Question of the week: What's the oddest job/occupation you've found?

+19 votes

What's the oddest job/occupation you've found while during your research?

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.9m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
An inspector of nuisances.
Mole catcher.
1860 Arkansas 20-year-old man "gentleman of leisure" (who owned nothing)
I was also going to choose mole catcher. I found  it in my husband’s Scottish Ancestry. Apparently, they still exist.
A screw wormer

My 5th great grandfather called himself a “professor of galvanism”, basically a quack doctor passing electric currents through people


35 Answers

+13 votes

My second great grandfather Edward McCauley Long and his brother Henry M. Long were carriage makers. Henry and his son Seymore were engaged in the manufacturing of carriages for many years, as Seymore Long married into the Forepaugh Family and made carriages for the Forepaugh Circus. 

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (531k points)
That is pretty cool Alexis.
Thank you Cheryl. I think this is all interesting, as it was the beginning of my Long family being circus people. Seymour is not correct in the 1900 census. It says his parents are from Germany and he is a painter. There was a connection with East Germantown, and he could have been doing painting on the circus carriages. Wish we could depend more on the census records for genealogy work.
+10 votes

I'm posting below a transcription I made of brief excerpts of one of my all-time favorite Wall St. Journal articles, by Cynthia Crossen written in 2002.  I could not find any way to e-mail her personally, and the article is surely copyrighted, so that is all I will do.


Occupation information can be found by Googling census information, etc.


Another source I love is the old city directories on  One you find one for an ancestor, you can scroll through it. Often listings of businesses by category can be found at the end.  I love the whimsy of the alphabetical listings, where, for example, "Patent Attorney" is listed just before "Peanut Butter Manufacturers."


Over Time, America Lost Its Bullwhackers

by Cynthia Crossen

Career Journal, Wall St. Journal, 24 September 2002


Thinking about changing careers?  Consider becoming a gizzard peeler, bread chopper or sulky driver.


These are three of the 31,000 job titles recognized by the 2000 census, a powerful and sometimes comic reminder of the sweep and specialization of America's labor force. The list includes weight guessers and snake charmers; fountain jerks and soda jerkers; gigolos and pimps; minstrels and freaks.  You'd probably already know if you're a clairvoyant or fortune teller, but how about retooling yourself to be a hot tamale man or a baggage smasher?


The U.S. Census Bureau has not released any occupational data from the 2000 census...consider the possibility of becoming a shill, a pigeon fancier, a tonsorial artist, a smoke eater or a fish straightener.

by Anonymous Kelts G2G6 Pilot (512k points)
Thanks, Julie! My grandfather is listed as a chicken fancier on my dad's birth certificate. :-)
+13 votes
One of my Dad's uncles was a "muleskinner". And no, he did not kill and skin the mules!! This was forested central Louisiana where there were lumber mills. The cut trees had to get to the mills - by wagon - so the guys who drove those wagons and kept the mule teams in check were called muleskinners.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (834k points)
Oh, Virginia, I have never heard of a muleskinner. And I am very glad that you explained the job title.
Out here in California, there were a lot of muleskinners. They are particularly well known from the southern California desert borax mining, with the "99 mule team" wagons. I live in northern California, where teams of oxen were used more often in the logging industry, but still encounter "muleskinner" in local history and census forms.
Thank you Alison. I love learning new things.

What a horrible name, lol! Also grateful you shared what it really meant, Virginia! wink

+12 votes
My 2xGreatGrandfather's occupation was listed as "Draw Boy" in the 1841 census in Paisley, Scotland. He was just 11 years old.

Drawboy: Weavers assistant. Sat on the looms to lift the heavy warps.
by Christine Pike G2G6 Mach 4 (43.4k points)
Christine, who would have guessed that was what a draw boy was. It is hard to believe that 11 year old boys worked.
+9 votes

1) State Apothecary and Governor of Apothecaries' Hall of Ireland
2) Resident Magistrate - Ireland
3) Official Organist of the FreeMasons - Ireland

Fourth cousin several ways - unusual occupation combination - Baptist Minister, Gas Industrialist, Banker, double agent - winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, his legacy won the Nobel Peace Prize
by Lloyd de Vere Hunt G2G6 Mach 3 (30.7k points)
+8 votes
One of my distant female relatives (b.1755) was a beggar.
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (930k points)
That definitely qualifies as a way to earn a living. Where was that recorded?
in the neighbour town of my German ancestor's town. A sister of my 4xggmother moved there after her marriage.
+12 votes
Tallow Chandler - Someone who makes the cheaper tallow candles, the nobility and the rich could afford real beeswax ones that smell better when they are burning.
by Sarah Jenkins G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
+9 votes
My 4x great-grandfather was a wagon maker but as I think about it now, on my wife's side, her 3x great-grandfather was a forest warden.  Today, he would be a mix of the fish and game officer who keeps people from poaching the deer and the guy who makes sure that only licensed contractors are cutting the right timber.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+8 votes

Not necessarily an "odd" occupation, but one I'm curious about...  A relative of mine worked as a manager of asphalt production laborers in Trinidad, where natural asphalt deposits in asphalt lakes were (and probably still are) mined to produce paving material. I imagine this was one of those obnoxious situations in which white men from North America (such as my relative) were overseeing laborers of color who worked under terrible conditions, but I can't form a mental picture of the scene, nor how the work was done.

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
+11 votes
One of my grandfathers made moonshine.
by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (221k points)
Was that his living?
He did a few things -- not sure any of them were full-time. He was a soldier in WW2, came home and made moonshine and fished.
+8 votes
My sixth great grandfather was the Abbey of la Seigneurie de Vaudreuil in Québec; he joined the Church after his wife and most of his kids died within a few years.  His name was Jean Baptiste Deguire (

It is a really sad story, he turned to priesthood to try to make sense of life, one of his son later became Priest and joined him in his congregation!
by Dave Poirier G2G6 (9.3k points)
+7 votes
My 3rd great grandfather, John James King Boote, b. England 1826. Listed in England census 1851 as a manufacturing chemist. Cleveland Ohio 1870 census listed as an oil refiner, he was working for J. D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller started the Standard Oil Company 1870 and my grandfather worked for him.
by Jamie Thompson G2G6 (6.3k points)
+8 votes
A "billiard ball marker". It made me laugh when I saw it because it's such a specific job.
by James Knighton G2G6 Mach 2 (25.1k points)

Lol, today the referees have an instrument to do that 

+10 votes

My gg grandmother Jane Morris was a "leaner of the lame" when she was 11. 

Her son Charles Carlow, my greatgrandfather, was a horsehair carder.

by Deborah Pate G2G6 Mach 4 (44.8k points)
+8 votes
My 14th great grandfather, James Naesmyth c. 1490 - 1558, was the royal falconer to the king of england.
by Adrien Hart G2G6 (7.9k points)
+7 votes
Confederate spy
+8 votes
George Wiseman, my husband’s 2nd great grandfather was a Scotsman, he lived at Tennachy Bone Mill and his occupation was Manure Agent. I am guessing the bone mill created bone meal for agriculture, but can only hazard a guess where the Manure was traded or sold?
by MaryDon Beeson G2G2 (2.7k points)
+6 votes
Clammer on the flats (digging up clams when the tide goes out) That’s got to be a hard way to support a family.
+9 votes
This was not in my research but from me. I used to work at iceberg harvesting. The company used the melted ice for drinking water and for making vodka. Had some very scary times at it, like when we bumped into a berg and it rolled over lifting a 200 foot barge out of the water. Fun times.
+11 votes

.If I remember .Antoine Roy Desjardins was caught in bed with another mans wife and he was shot and killed by the husband .The husband was tried in court and sentenced to hang .Only one problem ,there was no hangman at the time .So to have his sentence annulled .He took the position of hangman
by Anonymous Desjardins G2G Crew (530 points)

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