52 Ancestors Week 35: At Work

+14 votes

Time for the next 52 Ancestors challenge!

Please 52 Ancestors and 52 Photos sharing challenge badgesshare with us a profile of an ancestor or relative who matches this week's theme:

At Work

From Amy Johnson Crow:

With next Monday being Labor Day in the US, it seems a good time to think about how our ancestors earned a living. Share what you have found about an ancestor's occupation.

Share below!

Participants who share every week can earn badges. If this is your first time participating and you don't have the participation badge, or if you pass a milestone (13 in 13, 26 in 26, 52 in 52) let us know hereClick here for more about the challenge. 

in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
edited by Eowyn Langholf

43 Answers

+14 votes

My in laws were salt of the earth, and hard working. My father in Law Rene Bennett, owned and operated a dairy farm. He kept working almost until he died. Here's a snapshot of him at work.

by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
edited by Anne B
Looks like he's training a new employee!
There's a "funny" thing about that. The picture is quite a few years old and later when looking at the picture no one could figure out whose child that was.
+18 votes
My great grandmother, Ruth Knott-Rammel (1866-1946), was somewhat of a pioneer for her professional field of work.

There is a mention in her obituary that she was one of the first women to be an embalmer in the State Of Illinois.  Stories passed down thru the family provide that she was actually the first women, but no proof of that is yet available.

Ruth's husband, James Madison Rammel (1856-1923), owned a mortuary in the small town of Assumption, Christian, Illinois.  As was typical of the small towns back then, the Mortuary also operated as a furniture store to supplement their income.

It is told that they shared in the embalming and body preparation duties.  James worked on the deceased males.  Ruth worked on the deceased females.  But, must assume the deceased subjects didn't really care?
Proving a first is hard.  You would have to check every Embalmer in the state.  I think you should invite people to let you know if they have any evidence.  After time you would have a very strong case.  And see where the first woman in the country was.
+18 votes

This is a 1932 newspaper article of my grandfather, C. A. Lovelace Sr. at work in his furniture store in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He is shown here with chairs that are made by local people. I have two examples of chairs he sold in my home, and they are similar to the ones shown here.

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Mach 8 (81.3k points)
Wouldn't it be something to find one today in an antique shop or to see them on TV on Antiques Roadshow?  How wonderful that you have some samples.
+14 votes

My third great grand uncle, John Mathews, was a surveyor. He was with the first surveyors sent by the Confederated Congress to survey the Seven Ranges. Portions of the journal he kept while surveying have been published in the early Ohio histories.

While he was employed by the Ohio Company of Associates, his survey party was attacked by Indians. John's assistant, who was seated on a blanket next to him, was shot. John and a few others survived. Almost naked, he fled through the forest. After they were rescued, they returned to the scene of the massacre. All of John's survey equipment and field notes were gone. He had to resurvey what had already been accomplished.

I wonder what he would think of our GPS system.

by Diane Hildebrandt G2G6 Mach 1 (18.2k points)
What an interesting and terrifying story.  I often wish I had a time machine and I could bring some of my ancestors to spend a day in our world and I'd love to go back and spend a day in theirs.
I also wish I could spend some time with my ancestors and ask them questions about their lives! But they lived in terrifying times and I wouldn't want to spend a day in their time.
+17 votes

In 1928 my great-uncle Arthur while serving in the US Navy onboard a ship contracted tuberculosis.  He was hospitalized in Santa Monica, California and his sister left Minnesota to act as his nurse.  The family migrated in two or three groups to California to help their sick brother & son.  

I found the family scattered, some living here or there, great-grandmother took a job in the home of a wealth Russian-Jewish immigrant family as a housekeeper.  But I could not find great-grandfather, he seemed to have vanished being neither in Minnesota or California.  I widened my search and found him working as a lumber grader in Oregon (he was a lumberman in Minnesota).  Everything was a spot on match, first, middle initial, last name, age, year of migration to America from Sweden, that he was married and head of household but with no family in his Oregon home. So there he is on the census, at work, taking care of the family who are so far away:

Frans Edvard Johansson (Frank Edward) Herling (1867 - 1947)

By the next census he was living in California, reunited with the family.  It was tough times and the family did what they needed to survive.

I wrote the story into the narrative of my grandmother's profile: Ruth Violet Lenore (Helegen) Herling

edit: added bold to profession

by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (615k points)
edited by SJ Baty
Wow. It's awesome that you found him through census records and that he finally reunited with his family. I admire the hard work you have done to gather all the family information!
What a wonderful profile you have done on your grandmother Ruth. I really enjoyed reading about her life, and the timeline is especially good.

Thanks Alexis, I'm glad you like it.  I got a lot of examples from cousin Caryl Ruckert.  If you got to the Bio Builders monthly threads and then click on the profiles she's created they will blow your socks off.  So I just started copying what she was doing.  The timeline idea was mine and now she's been adding that to her profiles. If you read a lot of other profiles, you see some great ideas and we can all learn from each others work and make our profiles shine.

This is the one I'm working on this week and almost finished: Marjry (Degraff) Miller.

I love the coverlet for the boarder, and I saw how you made the dates in bold. Thanks again SJ.
+14 votes

As I've mentioned before, I come from a long line of Irish farmers, with the occasional sprinkling of family members with clergy roles.  One distant relative that I came across provided a little variation on that theme.

John Whiteside was the eldest son of a Irish farmer, and related to many farmers on all sides of his family.  However, he decided to become a civil servant, which meant signing up for civil service exams and potentially a career as a bureaucrat.  However, I don't imagine he was a desk-jockey or pencil pusher.  His chosen role, which he seems to have had throughout his long civil service career is "Customs Examining Officer" which he did from at least the 1880s to the 1910s.  And not just in any small town - he was working at the docks in London's East End.  In my imagination he is not ticking things off on a form on a clip board, but more likely having a robust conversation with the folks who saw bringing merchandise into London as an easy way to make money if they could just avoid paying the customs duty!

by Linda Hawkes G2G6 Mach 2 (20.8k points)
+16 votes

My grandfather Arthur Hawkes started out working for his father in the family fish shop. I was able to track down an early photo of him with the company vehicle (a bicycle) in front of the shop. https://www.wikitree.com/photo/jpg/Hawkes-818-1
He decided the fish business was not for him, perhaps he didn't like the early mornings going to get stock from Billingsgate Market in London, and later worked as a Carpenter.

by Ray Hawkes G2G6 Mach 2 (23.3k points)
edited by Ray Hawkes
+13 votes

Before doing research I imagined all the Midwestern Irish immigrants in my family history would be farmers or craftsmen. It turns out, of my three Irish great great grandfathers, only one was a craftsman. The other two got jobs in industry.    Patrick Brodigan for example migrated with his family straight to Rock Island, Illinois, and worked there as a miner in apparently dreadful conditions. He must have been among the strikers, and maybe he participated in riots.

What I find amazing is that somehow he was able to leave Rock Island after nearly 20 years of hard labor and start over as a farmer in Iowa. Farming requires money, planning and know-how, in addition to hard work. I wonder how the family managed. What was grown on the farm? Did the Brodigan family produce enough to sell, or just enough to feed the family? 

by C Ryder G2G6 Mach 3 (39.9k points)
+15 votes

My great grandmother Josie Benham was a telephone operator in 1904 in Corvallis, Oregon.  She earned about $7 a week.  

by Caryl Ruckert G2G6 Pilot (139k points)
I can imagine her with those cup shaped earphones pulling cables in and out of holes to line up the calls - what used to take ten thousand operators now fits in a chip smaller than your fingernail!
I bet it was fun for her SJ!  She was in at the very beginning of the Information Age.  lol
+17 votes

 I had a number of very large negatives in a box for many years and finally decided to have photographs printed from them.  What I discovered was my Grandfather Clarence Elisha Driver (1876-1952) and family on their Goat Ranch in Manton Ca! If you check a map, Manton is pretty much nowhere. Clarence did a number of jobs during his life. He went to the Alaska Goldrush, He had a farm on Dry Creek in Placer County, he dug potatoes as a laborer, and here he is with the goats and Anna (his wife) and elder sons Winfield, Malcolm and James. week 6

by Lyn Sara Gulbransen G2G5 (5.9k points)
edited by Lyn Sara Gulbransen
This is a fabulous photo!
Thank you! I'm so lucky I spent the money to have it done right! :)
About a month ago, my cousin came to visit for a week and we discovered a lot of old large negatives in a box from our grandmother.  We were wondering if there was anywhere left that could print them to photos.  I think it would make a great gift for our parents.

Daniel, This is the lab I used. Its in Rancho Cordova California.They say they will work via mail. Its a husband and wife team and they are so talented and kind. I bet if you read about what they do you could find someone closer. http://www.coxblackandwhitelab.com/  First they printed contact sheets and then helped me decide which ones would print well. 

Thank you Lyn!  They did a beautiful job.  I will check them out.  I did find three options here in upstate South Carolina that I am thinking about checking into.



Great photo!
+10 votes
The husband of a cousin (I'm gonna describe the relationship later) was one of the founding directors of the "Max-Planck-Institute for biophysical chemistry" in Göttingen. The funny thing was when I discovered him, I asked my social daddy (himself a distinguished chemist) if he knew my cousin's husband. "Sure I do." "He married into my Eckstädt-line." "Oh wow."

The common ancestor couple of me and my cousin is 10 generations away from me and 7 generations away of my cousin. We descend of two sons of them. Now tell me the relationship, we should be three times removed (I think at least).
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (239k points)
+17 votes

This week I decided to tell about my dad and his work.  He was self-employed and worked alone (except for occasional help from one or more of his four children).  He was an "Appliance Refinisher".  I never heard of anyone else who did his job, but I think it was appreciated by the housewives of the 50s and 60s.  It was a time when appliance colors were changing from white to turquoise, pink, yellow, avocado, etc.  Women wanted the up-to-date colors but they didn't want to get rid of a perfectly good rerigerator, washer/dryer, or dishwasher.  Solution: Call James Dodge.  He would go to the home, pick up the appliance, take it to his shop, repaint it, and deliver the "new" appliance back to the customer.  Wonderful!

The job was a very physical one and my dad was not a large man -- weighed about 135 lbs. -- but he was strong.  He would talk about "wrestling the frig onto his pick-up".  He usually did this work alone, and he never had a lift on his truck until the later years before his retirement.  Occasionally one of us kids would go with him to help sand the item he was going to work on.  Real fun job? -- Not!  You spent the day preparing the piece by hand sanding it and then wiping it down with paint thinner.  Then my dad would take it into his spray booth and transform the appliance.  He never complained and, fortunately, never had a serious injury.  In his later years he had some trouble with his lungs, but that didn't get him down either.  It was a specialized profession, not pretty, but he supported his family and he was my hero.

by Robin Shaules G2G6 Pilot (387k points)
In college I lived in a rental with a turquoise fridge!! The kitchen was yellow, but the inside of the flop down ironing board cupboard was seriously turquoise as well!
Thanks, Lyn. A very colorful rental!

What's funny is that even though my dad recolored other people's appliances, all of ours were white...
+15 votes

This is David Johnston, my grandmother's uncle, at work with his horses in Perthshire, Scotland, in about 1920, before he came to Australia.

by David Urquhart G2G6 Mach 5 (50.8k points)
Nice horses! And a cute little patient dog who seems to be waiting for some action (or is it a cat?).
LOL, I'm pretty sure it's a dog and yes he is patient. :)
A superior photo and a real treasure!
Thanks Pip.:)
Great photo!  You've reminded me that I have one somewhere with my grandfather and the farm horse, probably ten years (or more) later than yours, but it was just as mechanised farming was becoming the norm.  There's a lot of social history as well as family history in these photos.
Thanks Linda,

I also have one of my grandmother holding two horses in Scotland and it was probably taken not long before they came to Australia, as she was 15 when they came here.
+8 votes
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (250k points)
+11 votes

Not a direct ancestor, but the husband of my Great-Grand-Aunt (who was twin sister to my Great-Grandmother) — Frank Edward Slate, whose family is still proving somewhat elusive (can't find the documentation, even though some of it is in the post-1937 period where it became mandatory to register).

The earliest noted occupation for Frank was as a Bookbinder's Forwarder (em'ee) in London.  (That (em'ee) had me bamboozled for a while, until I found out it designated an employee, rather than owner/employer.)  Ten years later and Frank is a Book Binder, now in Essex.  From information so far, it seems the family have a history of being in the bookbinding trade, as several of them show with that as occupation.

I found this interesting for two reasons; firstly because  love books.  I love to own books.  It hurts me when I see a book mistreated (deliberately, not through years of being read (that's loving the book)).  The second reason is because, way back in the pre-Dark Ages, when I was fresh out of school and determined to help my mother pay the bills (I left school because I decided she could not afford to send two teenagers to High School, but it was something I never discussed with her at the time .. years later, yes, but that becomes part of a different story), I applied for work as a trainee bookbinder.  I had seen an ad in the paper for this position and, in my innocence, thought I would be sure to get such a job because of my love for books.  Little did I know (as a naïve 15 1/2 year old) that you didn't just interview and say how much you love something.  They look for experience and references; and I had neither.  There were also probably dozens of equally hopeful people interviewing for that same job, only one or two of whom would be the chosen.

So, finding the census for Frank, that told me he had worked at something I would have loved, made me happy.  (And, of course, I had to go find an image of a bookbinder for the occupation sticker!)

Now all I need is to find the documentation for the rest of his family, so I can see just how far back they go as bookbinders.

[Week 35: 35th participation post . . AND I remembered to actually link to the profile!]

by Melanie Paul G2G6 Pilot (209k points)
+11 votes

Too often I neglect to add to the biographies of my ancestors and other relatives what they did to earn a living. Until the last couple of generations most of them were farmers. A few had other occupations. Even fewer ever have anything written in the local newspaper about their years of service to a particular job as did Robert Bunyan Hildreth, my 1st cousin 3x removed, who had various jobs until he settled in as a mail carrier for thirty years. There's a link in the sources on his profile to the article which appeared in The Enterprise Ledger in 1953 about life and his years of delivering mail. The article makes him sound like a kindhearted man who carried out a job he truly enjoyed.

by Nelda Spires G2G6 Pilot (123k points)
+12 votes

A fascinating and incomplete story is that of Andreas Reiss https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Reiss-218

Andreas may have been a son or relative of Andreas Reiss, a baker at the Swan auberge at Pfaffenhofen in Alsace during the 1650s and 1660s and who vanished, along with his whole family, from the records about 1668.

In 1693, Andreas the younger became involved with Eva Eichmann.  They were servants to Hans Adam Helmstetter, a former mayor of Pfaffenhofen.

The story is incomplete because it is based on a 20-year-old email from researcher Rick Toothman, who was apparently in the Pfaffenhofen area in 2000 when he was researching his Duchmann ancestors.  Rick wrote to me: 

Unfortunately Andreas' wedding was a shotgun affair, and for some reason I don't understand, records of these events almost always fail to identify the groom's father. The bride's father is given, but not the groom's, and it is recorded that this couple have "slept together" so that the bride is pregnant, and they are married in the evening, "like whore and knave." The record does say that both Andreas Reiss and Eva Eichmann (this name becomes Eidmann in the 18th century) were servants to Hans Adam Helmstetter, the old mayor here at Pfaffenhofen, and that is possibly a clue.

The Helmstetters, some of whom are related to Duchmanns, are village tradesmen and officials here, and some of them move down to the outskirts of Strasbourg where they are innkeepers and brewers of  beer, well into the 19th century. Bakers usually practice their trade here in connection with an inn or auberge, and many double as innkeepers themselves.  There may be some overall connection between the Andreas who was baker at the Swan and the Helmstetters who were innkeepers around Strasbourg. It needs more work, but so does all of this.

I never did find out where Rick Toothman's work in Pfaffenhofen led him.  I do not know if he published it in any form. Does anyone have a clue what records he was looking at? 

by Margaret Summitt G2G6 Mach 5 (51.8k points)
+12 votes
I've had a few ancestors that have stayed within a specific line of work.  Outside of farming it seems people who were coopers or cobblers picked up the trade from their fathers (or uncles) and continued the trade.  That's actually one of the reasons I was able to figure out which family George Butler (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Butler-15706) belonged to.  In Illinois his brother lived near by and was also a cooper.  I was able to trace both of them back to Muskingum, OH and had a suspicion that Joseph was their father (also a cooper).  The DNA research is what brought it all together, but the trade helped jump start the research.
by Eric McDaniel G2G6 Mach 3 (31.3k points)
+12 votes

One reason I love genealogy is for the chance to study history in a personal way.  Like many of us, I come from mostly farmers, except for my Kelts ancestors who were all lumbermen.


The transition out of farming was nearly complete by my great grandfathers' generation. Three of the four did the same work their entire lives (one of those lives was tragically short).  The exception was Homer Van Wye, who began  as a farmer, then operated a livery stable which he converted to an auto dealership as cars replaced horses in the early 1900s.


But in the next generation, the Great Depression hit both my grandfathers right in the middle of their prime working years.  They did whatever they could.


George Kelts was from a line of Pennsylvania lumbermen, but his father had been killed in a sawmill accident before he was born, and his mother sent him to business school instead. He did clerical and bookkeeping jobs, then worked as a roofing salesman, a roll grinder in a steel mill, a  deputy sheriff and a housing project manager.


John Cecil, my mother's father, came from generations of Illinois and Kansas farmers.  He began work as a bank teller at the age of 17 when his father died and continued to work in banking until the bank closed in 1932.  Later he sold insurance and real estate, then became an oil lease broker.  When the bank reopened in 1947, he went back to work there.  I think John would have been a farmer if he could.  After he retired, he planted an orchard which was his great pride.


My father spent his career working for the State of California, and called himself a bureaucrat although many of his duties were financial in nature.


I chose accounting as my profession.  I don't think I knew at the time that my grandfather had been a bookkeeper.  I just knew I had an aptitude.  It must be in my DNA.

by Julie Kelts G2G6 Mach 5 (55.5k points)
+13 votes

52 Ancestors Week 35: At Work

I hope this picture is not too risque for WikiTree. For this week, I chose my dad and my grandfather for "At Work".


It was 1957, and my grandma decided she wanted a screened house built on the side of her garage. My dad worked very hard with his father-in-law, my grandpa Leinen, to build it for my grandma. The fact that they worked very well together was not surprising. They got along very well. This wasn't the first project that they worked on together, but it was the largest.

I wish I had a picture of the finished screen house. I turned out really nice. And our family spent a lot of time in the house. It was perfect for those days when the mosquitoes were heavy outside. They couldn't get into grandma's little house.

by Cheryl Hess G2G6 Pilot (808k points)
edited by Cheryl Hess

Cheryl, we can't see your picture surprise Must be a memorable house.

C. Ryder,

Thank you. I hope you can see it now!
Nope. All I can see is a little icon and the word 'image'.
C Ryder, can you see it now? I am so sorry to bother you.
Great! Pretty daring shot. I can see why you were concerned about the appropriateness.
Great photo, Cheryl! Two "he-men" at work. Thanks for sharing.

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