52 Ancestors Week 36 - Work

+6 votes

AJC - The first Monday in September is Labor Day in the U.S. Examining your ancestor's occupation is a great way to build context. (I have a post highlighting 3 sources that can help you learn more about his or her occupation - https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/3-sources-ancestors-occupation/ ) Do you have an ancestor with an "unusual" occupation? Have you found records relating to any of your ancestors' lines of work? Do you have photos of them at work?

in The Tree House by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (636k points)
edited by Robynne Lozier
Hi Robynne

The link is not working for the 3 sources could you replace it it as interested in these Thanks
That link


Doesn't work for me either.

Can you please give us a direct link the works?
Sorry about that.


There you go - I hope this link works better.

Janet G - could you remove that link in your comment above? it seems to be connected to my private email - I want to keep my emails safe. Thanks.

That works.

As requested, I have removed the link in my comment.   But THAT link is still in your original post.
There - amended that link as well. Thanks Janet.
Yep, clean link now.
I love finding out about the jobs that no longer exist.  

My great-grandfather Trefry dealt in ships knees, which were important in shipbuilding.Apparently part of the job was persuading people to let him dig up the stumps of fallen trees, an arduous process in the days of manual tools, but apparently the knees were valuable in building wooden boats, and he made a decent living.

My great-grandfather Giffin quit fishing after the terrible hurricane season of '87, when too many of his friends and relatives died at sea. He is listed as a carpenter in the 1891 census, but what he actually did was make the fancy scroll work that decorates the dormers and gables of Victorian-era homes. One very nice archivist pointed out his work on some of the historical homes in the region.

Among more distant relatives was a carpenter who only worked on automobiles. I gather he was trained to make carriages, and rolled with the times.

And one member of my Archibald clan was a travelling pharmaceutical salesman. He spent winters with his family, and summers on the road between Boston and Halifax, selling Archibald's Liniment from his cart.  The liniment was good for coughs, colds, and various skin conditions that I shouldn't include here.

15 Answers

+9 votes

My great grandfather, James Oliver Boswell Atkinson (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Atkinson-3471), was a Methodist revival preacher in Alabama and Florida in the late 1800's.  

He became one of the pioneer families who settled Bay County, Florida, around 1900, including Panama City which was incorporated in 1909.

He became an entrepreneur in Panama City, Florida, where he owned and worked as a cobbler in his shoe shop business, and also owned a grocery store, and an electrical, heating and plumbing business.  I have no photos of him at work, but I have found newspaper ads for the various businesses.

James Atkinson Image 2

by Carolyn Martin G2G6 Pilot (142k points)
edited by Carolyn Martin
+7 votes
One of the most unusual occupations I came across in my family was an OSTLER for my 3x great grandfather Joseph Bickham.


An Ostler was a person who worked in the stables, saw to the horses when visitors arrived, and was usually associated with an Inn. The British spelling is OSTLER and the American spelling is HOSTLER.

by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (636k points)
+7 votes
My dad was a cotton agent. He bought cotton for Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, North Carolina, for many years. Even late in his career (1970s), his job was one of those that computers could not do. (Ands it was said that they never would.)

A bale would come in with a small sample tied to that particular bale. Dad would unroll the sample, usualy about 10 feet long, pull a small handful from the sample, and pull it apart to see if the fibres were long enough. The fibres had to be an exact length for the spinners to make yarn. Too long or too short, and the spinners couldnt make the yarn.

Though there were machines in dad's workspace that could have helped him, he always did it by touch. And was always right.

At the time of his retirement due to disability, there were only about 30 others who could do the same as my dad. I have no idea if any are around anymore.
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
+6 votes

Many of my ancestors were farmers, which is work 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk. On my mother's side, many of these were of German and Swiss ancestry, which were known for their strong work ethic.

I have photos of only two ancestors at work: my grandfather on my mother's side, Peter Stoner, whom I've covered before in this, and my great-great grandfather on my father's side, W. K. Eggleston.

Below is my grandfather Peter Stoner, and his new bride Edith, breaking ground for their house. Peter was a school teacher (head of math and physical sciences dept at Pasadena City College), but was also trained in carpentry. During the summer, he would build or renovate houses.


Below is my great-great grandfather, Wellington Kinne Eggleston, who was a farmer in Colorado. He first grew staples--potatoes, wheat, etc. The weather was unpredictable, and locusts would eat the crops. He built up a dairy farm, and ran the herd up to Bonanza in the summer, selling milk and butter to the miners. He then left his wife and kids to run the farm and dairy, and went back east for a year or two, and went to dental school. He came back, and practiced dentistry in Bonanza for a while, then moved to Salida and opened a dental office. Here he is in his dental office.


by Alison Gardner G2G6 Mach 5 (50k points)
edited by Alison Gardner
Moat of my ancestors are Ag labs and farmers as well - so I was very surprised to find an ostler!!
+2 votes
I will do this one.
by Linda Barnett G2G6 Pilot (412k points)
+5 votes


I am busy trying to catch up on this challenge, will hopefully be caught up soon.


My Great Grandfather has a few occupations listed in various census records, all of them involved hard work and involved working outdoors in all weathers.

1881 census: Agricultural Worker
1891 census: Agricultural Labourer
1901 census: Masons Labourer assists mason to lift and dress stone; makes and carries mortar; does various kinds of unskilled work; looks after tools;. https://www.genguide.co.uk/source/stonemason-records-occupations/126/ 
My Great Granddad Frederick is on the left and my Granddad Edward is in the middle - photo is taken about 1912  as granddad joined up then
by Janet Wild G2G6 Mach 9 (90.2k points)
+4 votes

My great grandfather was an old school hometown doctor. There's a lot of info on his career in his obituary. I found the clipping from the Toronto Star in my grandmother's (his daughter) old papers. He's my ancestor of the week - http://www.libbyonthelabel.ca/2018/09/there-is-lot-of-good-info-about-my.html#.W5SwCz01Cj8.link

+4 votes

It is rare to find an ancestor who was not a farmer.

My father worked on the farm for my grandfather George Scranton, and married his daughter.

My great grandfather George Sands was a farmer. Once his son Guy was old enough to work the farm, he worked for some time as a keeper at both Auburn and Sing Sing prisons and then worked at a customs house.

My ggg uncle Nathanial Salsbury was a Methodist Episcopal minister (and also a farmer) and became the presiding elder in northern New York.

Here's a picture of George Scranton by the barn in 1944

George Scranton at the barn

by Kay Sands G2G6 Pilot (236k points)
+5 votes


I am behind, but I am trying to catch up. I just found my person for work. It is George Obed Potter, Sr. He was born in 1891 in Kankakee, Illinois.  When I was looking for sources for him, I found the 1920 US Census. He was 28 years old, married, and an electrician working in an electric supply house.  Ten years later in the 1930 US Census, he is an electrical contractor and he owns his own business.  By the 1940 US Census, his family has expanded, his income has increased, the value of his home has increased, and he has a border living with him that works at his company.

Though some may not find this interesting, I am finding it more and more interesting to read all of these facts in the census records.  I am learning more information about my family, and they are becoming real people to me. 

by Cheryl Hess G2G6 Pilot (935k points)
+4 votes

My great-grandaunt Mary Ann (Thorpe) Savage (1837-1907) and her extended family were employed in a wide variety of different occupations.  Mary Ann was born in England; while she was yet an infant her parents Thomas and Elizabeth (Savoy) Thorpe immigrated to Michigan in 1838. 

 There is no occupation listed for Thomas on the ship passenger list, but in 1840 the family is living in Pontiac, Michigan and one person is engaged in “Commerce” on the United States Census of that year.  Unfortunately, Thomas died 28 July just days prior to the 1850 Census leaving his occupation at the time a mystery. 

 At the time of her husband's death, Elizabeth had seven children still at home, the youngest my great-grandmother Sarah, was only 2 months old.   Unfortunately, that Census only asked about the occupations of  MALES over the age of 15 so there is a blank for any occupation for Elizabeth.  The family was still living in the village of Pontiac and owned no property at the time. Elizabeth did not remarry until 1855 so had some source of income during this time.

 By the time of the 1860 Census, Elizabeth and her second husband, Thomas Dean, had moved a bit north to Davison, Michigan where his occupation is listed as “farm laborer”. The very next entry in the same dwelling is for the Spencer Savage family.  Mary Ann had married Spencer Savage in 1853 and by 1860 they had three young children.  Spencer's occupation is “Carpenter” in 1860.

 The Savage family moved further north yet to the lumber boom town of East Saginaw, Michigan by 1869 where the birth of their daughter Harriet was recorded. Spencer appeared in the city directory with the occupation of “Carpenter” between 1869 and 1880.  In 1870 they are also listed as operating a boarding house.  Spencer died sometime before the 1880 Census was taken. 

 Mary Ann was listed as a seamstress on that 1880 census and then as a dressmaker in the 1883 Saginaw City Directory.  Her daughter Martha married in 1879 and was also residing in Saginaw in 1880; her husband was listed as a cigar maker on the 1880 Census.

 Between 1886 and 1890 Mary Ann's occupation changed. She was listed in the city directories as a baker in a bakery.  The location of the business, 125 N. Jefferson, was at a major intersection in the center of downtown Saginaw. Two of her children, George and Harriet, are listed as clerks in the business.

 In 1890, Mary Ann's nephew, Andrus Hart the son of her sister Sarah, was a witness of the marriage of Mary Ann's youngest daughter Harriet and Fred Deno in Saginaw.  Fred lists his occupation as telegraph operator on the marriage license.  Andrus was working as street car conductor in Saginaw according to the 1891 city directory. 

 Saginaw experienced a major fire in May of 1893 which may have displaced Mary Ann.  I found mention of Mary Ann's son George dying in Vernon, Michigan in December of 1893.  Several of Mary Ann's siblings were living in that area at the time including Sarah whose husband Ephraim Hart 's employment was recorded in various sources as a laborer, carpenter and mover of buildings in Vernon.  Their brother William also moved to Vernon and his occupations included machinist and laborer (not farm). 

 Other occupations pursued by Mary Ann's siblings and their children included: Peddler of notions (John – 1880);  Foreman in a furniture factory, Painter for a railroad and furniture finisher (husband of Susanna);  Janitor at a school (Edwin-1880) and three of Edwin’s sons worked in the newspaper industry as  printers.

 The next record of Mary Ann is the 1900 United States Census, at that time she is living in the household of the Deno family in Cicero, Illinois where son-in-law Fred is working as a railroad telegrapher.  She was still living with or near them at the time of her death in 1907 at Holly, Michigan as Harriet Deno is listed as the informant on Mary Ann's death certificate.  Fred and Harriet (Savage) Deno appeared on the 1910 United States Census at Holly where he continued to be employed by the railroad.   

by Jill Perry G2G6 Mach 3 (33.1k points)
+4 votes
Both my Great Great Grandfather and his father my 3 x Great Grandfather were surveyors based in St. Louis, Missouri.  They did a lot of work for the railroads as they were active in the 1800s when the railroads were being built.

Joseph Euffinger and his father Nicholas Euffinger are my ancestors with the theme of work.  https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Euffinger-1  and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Euffinger-2.  Because the railroads were so important in the growth of America and surveyors were the men who plotted the routes, I thought they were great candidates for the topic of work.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (551k points)
+4 votes
My mother was a teacher, which is not that unusual.  But her father, Alfred William Pilcher (1893 - 1954) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Pilcher-359 ,  was a (double decker) bus driver in London.  Before that he was a footman and a mechanic, and served in W W I.  He was gassed at Ypres and had lung problems the rest of his life.  Being  London bus driver was a demanding skill, and you could be fired if a passenger complained that you had jostled her shopping.

HIS father, Thomas Burch Pilcher (bef. 1860 - 1943) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Pilcher-98 , was a private coachman.

His wife, Elizabeth Sarah (Mann) Pilcher (abt. 1862 - 1952) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Mann-1781 , was "just" a housewife, but she went blind from post-partum complication (she had 13 children). Her husband was often away for weeks at a time, so she needed to run the whole household.

On my father's side, he was a Research Physicist, (Iain) "J. B." Gunn https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gunn-900, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._B._Gunn.  His father, Battiscombe George (Jack) Gunn (1883 - 1950) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gunn-1707, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battiscombe_Gunn , was a professor of  Egyptology.

His wife, Lillian Florence "Meena" (Meacham) Gunn (1886 - 1973) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meacham-526  was a psychoanalyst for most of her life, though she had been  a concert pianist, a sculptor, a bookbinder, and a number of other things.  She was married 3 times, to Herbert Hughes (Musician), to Jack Gunn, and to neurologist Alex Grey-Clarke.

Her father, Charles Stephen Meacham (abt. 1861 - 1940) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meacham-722 ,  was a brewery chemist, and a brewery manager, as well as being a serious amateur artist.
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 6 (66.5k points)
+3 votes

For this one I am going with a document I have that I haven't seen anywhere before ( I could also use it for unusual source week!).

It relates to my great grandfather William John Phillpott who died young from tuberculosis (consumption).

He worked as chief inspector at Woolwich Arsenal, which is where his daughter-in-law Catherine Louisa Bremner also worked in the 2nd world war assembling munitions.

Last summer I had the chance to visit Woolwich, but didn't get chance to explore the Arsenal and the museum there, which I hope to do next year to find out more about the Arsenal which has been there for hundreds of years.

I have already covered James Henry Mitchell before I think, but he is the only one that I have in a photo related to work. He was a carpenter by trade but served a long career in the army. After leaving the army he returned to working as a carpenter, and this photo is interesting because some of the tradesmen were holding the tool of their trade. 

And a close up of James showing him holding his saw

by Michelle Wilkes G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
edited by Michelle Wilkes
+2 votes

I recall that my Grandmother (maiden name Watkins) had told me once that our ancestor from Virginia had been a tray maker. So I figured for this challenge, I'd go with him. But... he might not have been a tray maker, and he might not be my ancestor. Still: [John Watkins] was a colonial settler and a carpenter & cooper - by his will, he left his son John his tools of those trades.

Records indicate that he had a daughter, Constance, who married a son of Robert Woodson, whose profile notes:

2, Obadiah, mar. Constance, Daugh. of John Watkins, the "Tray maker".

And John was detached as my ancestor because he is attached to the Quaker Henry Watkins - whom my gr-grandfather was told we descended from, but neither he nor I have found proof for this. However, the Woodson family was apparently Quaker (according to his profile), so it's possible.

My Watkins brick wall is John Watkins (c1752-1805), m Nancy Crutchfield. As noted on his profile, my research indicate that he was the son of John, son of Henry Jr. or, more likely, his grandson (son of the John who inherited the carpenter and cooper tools).

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (340k points)
edited by Liz Shifflett
+1 vote
Mine will be Graham Leonard and his profile is https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Leonard-558. Graham Leonard vitae reads like an International travelogue  of positions  with the United Nations, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and universities ranging from teaching post in China, Europe, and the Midwest, where he has spent many years. Education is his passion. He has a degrees from the University of Tennessee, John Hopkins, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in linguistics and psychology. He headed  a continuing education program for adults and teachers (CEEPAT) in Arabic language for masters in liberal arts studies in the Occupied Territories. He said that the Western education provides learning in history, language, and literature which enables students to think for themselves. But in the Mideast he found that these subjects were not taught in Arabic, but only in one of the romance languages. Only the elite Arabs were afforded a liberal arts education. He said "you can't get a humanities liberal arts education in any language in the world except English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. He is fluent in Arabic, and French. His Chinese  is "tourist level" but was good enough to enable him to write the first book published in China by a foreigner since 1949. The recent book was on methods of modernizing education in China.
by Linda Barnett G2G6 Pilot (412k points)

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