You may have had the good fortune to discover what your ancestors did for a living, by searching through electoral rolls, census records etc. If you’d like to find out more about their professions why not look at some of the titles held in the Genealogy Centre. We have a number of excellent titles that not only provide a history of specific occupations but include details on  how to find further information using available records and archives.
Here are some recent publications that may be of interest to you.

Female occupations : women’s employment 1850-1950 by Margaret Ward

This is a fascinating book that lists, in alphabetical order, the various occupations women held from the 1840’s to the end of WW2. It covers everything from the hard, monotonous, dirty work undertaken by working class women in the 19th century through to the immense barriers women faced when trying to become doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. Of particular interest is the broad range of jobs that existed, from the dangerous – Lead Smelting Worker, Gun Cartridge Maker, Aerated Water Bottler (exploding bottles) ; the unpleasant – Fur Puller (choking on rabbit down), Trotter Scraper (500 sets a week) ; the outmoded – Lacemaker, Bathing Machine Attendant ; and , the new – Typist, Telephonist, Civil Servant.

Trades and professions: the family historians guide by Stuart A. Raymond.

A huge amount of information about our ancestors can be discovered by consulting the records of their occupations. Employers kept records of their employees. Trade unions, professional associations, and trade guilds kept records of their members. And governments attempted to regulate a variety of occupations. Many of these records still exist and can be found in archives and record offices. This book recommends some key UK sources relevant to a broad range of particular occupations, including Stonemasons, Railway Workers, Miners, Blacksmiths and Publicans. Sources include books, journals, websites, directories and parliamentary papers.

My ancestor was an agricultural labourer (rev. ed.) by Ian H. Waller.

Look at any mid-19th century UK census and you will find men employed as “ag lab”, agricultural labourers, farm worker, farm servant or shepherd.  This book provides an outline of an agricultural labourers life, looks at the social and economic conditions that shaped their world and how poor harvests and the Industrial Revolution forced many to leave the land and find employment in towns. The second half of the book lists the various resources, records and websites which may help you with your research, including employment records, maps and  local archive collections. This is a revised edition of Ian Waller’s popular book.

Web Sites for Genealogists

Here are just some of the websites and gateways you can use to find information on occupational histories and records.


  • Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). On PROV’s Explore by topic page, you can find information on a number of occupations. Under each category use the Navigate to, drop down option to view a wider range of occupations, including Police, Railways, Teachers. Click on the relevant subject category to find out what records are held.
  • Occupations in Australia (Coraweb)  A gateway to a number of useful Australian websites. Some of the occupations listed include – Police, Publicans, Artists, Railway Workers and Miners.

United Kingdom

  • Research Guides National Archives (UK). The surviving records for a number of UK professions are often held by local archives and record centres and can be difficult to locate.  To help you find information the National Archives has developed a series of Family History research guides  on such professions as the Police, Lawyers, Nurses and Railways workers.

This article has 1 comment

  1. I am compiling some web stats for the last year and was very happy to see referral traffic from this site regarding information we have about occupations on the PROV Wiki. I just wanted to let you know that in addition to searching under Categories on the wiki, visitors can also get an idea of relevant content via this page:

    Many thanks

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