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Family tree - occupations

Updated on July 19, 2014

On-line research

When you begin researching your family tree you will probably find that branches of the tree follow the same occupation. Some would marry into other families of the same occupation as well. Back in time families lived near where they worked. The villages were full of people working at the same place. In the past this was the way it was. This can be so useful when tracing your tree, if you know where to look. Hopefully I can help with giving you what I have learnt and some links to sites that can inform you about your ancestor life. I have done a lot of research myself on coal miners and agricultural laborers which I have shared here. Also there is a link to the older names of our ancestors occupations .There are some very informative sites that will help you to understand your ancestors working life a lot more.

Coal mining

My mothers ancestors were coalminers, in fact, they seem to have a knack for digging holes. My granddad was a miner, then in his spare time a gardener. When he got to France in World War 2, He dug trenches. So he dug holes underground, in the ground, then through the ground. What he had against the ground I shall never know!

Coalmining was one of the most important occupations before and during the industrial revolution. Son followed father for generations down the mines. Villages and town soon grew around the pits. Often its worker endured terrible working conditions, while the mine owners grew rich and fat. Boys were used in thin seams where men could not go. Boys were used, for the most part as tuggers and pushers. Tubs of coal were pulled by boys who were harnessed to them. The harness was attached to the tub by a chain which went between the boys legs and attached to a hook on the tub An overseer compared the boys to horses whose necks were tender when first broken to the collar. Most of the boys said that it had once hurt them but that they were now fully fledged miners. Boys aged 10 and 11 were commonplace. It wasn’t until the Mines Act of 1842 that women and children under ten which banned from working in mines.

Though if your ancestor worked at the mines, they may have not been down the pit as several other industries grew up around mines.

Engine drivers were needed to drive the Tram hauling engine - an 'old fashioned steam engine' was used on the surface to haul trams (up to 8 at a time) up some of the steep underground inclines.

Saw Mills - men used saws to cut timber for propping up the roofs and walls and the Sawdust was used as bedding for the horses underground. Waste timber was used as firewood, old timber brought from underground is sawn and chopped and put into bundles and was sold by girls who hawked them in baskets from door to door.

Wicker basket workshop - the wicker baskets were fitted out very much like a sleigh with a 'smooth semi-circular steel arrangement'. The baskets were used by boys in seams which were too narrow for trams to enter. When full, each basket would contain 1cwt of coal

Smithy - attend to the steam engines which were many and used above and below ground, look after tram rails, making and sharpening the miner’s tools, make the cages and ironwork for the underground doors, etc.

Agricultural workers

On my fathers side of my tree there were two distinct branches, one was military the other agricultural laborers. So if it moved basically they shot it.

When searching the census you might find under occupation the words Ag Lab, this is short for agricultural worker.  This title can cover many jobs, shepherds, fishermen, market gardeners, ploughman, game keep and many more.  So you will have to delve deeper. The location your ancestor lived will help and so will a map of the area at the time your ancestor lived.  Look to the local farm or country estates and see if they have any records on line. You might find mention of smaller tenant farmers in estate records, manorial documents and land tax records. The seasonal workers tend not to leave many traces in records, other than census returns, At the busy times of the year casual labour was employed particularly at hay and corn harvest and on threshing days they  and had no guarantee on a job if the farm fell on hard times.  Negotiation of wages varied. Casual workers hired at fairs slept in out buildings. The day began at 4 -5 am getting the horses ready it was a hard life and many, when they became old or to ill to work ended up in the workhouse, or asking the parish for poor relief. It was due to the harsh lives of agricultural workers that 6 men from Tolpuddle in Devon tried to form a trade union to help improve their working conditions.


Ancestors in the cloth industries

There were so many job titles linked in some way to the cloth industry.  I remember feeling I’d found something special when an ancestor of mine was listed as a fuller. ‘A fuller,’ I thought. I had convinced myself it was something to do with brewing. Wrong! After scouring the web I found this definition- One who "fulls" cloth; the process of cleaning (removing the natural oils and lanolin) wool in preparation for spinning and weaving, using fuller's earth. In medieval times, this involved treading the cloth in stale urine for some 8 hours. Great, still if I had looked at where this relative lived, by a river dotted with mills I could have saved myself hours of searching. This is when using Google earth can save time.

Besides the Fuller here are some of the other occupations linked to cloth and clothes making you might come across in your research.

Cordwainer.... Shoemaker

Hatcheler.... One who combed out or carded flax

Kempster .... Wool comber

Lederer .... Leather maker

Schumacker .... Shoemaker

Slopseller .... Seller of ready-made clothes in a slop shop

Snobscat/Snob .... One who repaired shoes

Sorter .... Tailor

Tanner .... One who tans (cures) animal hides into leather

Tucker .... Cleaner of cloth goods

Webster .... Operator of looms

Whitster .... Bleacher of cloth


The publican in the past

In olden times the public house was literally that, a house that the public used. Most of our ancestors were poor, so the public house was used by the local community to gather and save lighting and heating their own homes.  Everything happened in the public house. The post was distributed from there, friendly societies set up, autopsy could be preformed, courts held there by travelling judges and even hangings. The community could also show it’s allegiances by the signs they displayed outside their public houses.  Most public houses had a blacksmith attached and stables. So if you have a publican in the family there should be some record of where the pub was. If it no longer exists then the links below will help you track it down. Of course a host of other occupations were linked to the public house and the brewing industry.

ALE-CONNER / ALE FOUNDER - official who tested quality and measure of ale served in public houses

ALE DRAPER - seller of ale

TASTER - tested ale and beer for quality forerunner of the Inspector for Weights & Measures

ALE TUNNER - employed by the brewery to fill ale casks with ale

ALEWIFE - woman who keeps an alehouse or tavern

BLUFFER - innkeeper or landlord of a pub

CELLARMAN - looked after the beer, wines and spirits in public houses

CONNER - inspector or tester

COOPER or CUPER - maker of barrels

ENDHOLDERNN - inn keeper

GANNEKER - tavern keeper

HOSTELLER – innkeeper

HUSH SHOP KEEPER - brewed and sold beer without a license

PIPER – innkeeper

RECTIFIER - one who distilled alcoholic spirits

SKINKER - tapster in an ale house

TAPLEY - One who puts the tap in an ale cask

TAPSTER - bartender or barmaid

TAVERNER – innkeeper

TIPPLER - kept an ale house

TUBBER - one who made tubs and barrels

VINTAGER / VINEROON - grape farmer, wine maker

VINTNER / VINTER - wine merchant


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    • jayjay40 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Bristol England

      Thanks JaneA for commenting, I also think surnames are fascinating it's great to research a name and find it's origins.

    • JaneA profile image


      8 years ago from California

      Great hub - thank you. Fascinating how many surnames we recognize in all these old occupations. E.g. the man who used to run the public pool in my hometown in Australia was called "Taverner" - I guess I should have figured it out but now I know why!

    • jayjay40 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Bristol England

      Hi There World Traveler,

      The textile industry, in the past and in the present, has been tough for the people at the bottom. I had relatives who worked in glove making in the 1800's who all died young in the workhouse. It is hard to believe these things are still happening. Progress- I don't think so- Thanks for the comment

    • World-Traveler profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Hello Jayjay40,

      Thanks for the information you provided. I have seen women working a hundred at a time in industrial sewing factories in Asia and Costa Rica. The same repetitive motions thousands of times a day as they sew precut textiles into shirts,jeans, and formal suits for business until their tendons give up and they burn-out.

    • jayjay40 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Bristol England

      Thanks for the comment,prasetio30. There is no need to spend a lot of money when researching your family tree, there are lots of free sites on-line

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      nice information. With many collapse company and many people become unemployment, this hub is very useful for us. Thanks

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi mate I am new to hubbing I was wondering how you get your hubpages on google. If I put my link on google it comes up however if I use my other computer just to check the words Radstock-Somerset it does not come up on a search. I have added my site to facebook, stumbleupon and digg. Your hub pages are very interesting mate will you take a look at mine. Thanks John

    • jayjay40 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Bristol England

      Its funny how things work out, my grandad was a miner, yet me and my mum both suffer with clostro-clostra- A fear of enclosed spaces-LOL at my spelling

    • 2patricias profile image


      9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Pat had 2 great-grandfathers (one on mother's side, other on father's) who were licensed to captain ocean going vessels. Funny thing is, Pat gets seasick.

      Tricia is a sailor (she wrote out hub on dinghy sailing) and all of her ancestors had land based trades.

      This is an interesting hub, thanks.

    • jayjay40 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Bristol England

      Thanks Hello, hello and janiek13 for your comments. I think I would be a good taster as well. I liked the idea of being a Tubber as well

    • janiek13 profile image

      Mary Krenz 

      9 years ago from Florida's Space Coast

      Very interesting hub, It's funny, we think we work hard now. I think I could be a taster...

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      That was interesting and I am sure help to many people. Thank you.


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