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Finding Working Ancestors


Charity ward Guys Hospital

Charity ward Guys Hospital

One of the most important aspects about your ancestors that you really need to locate and verify are the jobs, businesses or occupation they had in their lives. Typically, for most relatives it was the same type of job they had their whole life, but many did change jobs through the lives, especially if they moved. My grandfather, a native of Manchester, England worked in a textile factory in 1900. Between 1905-1912 he worked as an oyster dealer. After bring his family to America in 1914, he worked for years in Massachusetts shoe factories as a finisher wood heel worker and then a foreman.

So how do you find the occupations held by your ancestors? The governmental (national or state level) censuses are a good start. Of course, those every ten years, there might have been job changes. Each source you find, document the month and year for that relative’s occupation. Don’t be surprised with the occupation listed as ‘laborer’, that was quite common. It could refer to a farm laborer, a factory laborer, a mine laborer, or a ditch digger, any number of positions. So other sources are needed.

Locate all military records and service pensions. Especially the U. S. World War One draft registrations have an exact date when filled out between 1917 and 1918, so listing what their job and place of employment was located. Believe it or not because all men between birth years 1872 to 1900 had to complete the WW I draft registration in the United States, that included men serving prison time in local jails or state / federal prisons.  occup-blacksmith- 1890s

To locate occupations in between the ten year censuses, find all city or county directories for where an ancestor lived, which came out yearly. This is especially helpful if your ancestor owned a business, they may have placed an advertisement in the directory with many details, like how long they owned the business.

Obituaries can have a wealth of information on the occupations or businesses an individual had, but usually it will be more recent or later years that are covered. When that ancestor was in their 20s, their job then might not be listed in an obituary. Compare that information with what is listed in cemetery books of where the ancestor was buried. Look for cemetery deeds, plot records, burial permits and gravestone inscriptions at the cemetery, many times occupations are listed there.

If your ancestor was a professional: a medical doctor, dentist, attorney, architect, there might be professional organizations for that occupation in the state they lived which might have information on your ancestor. This is especially true with medical doctors.

occup-nanny 1890sSee if anyone in the family has a diary or journal written by the ancestor you are researching. References to their work could be there. Plus make sure to interview older living relatives, they might be able to steer you in a specific direction to an ancestor’s occupation.

Photos: Medical doctors in a hospital in 1880; blacksmiths in 1890s, and a nanny caring for a child in 1890s.

Related genealogical blogs:

Abbreviations of Occupations

That’s an Occupation?


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