- 1 What was my ancestor's occupation?
- 2 Trades
- 3 Professionals
- 4 Government employees and officeholders
- 5 Definitions and Histories of Occupations
- 6 Related articles
What was my ancestor's occupation?
If you know:
- the person's name
- the geographical area where they worked
- a date range to focus your search
then there are several useful places to start searching for your ancestor's occupation:
- Census records. The decennial census recorded the occupation of those enumerated. From 1851 trades could be listed in the census in order of importance if a person had more than one source of income. For more information on using census records, see: England Census.
- Vital Records. Parish records of baptisms and marriages usually record the occupation of the father of the child in the case of a baptism and the occupations of the parties and their fathers in the case of a marriage. Parish records of burials less often record the occupation of the deceased. Civil registration of births, deaths and marriages will contain the occupation of the father in the case of a birth, the deceased in the case of a death (sometimes also that of the father) and, in respect of marriages, the occupations of the parties and their fathers. For more information on using these records, see: England Vital Records.
- Directories. From the 18th century, variously styled publications began being produced which contained alphabetical lists of persons, their trades and addresses. In the 1840s, street directories began to appear which included among its listings the occupation of the householder. Post Office officials began publishing their local Post Office Directory. For more guidance on using trade and other directories, see: Directories in England and Wales.
Other possible sources for your ancestor's occupation include migration records, passenger lists, naturalisation records, wills and probate records, land and property records, military records which will also record the occupation on enlistment, and newspaper reports.
To learn a trade, an individual had to be apprenticed. Records were usually created of the agreement between the master (the one doing the teaching) and the person (father, guardian) or the organization (parish) placing the apprentice.
A child could be apprenticed by his father or by the parish council if the child was an orphan or a pauper. A person was apprenticed between the ages of 7 and 18 years. An indenture was a legal agreement that bound the apprentice to serve a number of years, usually 7. Indentures usually contain the names of the apprentice and the master, the master’s trade and residence, the terms of apprenticeship, and sometimes the name, occupation, and residence of the apprentice’s father.
After learning the trade, the apprentice became a journeyman. A journeyman was an employee who received wages.
Master was the level after journeyman. A master was the most skilled craftsman.
Between 1710 and 1811 a tax was assessed on the masters of the many who were apprenticed. For more information about these tax records, see the Taxation topic page.
Apprenticeship books of Great Britain: Inland Revenue, town registers, Oct. 1711-Jan. 1811 and country registers, May 1710-Sept. 1808; and indexes to apprentices, 1710-1774 and indexes to masters, 1710-1762 See the following:
- Online index 1710-1774
British Origins has put up on their website the index to these apprenticeship records 1710-1774. [British Origins]
- The National Archives provides downloadable PDFs for these records for free. You do have to register, but once that is done, you can choose the files you want and download them to your own computer. Once that is done, you can search them page by page.
- The Family History Library
These records are on microfilm at The Family History Library at the following link ]
Often the craftsmen of the same trade banded together to regulate trade and protect their members’ interests. The organization they formed was a guild. Those belonging to the guild were given special privileges, such as voting, and were called freemen. In a city a freeman was also called a citizen. In a town or rural area, he was called a burgess.
The city livery companies developed from the craft guilds of the 12th to the 15th centuries. The word livery originally referred to the distinctive uniform granted to each company. It now also denotes a company’s collective membership.
Guild records contain lists of members, information on journeymen practicing in the town, and advancements from the rank of apprentice to journeyman and from journeyman to master. Contracts between masters and parents of apprentices may also be included.
Freemen records are more useful than apprenticeship records because they usually give ages, birthplaces, parentage, and occupations.
Guild records are usually among city or borough records or in the possession of the modern guild. Many are in London at the Guildhall Library. Chapter 14 in the following book explains guild records:
- A Guide to Genealogical Sources in Guildhall Library. Second Revised Edition. London, England: Corporation of London, 1981. (FHL book 942.1/L1 A3g 1981. BYU Harold B Lee Library book CS 414 .G84x 1988.)
Freemen and apprenticeship records are usually at the county record offices.
Many of the London Guild records have been indexed and are available:
London Guild Records Indexes Online
British Origins has an index of just under 500,000 names a this link for [London Apprentices 1442-1850]
The Family History Library Indexes and Records of London
The London Livery Company Apprenticeship Registers are in book form and indexes ]
The Family History Library has a good collection of books on the histories of occupations and guilds. The Family History Library has a very good collection of the London Guild Records on microfilm. ]
In early use, the term "profession" was limited to the law, the established Church, and medicine (these three often called the "learned professions") and sometimes extended to the military profession. Training was undertaken, not through apprenticeship, but at schools, colleges and universities, although the solicitors' branch of the law was subject to a special form of apprenticeship called 'articles' undertaken by articled clerks.
Members of the did not join guilds; they had their own associations, disciplinary bodies and publications. For details see:
- Doctors: Physicians, Surgeons, Dentists and Apothecaries in England
- Lawyers in England and Wales
- Clergy of Church of England (in England)
Government employees and officeholders
Records of persons employed in various occupations by the government have survived in various archives. They are usually organised by employer rather than occupation. Details of officeholders have also been complied.
- The Coastguard and Custom and Excise Officers:
- The Coastguard The National Archives Research Guide
- Looking for records of a Customs officer The National Archives finding guide
- Looking for records of an Excise or Inland Revenue officer The National Archives finding guide
- Office-Holders in Modern Britain
Definitions and Histories of Occupations
- General Register Office. Classification of Occupations, 1960. London, England: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1960. (Family History Library book Q 942 U2gr.)
- An online list is available on Rootsweb.ancestry.com
Definitions of occupations are given in Sir James A. H. Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary. (See England Language and Languages.)
Occupational histories, records, and related items are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - OCCUPATIONS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - OCCUPATIONS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH or CITY] - OCCUPATIONS