Your Ancestors Did What for a Living??



DoctorThat can be the immediate response when someone learns your great grandfather was an ‘amanuensis’ or a ‘colporteur.’  There are numerous occupations our ancestors did that had some strange and unusual names.  Many of those jobs do not even exist anymore.

The ‘amanuensis’ is what a secretary was referred to as a profession.  The term ‘colporteur’ was someone who sold books.  Using the occupational list on USGenWeb can help the researcher have a better understanding of how a relative made a living.

Some other examples include

Gaoler – a jailer


Duffer – a salesman


Thatcher – a person who constructs a roof


Lavender – a wash woman, one to did the laundry


Whitewing – a person who cleans the streets


Peruker – a wig maker

Some of these terms for occupations even became a person’s surname eventually.  Very common surnames coming from a livelihood are:

Hooper — a person who made the hoops to go around barrels


Baxter — is a baker of food goods


Sawyer — a carpenter


Crocker — is a potter of jugs


Porter — is the keeper of the door


Turner — a person who spins wood on a lathe


Hacker — a person who can make farm hoes


Brewster — a person who manufactures beer

Many of these unusual names for jobs for an ancestor might be listed on a census record, a newspaper article, a family diary, a marriage record, an obituary, a property deed or a Will. In your research, be on the look out for such job titles or references.

It is quite intriguing to explore some of these different job names, even if your ancestors never held that job. For instance, the term ‘bluestocking’ referred to a woman writer or author. How did that come about? Well, there was a social society formed in the 1750s in England called the Blue Stocking Society to encourage female writers as well as having literacy discussions for its members.  All the members and guest speakers wore blue worsted stockings, rather than the richer silk black stockings of the day.

However, some things never change.  Today in the 21st century there are some new unusual job titles being used such as;  ‘Director Of Outgoing File Unification Services,’  ‘Concrete Vibrator Operator,’  ‘Chief Morale Officer,’  ‘Derma-pigmentation Technician,’ or ‘Sustainability Advocate.’

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