Your ancestor's occupations

Finding out about the occupations of your ancestors is prudent if you want to add more details about their lives to your family tree rather than just birth, marriage and death dates.

You are likely to find out more about a person's job if they were involved in a trade which was well documented, such as an apprenticed trade. 

Your ancestor would have needed a local magistrate's licence, issued for a year, if he was in a position that was licenced, such as a gamekeeper or innkeeper.  

The records usually state the applicant's name along with the location and period for which the licence was valid. Unfortunately you are less likely to find out much information about a person's career if they were a servant or farm labourer.

Discovering your ancestor's occupation can be a big help when you wish to distinguish between two people of the same name.  You may find that father and son shared the same occupation, which could help you to discover which person was your ancestor.

If your ancestor had a distinctive occupation, this may also help you if your ancestor had a common surname such as Smith.

Where can I find information regarding my ancestor's occupation?

Their occupation can often be found on birth, marriage or death certificates, census returns or in parish registers.

Some other documents that may yield more information about your ancestor's career are wills, directories and taxation records.  It is always nice to learn a specific talent you have today may have come down through the generations of your family.

If your ancestor emigrated to another country or immigrated to Britain, ship passenger lists usually list their occupation.

If an obituary was placed in the newspaper when your ancestor died, it is possible that their occupation was listed. 

It is best to check city directories to see if your ancestor was listed as they often state residents and local businesses, so if your ancestor had a business, it could well be listed in the directory.

My ancestor was involved with a limited company

All limited companies have been required by law since 1844 to register their details with Companies House and you are able to study the register in London and Cardiff after paying a small fee. 

A computer database is also available, which you can search for details of existing companies and also for those dissolved in the last 20 years.

My ancestor was involved with a guild or trade association

The first guilds and trade associations, which promoted skills and standards, was established in the 12th Century. They regulated their specific trade or craft, and new entrants and apprentices were often asked to complete training which often lasted for seven years.

Occupations - My ancestor was an apprentice

If your ancestor was in a skilled trade it is likely they first started out as an apprentice and you may be able to find their apprenticeship record at the local Record OfficeThe National Archives hold a central register of apprenticeships in England and Wales, covering the period from 1710 to 1811. The books give the masters' name, addresses and trades and the name of the apprentice along with the date of their indenture.

If your ancestor wished to practice the craft he was taught, an Act of 1562/63 stated that the person should serve an apprenticeship of at least seven years.  If he practised this craft without going through this apprenticeship, he could have been fined.

Two indentures were required to set out the terms of the agreement.  One indenture had to be signed by the parents of the child undertaking the apprenticeship, and the other by the master, who received a payment for agreeing to train the apprentice.  The name of the apprentice, the master and his trace and the father of the apprentice was included in the indenture.  Some indentures also note the date and place of birth of the apprentice, so they are well worth looking at as it may help you to break down a brick wall.  These apprenticeships were usually recorded in registers, which state the apprentice's name, his master and their trade.

> Occupations