What do you do to earn a quid?

We had our regular tweeters but also joined by a few more who had specific information relating to this week’s topic.


Questions were: 

  1. Share the resources and repositories that helped you discover ancestors’ occupations and put their work & life in context?
  2. Tell us about an ancestor with an unusual or dangerous occupation, child labour or a now-uncommon job?
  3. Are there occupations in your family that have passed down to the next generations?
  4. What resources do you review to find out more on businesses & business owners, self employed or financially independent ancestors?

Format for the post will be resources to check out, then occupations relating to our ancestors and finally some questions about unusual occupations and where to find the answers.

Resources to find information relating to occupations and context in life

  • Directories and electoral rolls
  • Census records
  • Newspapers including advertisements, articles and family notices
  • Pre UK census try UK Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures 1710-1811 (National Archives & Ancestry)
  • Public Record Offices for Government occupations
  • Birth, death and marriage records
  • Obituaries but as Sue said they are only as accurate as the informants knowledge – pioneers of the district could have been convicts in reality
  • Title Deeds to property owned list the occupation of owners
  • Apprentice records
  • Military records
  • Wills and probate records
  • 1939 register
  • UK Merchant Navy records: Register of Seamen at TNA or on FMP, Seamen’s tickets, Voyage details for crew lists.
  • Academic journals (JSTOR) through the National Library of Australia
  • Gale newspaper access for occupation background and risks of jobs.
  • Books, books, books and reading
  • Regional Archives
  • Regional and local family history society newsletters
  • Guild records from apprentice to master
  • Immigration passenger lists
  • Council Records
  • Employment lists for businesses
  • Lately bankruptcy records have been adding lots to research on employers.

Specific links

Personal responses

Angela: Census records that revealed I am descended from a ‘Herd’ and a ‘Brush’ . (I kid you not)

Fran: My Cornish miners jobs could be dangerous. The average age of death was 28th years and 4 months. So young.

Pauleen: My dad was a numbertaker – say what, an undertaker? Nope, a numbertaker or tally clerk working with freight distribution in the railway shunting yards. Not quite as dangerous as shunting but still very hazardous.

Sharn: The most dangerous occupation my ancestors had was MINING. I discovered a g g uncle was killed in a mining accident ‘killed by an explosion of fie damp’ on the Scottish Mining Website.

Jane: My ancestors all seem to have fairly standard occupations … Farmers, agricultural labourers, domestic servants, Bricklayers and other tradesmen … Although I do have a rat catcher!

272447 / Pixabay

Hilary: my husband’s grandfather died after a fall working in an Ironstone quarry; my gt uncle was killed whilst working in the docks a cargo fell on him

Allie: I have lots of newspaper compositors and handloom weavers in my family, not unusual at the time but definitely rare today. Not aware of any work accidents, but I’m sure much of the work my ancestors did was dangerous or hazardous to health in the long term.

Sue: My Great great grandmothers sister married RG Winters who was a pianoforte maker. Married in England, migrated to Tasmania, Had a pianoforte factory in Elizabeth Street Hobart

ANZ: And quarry workers and stonemasons often had lung diseases….this asbestosis. Occupations were so hazardous before OH&S awareness but there are still random injuries.

Seonaid: A lot of my ancestors were ag labs, carpenters, navy or army, cab drivers, fruit and veg sales. I do have a female ancestor who took over her husband’s butchery business when he died. Although I expect that’s not unusual.

Pauleen: Generations ago I had miners in Northumberland – another dangerous occupation with the possibility of child labour though I’ve found none

Sue: I have three brothers, one my great grandfather, who survived the 1912 Mt Lyell mining disaster

ANZ: Who remembers when the rat catchers from the council would come round with their fox terriers checking for rats when people still had backyard dunnies?

Fiona: Inspector of Nuisances in a clients family. Image of one here.

Jennifer: My friend’s ancestor worked in a tiny building in the forest in Belgium checking undetonated bombs

OPS: Earlier this year our response to the A-Z Blogging Challenge featured contributions from members on a range of occupations, including Apple Crusher, Dominatrix, Jester, Number Taker, Pig-jobber and Tabernarius!

Dara: My GG-grandfather was a coachman, a servant in a big house. I love the idea of him hitching up the horses and strolling, or racing, through the streets, taking his master to where-ever. Probably my imagination pictures a more romantic version of his job.

addesia / Pixabay

Jill: Husband’s ancestor, Francis Jollie Gowans, was appointed Honorary Surgeon to the King in 1937

Mining the Past: One of the next door neighbours to my miner ancestor was a pit pony driver, aged 13.  My family were miners right up until my maternal grandfather. He suffered from miners lung and had to stop hewing. He was elected pithead weighman on behalf of the miners ie checking the company weighman was weighing the coal accurately so they got paid fairly.

Sue: My great great grandfather had a fairly easy life as head gardener to the Governor of Tasmania in the 1860s and 1870s. Lots of write ups in paper about winning competitions etc

Sue: My other great great grandfather (before he was proved by DNA not to be mine) was a whaling captain and many of his descendants still keep jobs to do with water

Seonaid: Navy & army were pretty regular patterns in my family on both sides. My 3xgr gfather & 2x gr gfather were paper stainers. Found a wallpaper factory near where they lived. I do wonder how 1 ancestor went from a candle & soap worker to planemaker in 10 years.

Angela: have generations of railway workers …porters, station masters. Wonderful that their homes are listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Sharn: I have used newspaper advertisements and calls tender to find the buildings, houses and rail carriages a gg grandfather constructed in Sydney NSW

Jennifer: Have found business ads on Trove, Wills, Rate books

Pauleen: Court cases can tell you where someone was and who they knew. My George Kunkel was called as a witness to an equity case revealing he was a pork butcher on the gold fields at Tooloom, NSW, travelling from Ipswich Qld.


Brooke: When reading census records this list of old English occupations may come in handy. Researching the COLLIDGE family, I came across the occupation CLICKER; someone who worked in the shoe trade cutting out the lowers.

Sophie: One of the things I’ve been struck by in preparing the Occupations tweet series is what a range of dreadful health hazards were associated with so many jobs in yesteryear – hand planking one example

Dara: I struggle to find much information concerning many ancestors’ occupations, that is specific to their own job, other than on BMDs. Trade directories help for some tradesmen.

Pauleen: I found references to my carpenter ancestor in Ipswich burial registers. Fires, flood and disasters can bring up news stories of how my self-employed ancestors were impacted

Fran: Thinking you need to verify the occupations. On the first property we purchased the bank wrote “wife” for me and Stephen made them change it to “Product Manager” so like all sources – CHECK

Carmel: The back of directories for business advertisers

Jennifer: I do have a few ancestors who stated their occupation as ‘gentleman’. Wishful thinking I’m sure

Fran: On passenger lists I have found a number of ancestors occupations. It’s good for people that travelled often as you can see changes in roles, promotions, etc

Dara: Funnily enough, when my GGG-grandfather, who left Ireland a plasterer, became a successful building contractor in Australia, he claimed he was a Gentleman on some records.

Mining the Past: I have an ancestor in Gateshead who worked at the ‘railway staithes’. From maps identified as Dunston Staithes, the largest existing wooden structure in Europe and a visitor attraction!! Guess where I’ll be visiting next UK trip 🙂

TryJimmy / Pixabay

Society of OPS: The Gazette is another great source of business / company info for the UK

Fiona: Check @ArchivesNZ for files on the stations. Have been looking at these in the last week and have found house plans for the houses being rented and sold at the end of their use by railways.

Allie: Mostly censuses and vital records. Otherwise I’ve found a few newspaper reports and adverts that have mentioned employers or business locations, and I’ve also used street and business directories. FindMyPast is good for trade union records

Occupations often passed down through the generations included:

shoemakers, gardeners, coachmen, schoolmasters, coal miners, ag labs, merchant marines, weavers, lacemakers, railway workers, butchers, blacksmithing, tailor, pipers, compositors, watchmakers

Things to follow up on: videos, other twitter chats, competition

  • Today will be of interest to @OnePlaceStudies members engaged in our 2020 Shared Endeavour of Employment and Occupations in our #OnePlaceStudies!
  • Videos to check out from OPS , the twitter chat from the OPS Conference 2020 including occupations
  • Dr Sophie Kay has an Occupation of the day twitter hashtag. Follow it here and learn more about unusual occupations.
  • Also from Dr Sophie Kay: just a little heads-up for those of you who enjoy competitions: keep an eye out for a Twitter/blog announcement from me next month, as I’ll be running a little Xmas Quiz competition themed around the #OccupationOfTheDay strand!

Readers: Check out the OccupationOfTheDay hashtag to find out the answers to these unusual occupations.

Jacker off, Keel Fleeter, Equilibrist or Knife shaver

Using newspapers in genealogy

Welcome to the fifth ANZAncestryTime twitterchat summary. As you can see by the title, this week we looked at newspapers and how they can help and have helped in researching our family history. We had the normal 4 questions but I am writing the summary up in a slightly different format.

shotput / Pixabay


  1. Which newspaper sites have you found helpful in your family history research and what do you like about these sites?
  2. What tips and tricks do you find useful for newspaper searches?
  3. What information have you found in newspapers that you would not have found in other records?
  4. What online archives, libraries and other e-resources do you use to access newspapers?

As we are mainly an Australian and New Zealand group of genealogists, the answer to the first question was usually Trove and PapersPast.

Trove is run by the National Library of Australia

Trove contains the Australian digitized newspapers and gazettes but also many other resources such as music, diaries, magazines etc mentioned in the following categories.  This video on the main Explore page shows how to use information in Trove to tell a story.  Checking out the Help page gives clues to searching, navigating and the categories. It also includes links to a How To video about Trove as well as a video and notes about searching the newspapers. These are well worth the time watching to get the most out of your use of Trove.

PapersPast is the New Zealand equivalent, also run by their National Library.

Looking at the about page explains how things are divided on the website and includes a list of Maori newspapers and magazines. Looking at their Help page gives lots of tips and hints on how to get the best out of your searching on the website. Many of these hints will work for any newspaper or even Google search. On the lead newspaper page you will also find a list of the most recent papers uploaded to PapersPast website.

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of researching a newspaper

Jill: When searching for a married female do a search with maiden name and Nee. This may find marriage & engagement announcements and births of children.

Fran: I start a search with newspapers in my ancestors location and extend to cover all NZ newspapers as many places reported the same stories. Print might be better on others or additional news

Jennifer: When researching married female ancestors, search for Christian name and also ‘Mrs’

Jill: Read the info on how to search each database. They are not all the same

Maggie: Wild cards are your friends! Plus, search by place name, related surnames, events, not just by an ancestor’s name. Cast your net wide.

Sue: use Boolean logic with + and – signs when searching

Pauleen: It’s useful to search widely by place (unless it’s a big city) and topic (eg petty sessions) rather than name because sometimes the OCR just doesn’t work well.

Alona: use a surname but add in a place, or occupation as it can help narrow it down

Fiona: Remembering that not all newspapers are online and checking the library for other local newspapers

Sharn: When I search for a person with a common name I use the name and identifying information ie place or occupation i.e. John Morrison “Builder” or John Morrison “Strathfield” and then I search with initial J Morrison “Builder” etc

Jill: Throwing the word Pioneer in often helps a name plus place search

Hilary: I always narrow down my search if I can and get familiar with the local papers as others publish the same story but often shorter version

Carmel: have a list of variety of spelling for each name to be searched, substitute letters, sometimes just search the place and timeframe

Alona: don’t expect to find full names (well occasionally you might, but it is rare) – often Mr, or Mr with initials, or Mrs with husbands initials

Sue: If going to use the newspaper in a blog article, know how to use the snipping tool and to move the article under the paper name etc, Also know the direct link for the article

Angela: keep search terms simple. Simply a name or a place name. Put in my mother’s maiden name and got her music exam results for a number of years!

Fiona: Get to know your newspaper by reading a few editions to see the type of articles they were including in the paper and where different “columns” were in the newspaper to make it quicker to check for articles not OCR’d correctly

Alona: look in newspapers beyond your area of searching, as news was often reported interstate & sometimes in different countries

Sue: When searching for convicts include the name of the ship they came over on, as this is how they are referred to in government reports etc

Pauleen: Try splitting up a name or place name because sometimes they become hyphenated to fit the column. eg I use “Prozelten” instead of “Dorfprozelten” Of course guessing the column break is the trick! AND always use the spelling in the right language.

Jill: Keep a record of the long search strings you build so that you can reuse them in a few months time when more papers come online

Irish News Archives: create offline keyword list associated with person, event or topic of interest. Use Boolean search forms for combination searching. Narrow date range into manageable groups. Test and test again…

Pauleen: Have also used the universal Elephind to find any stray mentions in other papers from around the world

Carmel: Work out where the funeral notices are in relation to the death notices in various newspapers – often these do not appear in a Trove search

Jill: Start broad then filter

Michelle: don’t just search in the country where the event happened, eg: for those with British ancestry check out other British Empire newspapers, I found a list of attendees to an 1840s Royal celebration in Sydney in an Indian newspaper

Sharn: There is a tremendous amount of LOCAL HISTORY about places our ancestors lived in newspapers. Things that happened where they lived paint a detailed picture of their lives

Information found in newspapers other than birth, death, marriages

  • Too many things to list! Newspapers have proved facts that I thought were just myth information handed down through the generations – Jill
  • Information on departures of Bavarian emigrants from Dorfprozelten to Australia in mid19th century. – Pauleen
  • The good stuff! Gossip, memories, stories, obits. Details that flesh out the vital records to really show a life – Melissa
  • Newspapers have provided details of inquests and prosecutions – Hilary
  • The actual words used by my relative in a court case after mining accident, after a robbery – Sue
  • I’ve found my ancestors being quoted, so “hearing” their voices is a gift not found in many other records – Maggie
  • Absolute tons of material. Too much to list. My GF’s lifetime involvement with sport, rugby, athletics, empire games, so many committees, debates, wedding gifts, functions attended, speeches and even some controversies – Fran
  • Wedding reports with names of guests, description of what they are wearing and a list of wedding gifts received – Jennifer
  • I have found amazing stories about ancestors in newspapers. I solved a family dispute about whether my g grandfather was accidentally killed by my grandfather’s punch or by a falling branch. The culprit, witnessed and reported, was the branch much to my relief – Sharn
  • Online newspapers provide so much information for posts to my personal and Family history group blogs. I post the family history group ones to a local Facebook page where they get lots of hits – Jill
  • So many spinetingling moments – being able to read a conversation my 3xGGrandfather had with Caroline Chisholm was one of the best. (I found it the hard way – on microfilm pre @troveaustralia – Jill
  • I discovered my ancestors body was exhumed. I hadn’t previously found any information alluding to that – Jennifer
  • an obit for a friend’s reli, which gave the full details of ship they arrived, when, where, how they travelled by bullock team from one state to another, what they farmed etc, etc. 100% gold!! – Alona
  • found my gt uncle had been born prematurely and not lived long – Hilary
  • Newspapers often announced the arrival of our immigrant ancestors in a place where they settled. I found an item that told me which house in Kaimkillenbun my Irish g grandparents first lived in – Sharn
  • birth info for a lost registration (1886) detailed descriptions of wedding guests and gifts and bride’s wedding gown going away outfit which, identified and dated a photograph (1902) – Michelle
  • Details of family events. They paint such a great picture – Sandra
  • found husband’s unknown grandmother when she claimed estate after gfather died having had no contact with family for more than 30 yrs! – Carmel
  • adverts for my 4x ggrandma’s candy store in the US – that was awesome to find – Alona
  • Details of inquests – who said what! Accident reports. Property disputes – Angela
  • found married names for women from wedding or funeral articles – Hilary
  • My mum told me a story about gold coins being stolen from the family house. Found a newspaper article that mentioned it. Was a lot earlier than I thought it was – Sandra
  • I check the old weather reports when writing up family events. Can add context to stories – Jill
  • Name Changes were often announced in Newspapers and often the only way to find people. I found my g uncle changed his name from Rex Morley Hoyes to Rex Morley – Morley to Viscompt Fessenden Charles Rex de Borenden – Sharn
  • I discovered my GGgmother remarried and had a triple wedding with the groom’s two daughters – Jennifer
Mary’s evidence

What newspapers are online, where to find them and others you might need?

Always check your local library and national library. They often have others digitized but not on Trove. Usually only need your library card to use them for free.

Have an unidentified newspaper clip you have inherited? Try this tip from Jill

I find that you can often identify where undated old clippings come from by entering a sentence into Google or Trove

Post from Pauleen about searching German newspapers

Post from Legacy News about navigating newspaper research – read comments as well for more links

Readers: How have newspapers helped flesh out the stories of your ancestors?