Friday, September 9, 2016

Ten Ways To Find Your Ancestor's Occupation

How do you find what your ancestor’s occupation was?

1-    Census Records
How often have you paid attention to the occupation line on a census record? For many of us we’re going to find keeping house, farmer, laborer and such repeatedly. However, even these can indicate something about our ancestors. The girl listed as keeping house has likely completed her schooling and will be marrying in the next few years. The laborer is somebody just starting out. Does it mention farm or an indication of another career he will be entering? Also, often in rural areas an occupation will be listed for somebody that works partly as a farmer and partly as something else. Don’t overlook this obvious source!
2-    City or Rural Directories
We often think of city directories as they list the person’s occupation and who they work for. You can discover not only the occupation, but also their associates this way. However, did you know that some areas produced rural directories at various times as well? Although often not every year like a city directory, these will list people in rural areas, both farmland and small communities, just like the city directories do.
3-    Wills and probate
Occasionally a will might list a person’s occupation. More often than not, though you have to read between the lines to determine what their occupation was. Look through the entire probate packet, paying special attention to inventories and any property that is disposed of. Did they have a lot of acres? That could be indicative of a farmer. What items are listed on an inventory? Can any of them be associated closely with a particular occupation or are there people owed or who owe the deceased money? Determine what these have groups have in common and you can discover indirect evidence of your ancestor’s occupation!
4-    Compiled genealogies and biographies
Many times in a genealogy or a biography about your ancestor, the occupation is a prominent part of their story. Don’t forget that many of the county and local histories published in the latter part of the 1800s contained many biographies of not only the leading citizens, but also anyone who was willing to subscribe to their publication!
5-    Directories of occupations
Sometimes you can find a list of people that followed a certain profession or in earlier times, there were often apprenticeship records.
6-    Obituaries     
An obituary is like a mini biography of the deceased person. This is a place where I find many people’s occupations that I hadn’t known about or was uncertain of before then.
7-    Cemeteries
Did they have something carved on their stone that might represent a given occupation? Occasionally a cemetery record might list an occupation of the person to differentiate people with the same name. I’ve never actually seen this, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.
8-    Draft registration cards
When registering for the draft in WWI and WWII the cards asked for your usual place of employment.
9-    Marriage records
Some, not all marriage records have a place to record the groom and bride’s occupations.
Beyond the obvious listings, look for advertisements that your ancestor might have placed for their business. Look at police articles. I once found one where my father complained of getting flat tires on his delivery truck due to kids throwing glass bottles into the road and shattering them. If I hadn’t already known he delivered fuel oil, I would have found that and an idea of one area of his territory from that article. If you can’t do a search on a name, scan all articles in a newspaper, as you never know what they might have been up to!

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