ancestor helped you in your research?

What interesting discoveries have you made about how your ancestors supported their families?