Break the Brick Walls: Occupational Records

Break the Brick Walls: Occupational Records

Jenny Jones completes her series with a look at occupational records

Jenny Jones, Retired nurse with over 30 years of experience in family history

Jenny Jones

Retired nurse with over 30 years of experience in family history

Researching an ancestor’s occupation can reveal a lot about their social status and how they lived. People often had surnames which derived from the occupation of a distant ancestor – such as Butcher, Fletcher or Carpenter. Crucially, finding occupations can help to distinguish between two individuals of the same name, and certain skilled occupations or trades were passed down through generations, providing evidence of family kinship.

Many of the primary sources, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, baptismal and sometimes burial records, provide us with the occupation of the father.

    Other useful records include:
  • Census records. Comparing an ancestor’s occupation over all available censuses (which of course you can find online at, reveals any changes in working status over a long period of time.
  • Directories: street or trades directories are useful sources.
  • Many of these too are available at TheGenealogist. Copies of older directories are available on microfilm at local record offices.
  • Parish business and company records at local record offices may contain names of the workforce, but generally there are no systematic lists, which means you may have to face lengthy searches.
  • Newspapers: Death notices and obituaries are a good source of occupational information.
  • Wills, probate records and apprenticeship registers often reveal details of an occupation of an ancestor or his father. Again, TheGenealogist has extensive collections of all of these.
  • Records of people in various specific trades are also available at TheGenealogist: see the box below.
  • Trade union records, where they survive, are housed at the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University Library, providing members’ names, ages, occupations, addresses, dependents and benefits granted. Details can be found at
  • Some organizations have large collections of occupational archives. The Post Office records, including staff pensions at Freeling House, Mount Pleasant, Farringdon Road, London EC1A1BB – see here for staff appointments 1813-1952.
  • Railway companies’ archives are available at the National Archives under RAIL, however searches can be lengthy and frustrating (see D.T. Hawkings’ 1991 guide Railway Ancestors, Sutton publishing) – thankfully many railway staff records are also available at TheGenealogist.
  • Friendly societies were established in times of sickness in Victorian era. Surviving members’ records located in record offices and The National Archives under series FS.

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