English Occupations: Finding More About Your Ancestor

A contact asked me about occupations recently and so I found them this really helpful article by professional genealogist Rosamunde Bott. I am sharing it here for everyone to read.

tracing ancestors in the uk

English Occupations: Finding More About Your Ancestor
By Rosamunde Bott

Whilst rooting around in your family history, you will learn what your ancestors did for a living – at least as far back to the early 1800s. This is often one of the most fascinating aspects of discovering who your ancestors were. Whether they were a lowly agricultural labourer, or a highly respected surgeon or magistrate, the curious and wide range of English occupations can lead you to further knowledge of how they lived their lives on a day to day basis. For some people it can be exciting to discover that a creative gene, such as writing or painting has made its way down to the present.

Much of this information can be found on the census, at least back to 1841, and sometimes beyond depending on the availability of records. Some earlier parish records did mention a man’s occupation, and other records, such as directories, wills, property deeds and tax records can also give occupational details.

Many of you will have come across occupations that are now obsolete, and will often need further explanation. What, for example, is a night soil man? Or a calenderer? Or a fag ender?

The first of these might have been found in any large town or city, emptying dry toilets in the days before plumbing. Not a job I would like to imagine any of my ancestors doing – but fascinating nonetheless.

The other two are connected to the textile industry, and will usually be found in those industrial areas where cotton was being produced – for example, Manchester. A calenderer was just a generic term for a textile industry worker. A fag ender was someone employed to trim off loose bits of cloth known as fags.

If you trawl through the census records for specific areas, you will of course find a wealth of occupations connected to that area’s industry. Sticking with Manchester for the moment, you will find many jobs associated with the cotton industry, and among the weavers, winders, packers and piecers you might also come across Fustian cutters (cloth workers who trim corded cloth), beamers (people who handle materials before weaving), billiers, billy roller operations or billymen (all terms for cotton spinners) or even an impleachers (cloth weavers).

When you find that an ancestor’s origins are in a particular area, it is worth while finding out about the major industries there, because this will no doubt have had some effect on your ancestor’s life, even if he (or she) was not directly involved in it.

For example, shoemakers are known everywhere – but a shoemaker working in Manchester would probably have had a different experience to a shoemaker who worked in a more rural area, or on the coast. Is he making shoes for factory workers, agricultural labourers, fishermen or for the well-to-do?

If your ancestor moved around, it was very likely it was to find work. Undertaking a bit of historical research on the local industries can give you a good indication of why your ancestor moved from one town to another. My own great-great grandfather started out as a bricklayer in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and moved to Birmingham where he became a builder and employer. You only need to find out about the building boom going on in Birmingham in the mid-19th century to work out why he made the choice to move!

Some occupations can lead you to finding further documentation. For example, workers in skilled trades may well have started out as an apprentice, and you may find the apprenticeship records at the local record office. These can give you further details about his origins and parentage.

If your ancestor worked for a big company, it may be worth finding out whether there are staff records in existence. If the company still exists, they may even keep their own set of archives.

Not only are occupations interesting in themselves – they can lead you to find out further information, whether it is more family records, or information about how your ancestor lived, and under what conditions. Much information about trades and occupations can be found on the internet, and there are many books about various trades and industries. The Society of Genealogists publishes a range of books entitled “My Ancestor was….”

Old English occupations are varied and wide-ranging, and they can tell you much about your ancestor. Make sure you always follow up this line of enquiry and find out as much as possible about what he (or she) did for a living.

Ros is a professional genealogist and runs a UK ancestry tracing service for UK and international researchers who need help with their UK ancestry. Ros offers a one-stop-shop tracing service for all UK ancestors, or record look-ups in Warwickshire and Birmingham. Find out more at Tracing Your Ancestors

Article Source:  English Occupations: Finding More About Your Ancestor

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How To Find Ancestors, A Professional’s Tip

Thorne graves in Dartmouth, Devon

 I was having a chat with a professional genealogist recently.

During the discussion I mentioned a particular brick wall that I had in my family tree.

“When was the last time you reviewed it?” he asked.

“Ah, I see what you mean!” I replied. “It is over six months since I sent it to the back burner and concentrated on other easier to find people.”

 

It is a lesson that even I forget to do and that is to periodically go back and see if, with new information you can now make some progress.

New record sets may have become available in the time since you last looked at your ancestor. It may be the release of yet more transcripts by Family History Societies, or those of the genealogical retailers that can now aid you. New parish records may have been uploaded to the likes of Ancestry,  TheGenealogist  or Findmypast.

Your ancestor may appear in one of the more diverse data sets that the subscription sites are releasing such as the Tithe Records on TheGenealogist, new occupational records on Ancestry, or The British in India records on Findmypast.

It is not just the case of reviewing the recently released documents on the subscription sites, that I am advocating. Take a look again at sets you may already have used. Perhaps, in the light of your experience and any new found knowledge that you have gained since last you looked, the answers may now be clear.

 

With my friend’s advice I set about looking again at a brick wall that I had in Devon.

In 1794 I have a John Thorn marrying a Sarah Branton in Plymouth in the parish of Charles on the 12th January. This John Thorn is not listed as being of the parish, yet his wife is.

They then move quickly to Dartmouth where their son, also called John is born with the child being baptised on the 28th September of the same year. In the marriage register, in Plymouth, John Thorn Senior was listed as a mariner and so it does not surprise me much that they pitch up along the coast at another port. But then what happens to them?

The Mouth of the River Dart.
Dartmouth, Devon.

We are taught to always kill off our ancestors as good practice. In my case I had not found the death records for John Thorn Senior, nor of his wife Sarah. I had an inkling that they probably settled in Dartmouth, as the line remains there for another two to three generations, but I did not know if they stayed or not.

Since reviewing my notes on the searches I made, in the parish records at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, I have now realized that I had indeed found a possible burial of a John Thorn in Dartmouth in January 1810, but had not entered it into my family tree.

The page from the parish of St Saviour’s, Dartmouth, had helpfully given me the information that this particular John Thorn was only 41 at his death This means he could be a candidate for the marriage in 1794, as he would have been 25 in that year.

St Saviours on phone camera
St Saviour’s Dartmouth

When I last looked at the parish records, on the visit to the Devon Heritage Centre (previously the County Record Office), I had been disappointed not to have found the burial entry for his wife Sarah in the same parish and so I had put this line of enquiry aside.

But now, as I looked back at my notes, I see that I had also done a thorough job and looked at all the other churches in the town. I had found, among all the people buried in Dartmouth, and with the correct surname, one Sarah Thorn aged 50.

Dartmouth St Clements
Dartmouth, St Clement’s. Townstall

This Sarah Thorn is buried at the Parish church of St Clement’s, Townstall, Dartmouth on the 21st June 1818. At 50 she would have been born in 1768 and so she may well have been the wife of John, who was buried 8 years prior in the daughter church of St Saviour’s that is closer to the port.

Looking back at my visit to the record office I can recall that I finished my trawl of the parish record microfiche as a deadline for me to leave approached. I had a flight to catch from Exeter Airport and a connecting bus from outside of the Met Office to get me there. In my rush I had noted down the finding but had not looked at it in the right frame of mind. So perhaps here is another reason for reviewing your brick walls.

Now that the Devon Parish Records are on Findmypast I was recently able to go back and look at them at my leisure. This time without the pressure of missing a flight and so I can hypothesize that these two individuals are very possibly my direct ancestors.

Regretfully, with the paucity of information to identify someone contained in the pages of most parish records, I can not be completely sure. As with anyone with a common name there is always the possibility that they are simply namesakes.

If you would like to learn more about Death records, parish registers or good practice in doing English/Welsh family history then take a look at joining the Family History Researcher.

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So My Ancestor Raced a Sailing Cutter Yacht

British Newspaper ArchiveI have been having a nose around the British Newspaper Archive Collection again this week on its stand alone website as well as its home within the findmypast site.

I was looking for information on a great-great-uncle who died young (30) after a fall from a cliff. While I didn’t come up with a family notice of his death I found an article in the Isle of Wight Observer for May 19th, 1866 under the notices for the Royal Victoria Yacht Club that I found interesting.

After detailing that the Commodore’s splendid yacht had arrived at the station on Tuesday and then listing the twelve yachts on station, having got the important notices out of the way they then add a line or two about the man I was researching.

“It is with great regret that we hear that W.W.F.Hay esq., fell overboard from his cutter yacht the Surge, at Alderney, and lost his life. His remains will be interned tomorrow (Saturday). On receipt of the melancholy intelligence, the flag at the club was hoisted half-mast high.”

Well, their information was not quite correct, as reported elsewhere. William Wemyss Frewen Hay died when he went ashore at Alderney to have dinner with the officers at the garrison there and lost his footing while returning to the breakwater and where his yacht was anchored.

This, however, got me looking for information on the clipper yacht called the Surge and the first article I turned up made me think that she was not such a good racing boat at all. She retired from a race around the Solent having no chance of gaining the lead in August 1865.

Further articles, however, have her mentioned in a good light.. “Some dozen clippers have already been entered including the celebrated Surge (W.W.F.Hay Esq), the Water Lilly, yawl, (Commodore Lord A Paget, MP.) etc” which does not sound like she was an also ran.

I wonder what the yacht looked like and how many crew she required to sail her?

There are also other questions I have about Willaim, who at the time of his death in the May, according to another article, was due to be married in July of that same year. I would like to find out who his bride to be was, but so far no mention of the lady has appeared in my trawl of the newspapers.

As more titles are added all the time this situation may indeed change. I keep coming back to this resource as it is so useful to family historians.


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The Family History Researcher and Harold P Matthews

Last week I wrote about how a family story had sent me off looking for my great-uncle Harold who served in the RAF during the Second World War and rising from Warrant Officer to Wing Commander in the Technical Branch.

One of my kind readers suggested a lead after they had done a Google search for H.P.Matthews that threw up a person of this name working for the Australian Department of Supply in a document referring to the Blue Streak Missile project. I had also come across something similar in Google Books and so was likewise wondering if there was a connection to Australia.

I set to work doing a trawl of Google search results and found a copy of an article in a 1959 copy of Flight Magazine with a picture of the Australian Government London Representative of the Department of Supply Mr H P Matthews.

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%202503.html

Regretfully I came to the conclusion that it didn’t look to me to be the same man. You see I have a picture of my Great-Uncle in my baby photo album! He and my great-aunt Winnie came to visit me in the late 1950’s (I was born in the summer of 1958) and there is one of them with me as a baby.

A further search of Google books have thrown up some snippet views of books that have Wg. Cdr H P Matthews appointed as the managing director of Zwicky Ltd in 1958. This company was a filters, pumps, airport ground equipment, pressure control valves, and hydraulic equipment manufacturer of Slough and Harold Matthews was also the MD of SkyHi Ltd. a hydraulic jack manufacturers also of Slough and possibly related to the first company.

 

I did a search on the website www.forces-war-records.co.uk and here I could see that H.P.Matthews was awarded the MBE, OBE and BEM, 1939-1945 War Medal, 1939-1945 Star and was Mentioned in Despatches, but not a lot else.

I am still at the beginning of cracking this family story and it is a major regret that I didn’t know Uncle Harold better. It would seem he was some sort of an aviation engineer, but I still don’t know what he did in the war that got him such promotion and honours!

http://www.apimages.com/oneup.aspx?rids=b122ed18743d49238762fd28fd2f913b

 

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Find Ancestors in Old Newspapers!

British Newspaper Archive

It looks like it has been a pretty busy month for The British Newspaper Archive website. They have introduced lots of new titles to expand their database and have also broadened the year ranges of their existing titles. The website is a wonderful source for family tree research to flesh out the story of your ancestors.

So even if you have used The British Newspaper Archive website in the past, you may still want to re-vist them to see if you can track down your ancestors in the extra pages and titles that have been recently added.

To check which new titles and issues have been added to the site in the past 30 days you only need to visit the ‘Newspaper Titles’ page at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk !

Here are a few of the many new titles and issues that have just been added to the site.

New Title – ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’
The latest newspaper to be added to the website for the Midlands is ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’, from 1801 to 1839. While I haven’t found any of my ancestors came from this region I have found adverts placed by some of my forebears who were in business in many regional titles. This paper was established by Joshua Drewry (c.1773-1841) in Stafford in 1795, the paper went on to become the main county newspaper for Staffordshire.

New Title – ‘The Shoreditch Observer’
For those of us with ancestors that went up to the London area, the addition of ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ for 1863 to the website is to be welcomed. It rejoiced in the strapline of: ‘A journal of local intelligence for Bishopsgate, St. Luke, Hackney, Kingsland, Bethnal-Green, and the Tower Hamlets’, ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ contains an excellent round-up of local news, adverts and notices so worth a trawl.

New Issues – ‘The Western Gazette’ (1950)
With some of my family tree being in the west of England this latest addition to the website now meas that I can search the ‘The Western Gazette’ from 1863 right through to 1950 for family members. If, like me, you’re carrying out historical research in any of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire, then this weekly newspaper will certainly help you with your searches.

New Issues – ‘The Evening Telegraph’ of Dundee (1904)
I have some Scots roots as well and so I am pleased to see that north of the border is not being left out. Still in publication, The Evening Telegraph is affectionately known by Dundonians as ‘The Tully’. With the addition of the 1904 issues, it’s now possible to read this Dundee institution from 1877 to 1904.

 

We have just had the Olympic torch go by today where I live. With a little bit of history being made makes me think about the games in years gone by. The Archive contains a terrific collection of stories about past Olympics, spanning the years 1894 to 1948.

Why ‘1894’?

Because there are also dozens of stories about the planning for the first Modern Games in 1896. From the lost luggage (and wine!) of the French Team in 1948 to worries about the Greek government’s finances for the 1896 Games – all Olympian life is there to be found.

What ever it is that you are researching, why not look at what can be found in The British Newspaper Archive website. Take a look today!

The British Newspaper Archive is a partner of the British Library and set up to digitise their collection of over 300 years of newspapers. Now accessible to the public, with market leading search functionality, it offers access to over 4 million pages of historical newspapers. A great source for hobby historians, students, reporters and editors – what will you discover?




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Take a Look at Your Ancestor’s Occupation

Census on Computer Screen

What a person did as an occupation can very often give the family history researcher a greater insight into their ancestor’s life. It may also be a useful way of distinguishing between two people who happen to have the same name and that you need to work out which belongs in your family tree and which one does not.

 

Another reason to look into a forebear’s occupation is that it may help you to work out an ancestor’s social status, political affiliation, or migration pattern.

 

Skilled trades were often passed down from father to son and so having regard to an ancestor’s occupation may also be a useful tool in identifying a family relationship with others who happen to have the same name.

 

An important point to remember, in your research, is that people’s occupations sometimes changed. I have an ancestor who changed from being a gunsmith to working in a pawn brokers and another who changed from being a cordwainer (shoemaker) to being a boatman on the river. Workers may suffer accidents or simply get ill and so are no longer fit to work in their primary trade. When this happened they were often forced to take on less prestigious jobs as they grow older. Many of our unskilled ancestors would have had a variety of jobs which depended on the season and local trade requirements.

 

I have wondered about one of my ancestors exaggerating their occupational qualification status in the census returns and I am sure that I am not alone in this! Clearly not everyone would be completely truthful. Just keep in mind that the census collections may exhibit some embellishment as to what your ancestor did; e.g., from Labourer to Mason, Carpenter to Cabinet maker, or from journeyman to Master craftsman.

 

Names for old or unfamiliar local occupations have the potential to cause us confusion if they are poorly legible in the record we are consulting. A prime example is the similarity between the words ostler (a keeper of horses) and a hostler (an innkeeper) which could so easily be confused for one another.

 

In a similar manner, some descriptions of occupations may also pose us problems. One of my Plymouth ancestors was a General Commission Agent, another a Merchant in London, but what did they do? I am yet to find out what areas of commerce these two distinct gentlemen worked in in spite of trawling the trade directories. Several trades have regionally preferred terms. For example, “shoemaker” and “cordwainer” have the same meaning in some places.

 

Finally, we need to remember that many apparently obscure jobs are part of a larger trade community, such as shipbuilding, framework knitting, or gunmaking.

 

We can look for occupational data in several places. It may be found in the records of occupational licenses, tax assessments, the membership records of professional organisations to which our ancestors belonged, trade, city and town directories, census returns, and civil registration vital records.

 

There are a number of websites available that explain many of the obscure and archaic trades, here are two that I have found:

 

http://www.rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html

 

or

 

http://www.occupationalinfo.org/dot_c1.html

 

Clearly, the occupations that our ancestors carried out on a day to day basis can give the family history researcher an insight into their forbear’s life, as well as providing clues about other family members and the social status of the family. The data may be used by us to distinguish between two people of the same name; but all along we have to be aware that our ancestors may well have been telling little white lies and embellishing their actual job descriptions to the officials compiling the records.

 

 

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Jersey Marriage Records

Jersey FlagI was doing a bit of research, this week, on a person who had been part of an Army family that moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands, at the end of the 19th century from England.

From the 1891 census I could see that this young girl, aged 14, was listed as a Daughter and was living in the household of a Colour Sergeant and his wife in the Parish of St Saviour. By the time of the next census, in 1901, they had moved a few miles further east, within the island, to the Arsenal in the Parish of Grouville. The head of the household would seem to be listed as a Quarter Master Sergeant, on the permanent staff for the Royal Jersey Militia Infantry and his daughter as a Music Teacher.

Using the various online databases at The Genealogist.co.uk, Ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.co.uk, the next time that the daughter appears, in any of their records, was in the probate records for her mother back in England in the 1930s. From this we see that the daughter has married, revealing her new surname. But there seems to be no record for the marriage in any of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands are British Islands that are not, of  course, part of the U.K. and they have their own administrations and their own marriage registers.

None of the Jersey marriage records are online and so on one of my visits to the Lord Coutanche Library at La Societe Jersiaise, in St Helier, I took the time to consult their copies of the indexes to the island’s marriages. If you have read the guest post by James McLaren on this blog on Jersey BMD records after 1842 as part of the Jersey Family History Section, you will know that this is a somewhat lengthy affair as they are not kept quarterly, like in England, but are simply run until they are filled up. Indexing is alphabetical by the first letter of the surname only, being added to the list in the order that the marriages take place. Each parish runs indexes for Anglican and non-Anglican marriages and in St Helier, the town parish, each C of E church has its own index.

I was faced with the prospect of going through thirty or so indexes, looking for the chance marriage of this couple at some unknown date after the 1901 census. My best guess was to start with the Parish of Grouville, where she had been resident in 1901. Sadly, I had no luck and so I began the trawl through the different parish indexes until I hit St Helier.

There, in 1902, at the main Parish Church of St Helier, married by the Dean of Jersey, G.O.Balleine, was my research targets! It had taken me hours of persistence to find them and, with quite some satisfaction, I now noted down the details on my pad. I would need the Parish, the dates between which the index ran, the Page number and the bride and grooms names to obtain a certified extract from the Superintendent Registrar’s Office in the island, on payment of the required £20.  The time it had taken me to find them, however, meant that this office was now closed for the day. They are only open to the public on weekday mornings and then only when no civil weddings are taking place at the office.

The next day, however, I was able to request the certificate and collect it the day after. A speculative search had revealed the Jersey marriage of this couple in September 1902. A good result and another piece in the puzzle of this family’s research.

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More Devon Parish Registers On-line!

As many of you know I am particularly interested in the county of Devon, as so many of my paternal line comes from that county of England.

One of the biggest problems for me is that the number of Parish Registers on-line does not seem to be as great as for many other English counties. So here is some good news that I recently found on a trawl of the news sites..

Over 360,000 Devon baptism records have been published on the FindMyPast web site in the past month.

You are able to now search for your Devon ancestors in 363,015 new parish baptism records on findmypast.co.uk and these baptism records cover the period between 1813 and 1839.

It would seem that the Devon Family History Society has supplied findmypast.co.uk with these records, for which we should all be grateful. I know that I am!

Here is a link to the site, but first a warning to all those of you that don’t like the idea of  promotion for compensation. This is an affiliate link for which I will be compensated if you decide to join!

findmypast.co.uk




Disclosure: I am a Compensated Affiliate of findmypast.co.uk.

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