top of page

Exploring Occupations to Break Through Genealogy Brick Walls

You know that frustration when you just can't seem to find any more information about your ancestor? There is a powerful strategy that can help you break through those genealogy brick walls: researching and analyzing your ancestors’ occupations. You'll be amazed at what their chosen professions can reveal about their lives, passions, and even the historical context they lived in.

Unveiling the Occupational Clues
Have you ever stopped to consider the immense significance of an occupation in a person's life? Occupations aren't just about making a living; they can offer us a unique window into our ancestors' experiences. When we explore their chosen trades or professions, we gain insights into their daily lives, social status, economic conditions, and cultural influences.

Tracing the Roots of Family Trades: Many families have rich traditions and occupational lineages that span generations. By researching and tracing the occupations within your family, you can discover connections and stories that will deepen your understanding of your ancestors. Did your great-great-grandfather follow in his father's footsteps as a blacksmith? Or perhaps your grandmother was part of a long line of seamstresses? These ancestral trades not only reflect shared skills but also hint at family values and the passing down of knowledge through the ages.

Occupations as Cultural Signposts: Occupations can provide valuable cultural insights, shedding light on the historical context in which our ancestors lived. For example, if your research uncovers that your ancestors worked in the coal mines during the Industrial Revolution, it tells a powerful story of the impact of industrialization on their lives. The same applies to other significant historical events or social movements that shaped the job market, such as wartime efforts, migrations, or even the rise of new technologies. Occupations can be windows into the broader societal changes and challenges that our ancestors navigated.

Economic Status and Social Mobility: The jobs our ancestors held can reveal important clues about their economic status and social standing. By understanding the type of work they engaged in, we can gain insights into their lifestyle, income, and the communities they were part of. A well-respected profession may indicate a higher social status, while a labor-intensive occupation might suggest a different reality. Exploring occupational records can help you understand the financial circumstances and opportunities available to your ancestors, offering a glimpse into their social mobility or constraints.

Research Strategies and Resources
Now that we understand the value of exploring our ancestors' occupations, let's discuss some practical research strategies to unlock the stories they hold. The useful strategy here will be to look for people in the community of your ancestor with the same or related occupation. These people may have known your ancestor or were maybe even related to them. Researching these other people can give you clues into your ancestor’s origins and lead you to the next generation back. For all of the below tips, look for others in the same place and time who had the same or similar occupations:

Census Records: Census records are treasure troves of information, and they often include details about occupations. Look for these records, as they can help you trace the employment history of your ancestors over time. Pay attention to changes in their jobs, as this can indicate career progression or shifts in economic circumstances. Look for others in the same place and time who had the same or similar occupations.

Trade Directories: Trade directories are excellent resources for understanding the specific occupations prevalent in a particular area during a specific time. They can provide insight into the types of businesses your ancestors may have owned or worked for. Trade directories can often be found in local libraries, archives, or online repositories.

Local Histories: Dive into local histories and newspapers to gain a deeper understanding of the communities your ancestors were a part of. These sources often mention notable individuals, local industries, or even societal events that influenced the job market. By contextualizing your ancestors' occupations within the broader community, you can better understand their lives and aspirations.
Professional Associations and Guilds: Some occupations have longstanding professional associations or guilds that have preserved historical records. Exploring these resources can help you uncover additional information about your ancestors' professional networks, certifications, and even social connections.

Analyzing Occupational Clues
Once you've collected information about your ancestors' occupations, it's time to analyze and interpret the clues. For each of these, consider how these clues would have affected your ancestor and their familial relationships. By getting to know your ancestor and their day-to-day life, you can begin to understand how they were able to maintain relationships, if they would have benefited from moving elsewhere, and how much financial freedom they really had to maintain those kinships. Here are a few key aspects to consider:

Skills and Specializations: What specific skills and knowledge were required for your ancestors' professions? Did they require formal education or apprenticeships? By understanding the skills involved, you can gain insight into the challenges and expertise your ancestors possessed.

Lifestyle and Work Conditions: Consider the nature of the work itself. Did your ancestors have irregular schedules? Were they self-employed or part of a larger workforce? Understanding the work conditions can help you visualize their daily lives and the challenges they faced.

Social Networks: Investigate the professional networks associated with your ancestors' occupations. Were they part of a tight-knit community of craftsmen or connected to broader networks through their trade? Exploring these networks can provide clues about their relationships and potential migration patterns.

Economic Trends: Look for patterns in the occupational choices of your ancestors over time. Did they adapt to changing economic conditions? Did they switch occupations in response to societal shifts? Analyzing these trends can offer a deeper understanding of their resilience and adaptability.

By exploring your ancestors' chosen professions, you'll unveil a treasure trove of information about their lives, values, and the broader historical context they lived in. Remember, each occupation holds its own unique story, waiting to be discovered. So, keep digging, stay curious, and embrace the surprises that await you on this fascinating path of genealogy exploration.


If you need more help and coaching to find answers, try the Brick Wall Buster Cards today!

bottom of page