Question of the Week: Have you found any unusual occupations in your family tree?

+34 votes


Most of my family were farmers, but every now and then I find someone who stepped out of the farming box and did something a little different. Recently, I found a couple of sisters who were milliners. Last week I ran across a traveling musician. 

I'd love to hear about the unusual occupations you've found! 




*** Just a reminder: This isn't the best place to pick a best answer. :-) ***

in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (323k points)
retagged by Abby Glann
Had several ancestor who were writers of poems, plays, and books during the late 1890's through the early 1900's on the Isle of Man, which is located off the coast of England. However, my favorite was my grandfather's, we lived in a small town and he was the barber and mayor.
I recently found a 'carriage trimmer' in my tree.  My husband commented that even back then, people were looking for someone to pimp their ride!

I also have a number of Covenenter ministers, which was something entirely new to me when I started this research!
Night Scavenger

Tree Surgeon

Key Master to the Kings Wine Cellar
I was a butterfly farmer for five years in Connecticut. Met many interesting people in the Lepidoptera world and traveled to beautiful butterfly habitats.

Also taught in school systems as butterflies teach protection, habitat, conservation etc - also they don't bite or spread disease.
My Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother were in Vaudeville. He was also an Amusement Park Manager.
My 3rd Great Grandfather was part Executer of Samuel S. Seward's estate.
Direct descendants from King Louis VI on my dads side. Great great great great x many Grandfather  De Villiers marries  great great grea x many Grandmother Dreux ... its on the Grandmothers side (Her father)


From then on all grannies and grandads are kings and queens of here there and all over the show.  noble blood...But before that, they were into Wine farming -*the "younger" ancestors*- in South Africa.


Still pretty stoked to have found out.
My mother is a thoroughbred pedigree specialist and has researched thoroughbred pedigrees for over 30 years and wrote books on it.
i have just put in a relative john quintrell whose occupation in 1901 was a scavenger
I have a chief announcer r n pension so is that something to do with payroll or something in the royal navy
I have just come across a pig dealer :)

60 Answers

+18 votes
Hi Julie,

My grandfather was hired on occasion as a blentonist. He used a witching stick to know where wells should be dug for water. I have often wondered if it was because he was blinded during World War I and had learned to develop his other senses.

He's not in my tree, but I ran across his occupation when I was helping Susan Anderson with her tree and had to look it up to see what it was: Sanipractor. It's someone who practices a method of healing without the use of drugs.
by Alison Andrus G2G6 Mach 4 (45.7k points)
+16 votes
Egyptologist (professor at Oxford even though he never attended University)

Psychoanalyst (trained by Freud)

Artists (sculptors, painters, composers, writers)

Brewery chemist, brewery owner, pub licensees

Designers of submarine, airships, personal helicoptors

Butchers, fellmongers (dealers in hides), cordwainers (shoemakers), peruke (wig) maker

Cook (at stately homes), double-decker bus driver, seamstresses, carpenters, teachers

Doctors (including apothecary to George III), lawyers (one  was hanged as one of the leaders of Monmouth's rebellion), several MPs

Importer (Argentina to England) of Polo Ponies
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 7 (74.5k points)
edited by Janet Gunn
Lots of cordwainers in my ancestry. Some men were both farmers and cordwainers. I can't avoid thinking that it took a lot of labor input to make a pair of shoes.
+17 votes
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+16 votes
While it wasn't their sole occupation, I'm frequently amazed to find out how many of my relatives came to this part of Colorado and built a dam.  One ancestor built a dam which is still in use today as part of a dude ranch; another dam still in use today is part of the US Forest Service; and I haven't quite figured out where the dam/reservoir were that my Uncle Jesse built, in part because the name is no longer in use.  Odds are, though, that I've visited it.  Different branches of the family built at least 4 reservoirs that I know of.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (189k points)
is that Jesse Nail?
From where did the "dam builders" originate?
very interesting! don't you feel the need to build a dam too ? :)
+19 votes
I'm not sure how unusual this occupation is, but there were a number of wiredrawers in one of my family lines.
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)
+12 votes
My ancestor Simon Gould of Haverhill, New Hampshire, was a member of the "Society for Stonemasons", according to the 1860 census. Gould-2741

Pike Manufacturing cut whetstones from "the Granite State" and shipped them all over the world.  Sadly, a newspaper article announce his death at "about age 30", and I've wondered if there had been an "industrial accident".  A recorded family history was that his mother Sophia and his sister cut tombstones for many people in the Haverhill area, so the family continued the tradition.
by Janine Barber G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
+21 votes

While not in my family (so far), I did find a strange occupation named "armjager" in Dutch.  Literally translated this means "poor chaser' or "poor hunter."  Their job was to get all the homeless people, diseased strangers, and beggers out of the city.

by Erik Oosterwal G2G6 Mach 4 (48.2k points)
poor hunter

lol  this reminded me of an old joke i heard  some time ago

"the word 'vegetarian  is an old native american indian word

It means 'bad hunter'

+16 votes

Occupations found in my family tree that have the "Barry" surname (except for the WAC Directors and Judge but those are in my tree too):

*surrogate mother

*coal delivery man

*three nuns, two priests, one bishop, two chaplains

*merchant marine

*Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Founder; 4 or 5 WAC Directors

*First woman appointed as a Superior Court judge in Rhode Island 

*two medal of honor recipients

*Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry 

by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
edited by Dorothy Barry
Is a surrogate mother the same thing as a wet nurse?

Different situation: says: Surrogacy is an arrangement or agreement whereby a woman agrees to carry a pregnancy for another person or persons, who will become the newborn child's parent(s) after birth.

Wet nurse see

That's what I imagined you meant by "surrogate mother," I just never considered that it could be considered as an occupation.  All the cases of surrogate mothers I've encountered in real life have been related to or extremely close friends of the mother who's unable to carry the baby, and in those cases the surrogate did it as an act of love.  It's interesting that someone would want to do this as an ongoing thing.
This relative does it for income ongoing, that she does for couples who can't have children. It still is an act of love but like you, I always thought it was a one time event; not several times in a life time. But that is what she does, hense very "unusual" !!
For-profit surrogacy is illegal in many countries, including the one I live in.  I never knew it could be someone's occupation until I started watching US talk shows!  :)
It's not legal in every state in the United states. I found this link that tells which state approves what:
+13 votes

Not my ancestors, but I was impressed to find a large number of men in the 1850 census for Johnstown, New York, who were listed as "deer skin dressers." They were so numerous that the censustakers abbreviated the occupation as "D.S.D." See this G2G on the subject.

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+11 votes
Cigar maker.

Not Cuban. But came from Germany to the US colonies in the 1700s.
by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (195k points)
+14 votes
Limner - Snow-4709 - which is supposedly a miniture portrait painter, wish i could find something he painted to look at :)

This was useful for old occupations -
by Paula Dea G2G6 Mach 5 (57.2k points)
+12 votes
Voyageurs Nouvelle France
by Gerald Baraboo G2G6 Pilot (849k points)
+12 votes
Husband of a great Aunt at one point his occupation was "Fanning" still not sure what that means didn't look like a typo.
by Steve Stobaugh G2G6 Mach 1 (18.1k points)
Could it be Tanning?
It came from his obit could've been a typo, this would be abt 1910 Mesa Colorado area dunno if Tanners were used then.
The occupational term probably referred to the cleaning process of grain, as in winnowing.  The mechanized versions that were invented were called fanning mills or winnowing machines.
Yes, Joyce has the right definition for a "fanner". An agricultural occupation to separate the wheat from the chaff called winnowing.
+13 votes
I found out that a Ukrainian name in the family, Polowy, is the same as Howard or Hayward. This is the person that keeps cattle out of the Hay fields.
by Sue Hall G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
+15 votes
I have a gggggggreat uncle who was a judge at the Salem Witch trials and another gggggggreat grandmother who was sentenced to death by him. They are not related to each other.
by Susan Fitzmaurice G2G6 Mach 4 (42.3k points)
At one point I read I had a male relative stoned for witchcraft near the end of the Salem witch trails but I seem to have misplaced what branch he was on.
+14 votes
A couple of mine worked in the Cambridgeshire coprolite industry.  Coprolites are fossilized dung.  A seam of nodules found in Cambridgeshire were pronounced by an expert to be fossilized dinosaur dung - he was probably wrong - and were then dug up and turned into fertilizer.
by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (547k points)
Not altogether different from peat-cutting, but a lot more unusual.
+9 votes
My 4x great grandmother Elizabeth Ann Fenwick was a "player" or actress at Covent Garden Theatre in London England. She joined a company of players that went to Barbados to perform and married William Rutherford a fellow player.
by Brett Rutherford G2G6 Pilot (120k points)
+14 votes
When I saw in the 1914 City Directory for Flint, Michigan, my dear grandmother's occupation listed as "Stripper" I almost passed out! Then I remembered her telling me that she was a stripper in the cigar factory, she stripped the big leaves into strips for rolling cigars. --That was a relief!
by Eloise Smith G2G6 (9.4k points)
edited by Eloise Smith

My Grandfather Smith was a cigar maker also. He rolled tobacco leaf strips into cigars. My grandparents met while working at the cigar factory. 

Here's a bit of Flint history:  "... Flint had a booming cigar manufacturing industry from the late 1800s until the early '20s - with cigar-makers among top wage-earners, making up to $20 a week (trust us, that was a lot) at the turn of the 20th century. In 1899, eight Flint companies hand-rolled some 4.6 million cigars. Local suppliers included tobacco brokers and a cigar box factory."

+9 votes
Most of the males from my (English) west country ancestors were Ag-Labs (Agricultural Labourers) while the females were Silk Throwers working in the silk mills.

However on my mothers side, I do have a 2x GG grandfather who was an Ostler. I was given this description of an ostler.

An ostler was in fact in charge of the yard or stables. He did not do much direct work with the horses, just opened the gates for clients and saw the horses were produced when required. Usually he was paid more than the other stable staff and had worked his way up to the job. He would have lived at or very near the stables.
by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (744k points)
+11 votes
I have found a couple of Petrifactioners and a few Spar Manufacturers/Bauble makers in Derbyshire and North Leicestershire on the English censuses and set about finding out exactly what they did.

A Spar manufacturer/Bauble maker was a person who carved or turned decorative items (boxes, candlesticks etc) out of Feldspar or Bluejohn minerals for selling. Some of the less attractively coloured stone items were augmented with painted decorations. Some of the items were sold locally but most of them were for the tourist trade in fashionable resorts of the time. This was a proper "cottage industry" limited to very specific areas of the East Midlands which had died out by the end of the 19th century due to imports from Germany making it uneconomic.

A petrifactioner is someone who turns organic objects into stone "petrifaction: a fossilization process whereby inorganic matter dissolved in water completely replaces original organic matter, converting it to a stony substance". Someone else I came across said that this term petrifactioner was more widely applied to someone working in the bauble trade as well. Certainly petrifactioned/petrified objects would have been novelty items, so whether the term petrifactioner was misapplied to spar manufacturers/bauble makers or whether spar manufacturer/bauble maker was an umbrella term which included petrifaction and he actually produced petrified objects for the same market, I'm not 100% sure.

I also found an eminent ceramic painter.
by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (218k points)

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