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Doing Odd Jobs

By Daniel Hubbard | July 27, 2014

I sometimes imagine certain things that can only be called genealogists’ blessings. This week one of them has turned up over and over. It would go something like this-

May all your ancestors have had truly odd occupations.

Having a deeply strange occupation or even just a slightly unusual job can make the difference between an ancestor that you can follow through the records and an ancestor that fades into the background noise. It can also be a way of spotting connections between people in the days when occupations tended to run in families. In my own family there is a man with s somewhat unusual surname. He was a plasterer. I’ve stumbled across some men with that name and a few of them have also been plasterers. Every one of those plasterers has turned out to be a relative of some sort. Every one. The families with that name that don’t include a plasterer might be related as well, but if so, the relationship is more distant.

This week I have researched an ambrotypist (a photographer who took a type of photograph known as an ambrotype), a leaf maker (someone who made artificial leaves, in this case for women’s hats), a lace merchant and a button hole maker (someone who drilled holes into unfinished buttons in the days before they were molded from plastic). Though I dream of the day that one of my research targets proves to be Brooklyn’s only yak herder, every one of those occupations is odd enough to be a wonderful help for research. That leaf maker can move around almost all he wants but as long as his unusual occupation is listed, he can run but he can’t really hide from us.

Keeping track of occupations isn’t just for putting meat on the genealogical bones. What a person did for a living can be the most important clue you have. I wonder of my own descendents will appreciate that I can be found with the occupations  particle physicist and genealogists at different stages of my life.

Now off to see if Brooklyn ever had a yak herder…

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