Occupations

As far back as I’ve yet been able to discover, my ancestors were rural farmers like most of their neighbors, whether they lived in the Mid-Atlantic, the South, or the Midwest. Among that set, I’ve yet to find their occupations a useful tool in solving any of my research problems. When I research other people’s ancestors, especially in urban areas, it’s a very different experience.

Andrew Allen, bird cage maker, lived in New York City from at least 1812, when he married Maria Lasher, until 1842, when he bought land and moved to Suffolk County. With an occupation that unusual, I was confident that it would be easy to differentiate the subject Andrew Allen from other NYC men of the same name and time period. I was seriously mistaken.

By collecting and comparing dozens of records, including city directories that linked occupations with residential and business addresses, I discovered that the subject Andrew Allen had not only been a bird cage maker. He had also been a hairdresser/barber and a lamplighter, occupations so different from bird cage maker that I initially considered them differentiators, evidence that they referred to three different men. The combined records, however, proved otherwise. Complicating matters, I then discovered that not all references to Andrew Allen, hairdresser/barber, applied to the subject Andrew Allen. An 1816 city jury census was critical in differentiating the two.

Finding myself steeped for a time in the subject of occupations, I began to think more deeply about the topic. The NGSQ Archives via the NGSQ Archives Index is an excellent resource for further exploration.

NGSQ articles include Helen Hinchliff’s “Job Davidson, Cooper in Baltimore, Maryland, and His Long Lost Descendants in Ohio and Indiana: Using Occupation and Birthplace as Census Finding Aids.”[1] Job Davidson’s children were born and raised in Baltimore before they disappeared from the area after 1814. Searching subsequent censuses and other records for both Davidson (with several spelling variations) and the occupation of cooper (a family trade) ultimately revealed forty-two previously unknown descendants down to the fifth generation, who had migrated westward to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and California.

Looking for a deep-dive into a particular occupation? NGSQ articles include Pamela S. Eagleson’s “The Art, Trade, and Mystery of a Mariner: Captain William Greenway of Philadelphia, Mariner and Patriot.”[2] Even if your ancestor was not a mariner, articles like this give clues as to how to conduct similar research in other occupations and how to use that research to enrich your family history.

How about exploring the less obvious ways in which occupations impacted your ancestors? NGSQ articles include Charles E. Healy’s “Ancestral Occupations and the Impact of the Workplace on Daily Life: An Application of the Science of Toxicology.”[3]

In some instances, you’ll find NGSQ abstracts of actual occupational records like these:

Elizabeth T. Clough’s “Bourbon County, Kentucky, Apprentice Bonds, 1788–1914.”[4]

Susan C. Eades and Elizabeth T. Clough’s “Nicolas County, Kentucky, Apprentice Bonds.”[5]

Kenneth Scott’s “New York City Apprentices, 1686–1804,” “New York City Apprentices, 1792–1794,” and “New York City Apprentices, 1797–1801.”[6]

In other instances, you might find an exploration of particular occupational resources, as with Chad R. Millner’s “Sources of Biographical Information on Past Lawyers.”[7]

And that’s not all. NGS Conferences can also lend a helping hand. This year’s conference in Grand Rapids features a rich “Occupations” track of eight different lectures:

Yeast, Grain, Hops, and Water: the Impact of Beer in American History
Jen Baldwin, Wednesday, May 2, 11:00 AM
Beer traveled with our ancestors and made a significant impact on the culture and economy of our country. Explore the stories and the records from this industry.

English Occupation and Guild Records
Paul Milner, Wednesday, May 2, 2:30 PM
Put your ancestor in historical context through their work by understanding apprenticeship, freeman, and guild records.

Digging for Gold: Locating British Miners and Their Records
Paul Milner, Wednesday, May 2, 4:00 PM
Learn about your British hard rock and coal miners, the records they created, where to locate them, and how to put them into social context.

From Nails to Plows: Blacksmiths and Their Contributions to Midwestern Development
Annette Burke Lyttle, Thursday, May 3, 8:00 AM
Blacksmiths were found in most communities. They produced items from nails to plows. Learn about their work and the factors affecting their livelihood.

Grinding Out a Living: Millers and Millwrights
Lori Thornton, Thursday, May 3, 9:30 AM
Millers and millwrights provided valuable services to the community. Learn about the occupation and these men as we explored records and resources.

Reconstructing the Lives of Your Farming Ancestors
Annette Burke Lyttle, Thursday, May 3, 11:00 AM
What was daily life like for our farming ancestors? Learn how to use social history resources to answer that question in the Upper Midwest.

Riding the Rails with Railroad Men
Patricia Walls Stamm, Thursday, May 3, 2:30 PM
Railroads in your family history? There are diverse records available for railroad employees and the lines they served.

Men at Work: Occupational Records
Rorey Cathcart, Thursday, May 3, 4:00 PM
Men and women worked hard in farms, mines, factories, hospitals, schools, and countless other places. Occupations offer their own sets of records to explore.

Depending on the facet of occupational research you’re interested in, your NGS membership gives you access to many resources that may prove useful.

[1] Helen Hinchliff, “Job Davidson, Cooper in Baltimore, Maryland, and His Long Lost Descendants in Ohio and Indiana: Using Occupation and Birthplace as Census Finding Aids,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (June 2006): 85–100; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[2] Pamela S. Eagleson, “The Art, Trade, and Mystery of a Mariner: Captain William Greenway of Philadelphia, Mariner and Patriot,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 92 (Dec. 2004): 285–300; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[3] Charles E. Healy, “Ancestral Occupations and the Impact of the Workplace on Daily Life: An Application of the Science of Toxicology,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (Mar. 2001): 6–15; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[4] Elizabeth T. Clough, “Bourbon County, Kentucky, Apprentice Bonds, 1788–1914,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 60 (June 1972): 108–112; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[5] Susan C. Eades and Elizabeth T. Clough, “Nicolas County, Kentucky, Apprentice Bonds,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 67 (Sep. 1979): 177–181; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[6] Kenneth Scott, “New York City Apprentices, 1686–1804,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 71 (Mar. 1983): 13–24; “New York City Apprentices, 1792–1794,” NGSQ 72 (Sep. 1984): 193–198; “New York City Apprentices, 1797–1801,” NGSQ 72 (Dec. 1984): 261–264; PDFs, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

[7] Chad R. Millner, “Sources of Biographical Information on Past Lawyers,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (June 2001): 147–148; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 19 Mar. 2018).

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  1. April 8, 2018 4:09 pm

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