Ever researched census data and wondered what a husbandman is or what a cooper did? Many of our old records list occupations, and it can be a challenge sometimes when attempting to discover the definition of the listed occupation. Think about it, go back just 100 years and many of today’s jobs didn’t exist back then. You’ll have a hard time finding computer programmers or business analysts back then. What you will discover are many occupations that have been greatly diminished or don’t even exist at all today.

Occupations such as yeoman, wright, longshoreman, cooper, whig, yatman, and more are probably going to be pretty hard to find on someone’s business card today.  However, in the past, and on ship and census records, you may come across terms like these more often.  It’s fascinating to see the definitions of the various occupations.

To help you out in finding and defining occupational terms, choose from the links below which detail many “old” occupations and their definitions (perhaps you’ll find an old term that you would like to adopt for yourself):

If you find a job title that you can’t understand in your research, you can also visit Dictionary.com to look up the definition. Another source for discovering more about a certain type of occupation is Wikipedia.

Ancestor occupations can provide tremendous insight into the life of your ancestor. A coal miner is going to have a much different life experience than an ancestor that worked in an accounting office.

Take special note if your ancestors left their country of origin to seek a new life and switched occupations.  In today’s world, people change occupations quite frequently.  A few hundred years ago, it might take several generations worth of the same occupation until a change was brought about.  Consider the hardships that an ancestor may have had in changing occupations and you’ll appreciate even more the struggles they went through to build a better life and future for their family.