Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker
Ancestors come with many and varied occupations. Some we understand and others require additional research to figure out exactly what they did for a living. A useful Web site with a clickable index to identify and translate colonial occupations into todayís vernacular is https://legendsprings.dvusd.org/colonial_occupations.htm.
The butcher, baker and candle maker might all be found in colonial America. So might the sawyer, cooper, and the arkwright. The sawyer cut timber into boards, the cooper made wooden barrels, and the arkwright was a skilled craftsman who made "arks," wooden chests or coffers.
Many other occupations were related in some way to working with wood, a plentiful commodity in the colonies. A shanty man was a lumberman, a shingler worked with wooden roof tiles, an auger maker made tools for boring holes in wood, a blocker made wooden blocks used by hatters, a bodger was a craftsman who made wooden chair legs and spindles and a clogger made wooden shoes.
The censuses taken in 1850 and later are good sources for learning what a person did for a living as the occupations of each member of a household are listed. Sometimes however, the census may just add a dash of confusion to the family story.
In 1850 New York resident Myron Bly was employed as a carpenter, but in the 1855 state census he was listed as a lawyer. Since this job change didnít make much sense, I went back and looked at the census record again. The "L" in Lawyer could be read as an "S" but I had never heard of a Sawyer. A little searching revealed he was employed cutting boards, probably in the local sawmill near his home, not too big a change from being a carpenter. In the 1860 census he was said to be a farmeróthis man couldnít make up his mind.
While the most common work was farming until well after the industrial revolution, many farmers also engaged in another occupation to augment their income. The perplexity with Myron Bly continues however, as he is designated a painter in 1865, and in 1870 a carriage and wagon maker. This jack of all trades must finally have gotten worn out from changing occupationsóin 1880 at age 73 he reported he had "no occupation."
Another way to determine an occupation is by reading the inventory of a deceased manís estate. Frequently we only obtain a copy of the will, but as much or more can be learned from the inventory. When a person died intestate, without a will, donít overlook the estate inventory, in most jurisdictions required by the court to determine the disposition of his/her assets.
The 1822 inventory of Asa Blyís estate lists a leather apron, an iron wedge, shoe maker pincers, shoe maker tools, a tanning mill, and a pair of sharp shears as well as farm equipment, household furnishings and clothing. Itís safe to assume that in addition to farming he was also a shoemaker.
City directories became popular during the 1800s and usually list the occupations of all gainfully employed residents at each address. Business listings and advertisements in the directories are useful for locating the actual workplace, often within walking distance of the home. Similarly farm directories were compiled for some rural areas.
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