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Genealogy - Occupations Of The Past

Updated on May 8, 2013
This was an advertisement my 2x great grandfather ran in several issues of the Flesherton Advance Newspaper in the 1880's
This was an advertisement my 2x great grandfather ran in several issues of the Flesherton Advance Newspaper in the 1880's | Source

It is important to make note of your ancestor’s occupation. Knowing what they did for a living can tell you so much about them and can act as a valuable tool. For example if you come across two individuals of the same name, knowing the occupation can help you distinguish between the two of them. Trades and businesses were often passed down to the next generation which could also help determine if two people had a connection.

Many times you come across an occupation that you might not recognize.

How many of these jobs have you heard of?

Purser,Tinsmith, Ale-draper,Soper, Keller, Fletcher or Clagger.

A Fletcher was a maker of arrows. A Fletching is the flight part of the arrow or dart and is usually made from feathers. A Clagger brushed knots out of woolen fleece and a Soper,made soap. The link below lists over 2000 old occupations. Some of these jobs still exist in some sort of way or another. Many of today's jobs are descendants of our ancestors trades

From old newspaper clipping
From old newspaper clipping | Source

How Do I Find Out What My Ancestor Did For A Living?

Census, Marriage,Ship and Passenger records,are the first place I check for occupations but there are many other sources.

  • City and Town Directories. - Local libraries usually hold old copies of these and many libraries have them scanned for online searching. I usually google the place name along with "genealogy directory". I have more luck finding records through Google than most sites lately.
  • Newspapers and Periodicals- If your ancestor had his own business, he may have advertised it in the local paper. Again, Libraries are the best source for this but many of the newspapers themselves are now scanning back issues for online searching. Don't forget to check the newspaper obituaries and social pages. My maternal grandmothers family was from Toronto and the Toronto Star's is a wonderful example of a newspaper database.
  • Unions and Job Related Organizations - This is a good source if your ancestor had a more common job such as a Railroad worker. For example,The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) maintains records for people who worked in the rail industry after 1936. Many current unions have an archive. You may be able to find past employee records through them.
  • Patents and Inventions - Maybe your ancestor invented something or designed products. Most countries have a database of Patents and inventions. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a database going back to 1790!
  • Military Records - Even if your ancestor did not enlist in the military they still might have worked for one.


Strange Occupations of The Past

A Knocker Up - Long before we had smartphones and alarm clocks to get us out of bed we had Knocker ups. This job involved knocking on windows with a light stick to wake up people in time for work. I wonder who woke up the knocker?

Whipping Boy – The job of a whipping boy was introduced to the English Court around the 15th century. Punishing a Prince was against the rules so they had “stunt doubles”. Boys who were usually well educated and of high birth, raised alongside of the Prince and took the punishments in place of the Prince. The theory behind this was that the Prince and the Whipping boy were hopefully best of friends and that the Prince would behave to avoid seeing his friend punished.

Funeral Clown - The job of a funeral clown is believed to have originated in Ancient Rome. The main part of this job was dressing up as the deceased, imitating their gestures and expressions while bringing joy to friends and family. It was believed that this comforted the spirit of the dead


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    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Very interesting hub! Loved the occupation link! Voted Up!

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

      cool, he finally went legit... plumbing. but he was a flinty old irishman (sometimes the irish think they are too good for rules lol)

    • coolenconnections profile image

      Suzanne Coolen 5 years ago from Toronto

      Thank Shea! Wow, A bootlegger? I bet he had interesting tales to tell!! I would love to read a hub on his adventures ;)

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

      Great hub. I'm actually creating a family tree right now and know that my great uncle was a railroad signal person, my great grand father owned a blacksmith shop, and my grandfather on my mother's side was a bootlegger. I'm having so much fun doing the research. thanks for the info.