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 (1.8m 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

+6 votes
!525-1700-Censur(Witchfinder)-Juror-Corn Duty. Father and sons.
by Hal Stout G2G1 (1.6k points)
+5 votes

Slave Manager

According to the 1860 Mississippi Census, My 3rd great grandfather, Sanford Sparks, was one of two slave managers on a large plantation in MS owned by a third person.


My Craftsmen Baucom ancestors and kin.

My Grandfather E. L. Baucom was a loom fixer.

His Grandfather John Baucom and John’s brother Mark were wheelwright. John’s son Westley was a wagon maker.

The occupations of John’s and Mark’s father, Wilson Baucom and his father Cader Baucom are unknown. But from Wake Co NC, Cader went to Tennessee and his brother Josiah to Union Co NC.

An article in the Union Co Enquirer: Josiah Baucom, the progenitor of all Baucoms of Union county and surrounding counties was a wagon maker, and was considered one of the best. He detested sham work and would curse a blue streak when he saw bad work.


Kings, Queens, and Magna Charta Sureties Signer

The Johnstone line of my grandmother’s, (Bennie Eliza Hall Baucom) ancestors has been documented in various history articles that made it easy to trace her line to Gilbert Johnstone, brother of appointed Gov. of NC Gabriel Johnstone and their sister Elizabeth Johnstone who married Thomas Kenan. At least two of their descendants have accepted in Descendants of Royalty in America, to Charles Martel  and Magna Charta Dames via Elizabeth Johnstone Kenan’s Johnstone Line.     

by Jim Baucom G2G3 (3.8k points)
+6 votes
Bank robber, Gang member, bandit.....The Sundance Kid, Harry Longabaugh
by Mel Bowers G2G Crew (380 points)
+6 votes
When my grandfather was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1895, his father's occupation was listed as "Pander" on his birth record.  After a lot of research, I discovered that the job was strolling the streets looking for "gentlemen" to visit a local house of ill repute.  Not a very reputable job but, in his defense, he did have five young children to feed.  The family had moved from Canada the year before where he had been a Zinc worker.  Guess most of us have at least one skeleton in the closet that we were shocked to find.
+7 votes
My husbands great uncle was a bomb maker in Keene NH during WWII
by Jo Ann Zink G2G Crew (410 points)
+5 votes
Just for fun (at least I'm having fun), here are a couple of odd ones:  "Box" and "Wf."

These come from Ancestry records, apparently machine-transcribed records from city directories.  In the first case, it is part of his address.  In the second case, it refers to his wife.

Speaking of occupations, I don't think robots are altogether ready to replace us yet, based on these examples!
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (481k points)
+7 votes

My Great Grandfather Harry Smith Lindsay when he was 23, was a piano polisher in 1906.

by Keith Cook G2G6 Mach 3 (37.9k points)
+7 votes

Most of my ancestors had ordinary occupations, like farmer, schoolteacher, preacher, and the occasional lawyer and political office holder. A couple blacksmiths, too.

My grandfather, Peter Stoner, as a youth in Kansas, would catch gophers for bounty. He told me this firsthand, and also wrote it in his autobiography.

His son, my uncle Willis Stoner, was a propulsion engineer. He designed boat propellers. During WWII, he worked on the atomic bomb. His wife-to-be, Katherine Tindell, ran the cyclotron at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Through the autobiography a cousin once removed of my mother's, I learned that his branch of the family, who moved to northern California, was rather interesting. His father, my mother's cousin, John Secrist, played fiddle as backup to Eddy Peabody, when he was still in high school. Around 1931, he built a portable saw mill, and milled lumber for not only his own house, but neighbor's houses, as well. He was listed in the 1930 census as having a goat dairy.

His brother-in-law, Vern Steadman, when first married, panned for gold and rode the rodeo circuit before settling down to owning a sporting goods store. He was also a gunsmith.

The oddest job I, myself, have ever done, was I worked for about a year or so in my late 20's as an urchin cleaner. (That's sea urchins, not unruly children.) The urchins were collected by divers and sold to the processing plants. They would then go through an assembly line of work stations: the shells were cracked and the contents emptied into plastic baskets. From this moment on, they must stay in cold, salted water. The next station (the cleaning station), was kept at about 45 degrees F, depending on the ocean temperature that day. There the workers picked the bits of shell and spine, and the guts, out of the basket, leaving the gonads (the edible parts). Then they are iced down in water with salt and alum for a couple of hours. Then they are moved to the packing stations. The plant did two types of packing. The best quality roe would be packed carefully in wooden boxes, to be sent mostly to Japan, and sold as-is. This packing was done by primarily Hispanic women, who were paid quite well for the job, as it was difficult, and took an artistic eye and a light touch. I trained on this, after an immigration raid took many of the workers, and they were having trouble getting the urchin processed. I was not good enough. The other packing was bulk packing, in which the lower quality roe would be packed in large styrofoam trays, and sent to Japan to be made into uni paste. It took less talent. However, as the roe was less firm, this packing had to be done in iced vats of saltwater. The temperature varied according to the temperature of the ocean, but was usually around 25 to 30 degrees F (For those of you used to centigrade, pure water freezes at 32 degrees F. The salt would allow it to be taken down to lower temperatures.) One time when I was on bulk packing, the water seemed even colder than usual. I looked at the thermometer in the tank, and it said 14 degrees. We could not wear gloves, because the roe is too delicate. Needless to say, I was the only "gringo" that lasted more than 3 days at the job.

by Alison Gardner G2G6 Mach 6 (66.0k points)
edited by Alison Gardner
Very interesting!  I hope people will take the time to read the entire post.
+4 votes
A prior Congressman... occupation was 'Gentleman' and his wife was 'Lady'.

A divorced woman called her occupation "I'm a Capitalist".
by Tam X G2G1 (1.7k points)

Inspector of nuisances: A person employed by a parish or council to inspect for breaches of law, eg bad sanitary conditions, obstruction to footpaths and roads etc. Refuse heaps, smells and insanitary conditions of all kinds were known as "nuisances". In 1846 the Nuisance Removal and Prevention of Diseases Act was passed, enabling towns to appoint inspectors to report on the offensive conditions in their areas.

Thank you Fiona! I learned something new today!

+5 votes
Shell gathering.  Before plastics, many buttons were made of freshwater mussel shell, a.k.a. mother of pearl.
by Jeff Gilbert G2G Crew (950 points)
+4 votes

Here's a full list of old occupations. There are some classics!

You're a WHAT??

by Rob Judd G2G6 Mach 9 (98.1k points)
+5 votes
Obviously this has to be Dracula... My family tree branches to Vlad the Impaler through marriage.
by Mika Lindqvist G2G1 (1.0k points)
+4 votes
My paternal grandmother and grandfather were listed on a few census as working in a cotton factory where the cotton was spun into thread. Their positions were listed as "spinner", and the other "twister". I told my daughter this and she thought they were some sort of dancers. LOL
by Anonymous Murr G2G3 (3.9k points)
+1 vote
Throstle Piecer

Not the oddest profession, but the oddest name for a profession I've come across to date.

My great-great-grandmother Anne Gaskell Bence (1826-1853) was listed in the 1851 UK Census as a throstle piecer in Manchester, England. She repaired threads on a machine for spinning cotton and wool.
by Cathy Bence G2G4 (4.0k points)
0 votes
I just came across the 1880 census for Litchfield Connecticut.  The jobs listed are fairly specific, such as "wash woman" "blacksmith" "door sash manufacturing".   But for the person I'm interested in, the occupation is given as "impossible to tell".
by Rob Neff G2G6 Mach 6 (60.8k points)

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