Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteOccupations


Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteOccupations



On the television a few weeks ago I saw an episode of “Emmerdale” the one in which Edna learned, following a genealogical search, that her Grandmother earned her living as a “lady of the night”. Poor Edna was shocked and dismayed at the news, but what does this actually mean to us as Family Historians?

I thought I would take a look at occupations through the ages, and what is available to us on the internet if we wish to research this area of our ancestor’s lives. Researching occupations helps us to put “the meat on the bones” that is, to widen the information we hold about our ancestors rather than having basic birth, marriage and death data. It can help to build a picture of their lives, and the type of living that they had.

An online dictionary at defines occupation as “An activity that serves as one's regular source of livelihood; a vocation”. An online article all about researching ancestors’ occupations can be read at

My starting point was Genuki where a comprehensive list of occupation related sites can be explored. A list of occupations has also been provided by J. Lacombe at and a further list of obsolete occupations is available from Olive Tree Genealogy at

Looking through these sites it soon becomes apparent how many occupations gave rise to people’s surnames, for instance  Brazier was one who works with brass, Collier a Coal miner, Hayward a keeper of fences, Leech a physician and Roper a Rope maker. Some are more easily recognised than others, for instance most people are aware of the link between occupations and surnames such as Smith, but not of the more unusual names such as Wainwright, a maker of wagons or Palister, a park keeper.

There are various other sites to browse from Genuki including those relating to the Armed Services, the Metropolitan Police, and the Coastguard. Police History resources at includes a link to Lincolnshire Police. This interesting site provides a brief history of the Police in Lincolnshire with photographs.

Gareth Hicks also provides a comprehensive occupations list to assist research, and an assortment of links to other useful sites which can be viewed at

Many different occupations and trades have made the provision of archives, which can be viewed by arrangement, for instance BT archives at and Mills archive for Millers and Milling at .

Many of these sites are featured on Cyndi’s List at and it is well worth browsing through the list for the individual occupation that you are searching for.

The Guildhall library manuscripts section has published information leaflets as a guide to records held including those for many occupations, and this can be viewed at A very useful link from this site is for sources for tracing Apothecaries, Surgeons, Physicians and other Medical Practitioners at Guildhall Library which is viewable at

The Public Record Office (PRO) also provides online leaflets at regarding some occupations, for example Nursing Services and Armed Forces. These guides give instructions and sources available to help with your search, an example of which is the Poor and the Poor Laws at describing sources of use when searching poor law records for possible ancestors.

There are a number of sites that can be accessed which are dedicated to a speciality, for example “Was your ancestor a Doctor?” which provides useful advice for anybody trying to trace an ancestor working or training in the Medical Profession. Another site hosted by Rosemary and Stan Rodliffe at provides a growing Index of UK Photographers.

There are also a number of occupation related mailing lists that you can subscribe to, and a list of these is provided by John Fuller at these range from a general occupations list to individual trades such as railways, canals, pubs and doctors. Advice and information on how to subscribe to these lists is given on the site.

I hope this has given you an introduction to the records available when researching ancestors’ occupations and that you will be able to add details to your own Family Tree.

Page updated Wednesday March 12, 2008

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