Police, Priests & Publicans
Researching historical occupations
8 March 2018
“A policeman, a priest and a publican…” may sound like the beginning of a great joke, but these are just some of the occupations listed in records that I have searched through as a Family History Reference Librarian. The National Library of Australia provides access to a wide range of job related and company records, in which you can discover the vocations of your distant relatives.
Finding information about your ancestor’s profession could help solve a mystery about why your ancestor lived in particular location or had no fixed address. It could also be a great way to enhance your family’s history.
You may be surprised at the range of occupational or business records accessible at the National Library of Australia from Ashton Circus employees to Government railway workers.
If you are not sure how to get started, here are some research strategies I have used to help answer the following questions:
How can I discover my ancestor’s occupation?
Electoral rolls can be a great starting point to determine a person’s occupation. You can access historical electoral rolls in microfiche format in the Newspapers and Family History Zone or electronically via family history databases such as Ancestry and Find My Past.
Birth, death and marriage certificates can list a person’s profession or occupation. Although the National Library of Australia does not hold original BDM records we do hold the relevant registration numbers required to purchase a certificate from the relevant Australian state or territory BDM Registry Office.
The Library does hold copies of various historical church records which will allow you to access baptism, marriage and burial records. Use our Ask a Librarian service to find out if we hold the church record you after.
Passenger and immigration records can include details about a person’s occupation. You can access Australian immigration and passenger historical records up to 1920 at the Library.
Newspaper articles can include career achievements, photographs, awards, business advertisements. You may even find details about your ancestors work history published in an obituary or a death notice.
Government gazettes can contain employment details such as appointments, promotions, resignations, company registrations and bankruptcy notices. The Library holds commonwealth, state and territory government gazettes issues in electronic, microfilm and print format.
Do you hold any employment records?
The Library holds a variety of employment records in our collection. We hold some original records but we also provide access to databases, which contain historical employment record ranging from railway staff records to Public Service Lists. Employment records can provide information such as job title or position, salary, awards and even details about a person physical appearance.
Do you hold company or business records?
The Library holds and provides electronic access to business and trade directories that can help with finding out the name and address of a business. If your ancestor owned their own business or worked for a company then we may hold their records or archives such as staff photographs, annual reports, books and much more in our collection.
Do you have a list of historical jobs?
In your family history searches, you may encounter job titles that you have never heard of before or would like to know more about. Interesting occupations I have discovered in the historical Australian electoral rolls include "Magician", "Portmanteau Maker" which was a suitcase maker, "Traveller" was someone with no fixed address or a travelling salesperson, "Laster" was a shoemaker, and a "Groover" was not a dancer but a miner. We hold reference books in our collection such as A dictionary of old trades, titles and occupations by Colin Waters and Dictionary of old trades & occupations by Andrew and Sandra Twining that can assist to identify historical professions. Websites such as the Index of Old Occupations UK - Hall Genealogy or Dictionary of Old Occupations: A-Z Index are also helpful.
I hope this has provided an insight into the type of questions we may receive. If you have, any more questions about historical jobs please contact us via the Ask A Librarian.
Some useful resources
Tracing your ancestors books published by Pen & Sword Family History