One of the ways we can make our ancestors come to life is by identifying their occupations. There are a number of different ways you can find this information. One of the first sources that come to mind is directories, which often list occupations as well as addresses. Here are a few sources that perhaps you haven’t thought of, or that you might think of using in a different way.
1. Probate Records
Yes, when a person’s estate is entered into probate, the record usually records the occupation and place of residence with the name of the deceased. But sometimes it does not. And even if it does, you can still find more details about his occupation by examining the full record. Most especially, look for the inventory of the estate. The inventory will usually list all possessions, including those used for following one’s occupation. Examining the list of tools can help you to determine your ancestor’s occupation. You might even be able to discover more specifically what trade it was. For example, you might know what an ancestor was a smith, but was he a blacksmith, whitesmith, or goldsmith? Examining the tools may help you determine this.
2. Land Records
Once again, a person’s occupation is often listed at the start of the document. But other clues can lurk in land records. For example, look at the property being purchased. Is it farmland? Is it meadow that might be used to feed livestock? Are they are buildings on it? What types of buildings? Farms? Tenements? A forge? All of these can provide clues to the occupation of your ancestor.
3. Assessor’s Records
Tax records are a huge boon for genealogists, and very underutilized in many areas. Not only can they put an ancestor on the ground in a particular place and time, they can tell you a great deal more about the ancestor’s life. By looking at what types of taxes are being paid, you can often get clues to an ancestor’s occupation. Taxes for large amounts of livestock, for example, could be a clue that the ancestor was a farmer. Or there might be taxes for different kinds of manufactures.
4. Association/Organization Records
Many social organizations were created by members of professions. Members practiced the same, or similar occupations. Determining what organizations your ancestor belonged to may help you determine what occupation they followed. For example, The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (commonly called “The Grange”) is a fraternal organization promoting “the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.” An ancestor who was a member of the Grange might have been a farmer, or any of a number of occupations involved in agriculture.
5. Local Histories
Many local histories mention any number of people involved in particular occupations. The odds are even greater of a mention if your ancestor was the sole practitioner of an occupation in the town where he lived, such as the village blacksmith. They are also a wonderful source for identifying the associations and organizations mentioned above that formed in the area where your ancestor lived.