United States Occupation Record Terminology (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Occupational Records  by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


The definition for a word or the meaning of a slang term can and does change over the years and decades. These subtle changes can affect the meaning of a word and miss-direct you in determining an occupation of an individual.

Robert Goodson and his son Albert were listed on the 1910 U.S. Census, Choctaw County, Oklahoma, population schedule, Ratliff Township, Enumeration district 67, supervisor’s district 4, sheet 11B; National Archives micropublication T624, 1247, as “Tie Makers.”

  • What would be the definition of a"Tie Maker"?

In this case the two men had a manual laborer’s job for the railroad. The men were making wooden ties for other railroad tracks, not working in a factory that produced men’s clothing accessories.

There are many books and Internet sites that will help you determine the definition of a word or an occupation. Cyndi’s List has many click sites under “Dictionaries and Glossaries” and “Occupations.” This site also lists several different books on the subject of occupations. I have found the Internet most helpful in most cases for this purpose.

Another source for definitions is the use of a Google search or any other search engine. Type the word and search. See what comes up. Sometimes it is the best definition of all.

The most simple statement to make is DO NOT PROCEED UNTIL YOU HAVE THE DEFINITION CORRECT. Not having the correct definition can only lead you in the wrong direction.

What was it called in the “Old Country”?

As important as it is to determine the change in meaning from one decade to another, it is important to know the definitions from one country to another.

Skills learned in the‘Old Country” were carried over after immigration to the United States.

A search of websites located the following for the German occupation of farmer:

OLD GERMAN PROFESSIONS, OCCUPATIONS and ILLNESSES translated from German into English language (courtesy of Oliver Weiss)

  • Achtelbauer - farmer on 1/8 of a full-sized farm
  • Achtelhufner - farmer on 1/8 of a full-sized farm
  • Achtermann - farmer on farm behind one’s own
  • Ackerbauer - farmer; tiller of the soil
  • Ackerbuerger - citizen farmer
  • Ackerer - farmer; tiller of the soil
  • Ackerknecht - farmhand
  • Ackersmann - farmer; tiller of the soil
  • Ackerwirt(h) - farmer; tiller of the soil

This one example clearly expresses the need to understand the word, the language and its meaning.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.