2024.06.19 – Strategy: Research Occupational Records


Strategy: Research Occupational Records
By Pat Smart and AI

There are many ways to further your research in Family History. The following is one of those strategies.

Researching Occupational Records

Occupational records are documents that describe a person’s job or profession. These can include employment records, guild memberships, apprenticeships, and etc. Occupational records can be a valuable means of research because they offer a glimpse into the lives of ancestors’ beyond basic birth, marriage, and death records.

Where to Find Occupational Records

There are many locations occupational records can be found. The following is a list of some of them. You may be able to find additional locations as you work with and become familiar with them. Knowing an ancestor’s occupation can help point you to other information about them you may not have thought of.

  1. Census Records: Many national censuses include information about occupation. The U.S. Census has listed occupations since 1850. This is a good way to discover what your ancestors did for a living.
  2. City Directories: These are like old-fashioned phone books that often list names, addresses, and occupations. They can be found in local libraries, archives, or online databases.
  3. Employment Records: Detailed employment records might be found depending on the country and time period. For instance, railroad companies, factories, and other large employers often kept extensive records of their employees.
  4. Apprenticeship Records: Young people began as apprentices in many trades. These records can provide information about their training, masters, and sometimes even personal details like their parent’s names.
  5. Guild and Union Records: If your ancestor was a member of a trade guild or labor union, those records can provide details about their work, the duration of their membership, and their role within the organization.

How to Use Occupational Records

  1. Identify Economic Status: An occupation can tell you a lot about an ancestor’s economic status. For example, a laborer likely had a different lifestyle compared to a business owner or professional.
  2. Trace Migration Patterns: Occupational records can reveal why your ancestors moved. For instance, a farmer might have relocated due to land availability, while an industrial worker might have moved to follow job opportunities. For example, many farmers moved to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl drought years of the 1930s.
  3. Understand Daily Life: Knowing what your ancestors did for a living helps you understand their daily routines, skills, and challenges. This context can aid your family history research and make it more personal.

Tips for Effective Research

  1. Verify with Multiple Sources: Always try to cross-reference information from occupational records with other sources like census data, vital records, and family stories.
  2. Keep Historical Context in Mind: Understand the historical context of your ancestor’s occupation. Economic conditions, technological advancements, and social changes can all influence job roles. You may find that a particular job did not exist in certain time periods.
  3. Use Online Databases: Websites like Ancestry.com, Findmypast, and FamilySearch have extensive collections of occupational records. Using these and other resources will help broaden your search for clues.


Investigating occupational records can be a helpful strategy for adding depth and context to your family history. Understanding your ancestor’s occupation, can give you a richer, more nuanced picture of their lives.

Seekerz LLC, © 2024

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