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Knowing an ancestor’s occupation can help you distinguish him from other individuals with the same name. The records associated with your ancestor’s occupation could provide information about his life and family.
Some occupations are more likely to have records about the people in those occupations than others. There are many records of people in trades, such as bootmakers, tailors, and so on.
Classes of Tradesmen
To learn a trade, an individual had to be apprenticed. Records were usually created of the agreement between the master (the one doing the teaching) and the person (father, guardian) or the organization (parish) placing the apprentice.
After learning the trade, the apprentice became a journeyman. A journeyman was an employee who received wages.
Master was the level after journeyman. A master was the most skilled craftsman or the owner.
See more information about apprentices below under Apprenticeship Tax.
Often the craftsmen of the same trade banded together to regulate trade and protect their members’ interests. The organization they formed was a guild. Those belonging to the guild were given special privileges, such as voting, and were called freemen. In a city a freeman was also called a citizen. In a town or rural area, he was called a burgess.
The city livery companies developed from the craft guilds of the 12th to the 15th centuries. The word livery originally referred to the distinctive uniform granted to each company. It now also denotes a company’s collective membership.
Guild records contain lists of members, information on journeymen practicing in the town, and advancements from the rank of apprentice to journeyman and from journeyman to master. Contracts between masters and parents of apprentices may also be included.
Freemen records are more useful than apprenticeship records because they usually give ages, birthplaces, parentage, and occupations.
Guild records are usually among city or borough records or in the possession of the modern guild. Many are in London at the Guildhall Library. Chapter 14 in the following book explains guild records:
- A Guide to Genealogical Sources in Guildhall Library. Second Revised Edition. London, England: Corporation of London, 1981. (FHL book 942.1/L1 A3g 1981.)
Freemen and apprenticeship records are usually at the county record offices.
A child could be apprenticed by his father or by the parish council if the child was an orphan or a pauper. A person was apprenticed between the ages of 7 and 18 years. An indenture was a legal agreement that bound the apprentice to serve a number of years, usually 7. Indentures usually contain the names of the apprentice and the master, the master’s trade and residence, the terms of apprenticeship, and sometimes the name, occupation, and residence of the apprentice’s father.
Between 1710 and 1811 a tax was assessed on the masters of the many who were apprenticed. For more information about these tax records, see the Taxation topic page.
Doctors, lawyers, ministers, and other professionals were educated at British schools and universities rather than through apprenticeship. While not members of guilds, they did have organizations that published biographical directories of members and sometimes histories.
Definitions and Histories of Occupations
The following book categorizes the duties of many occupations in England:
- General Register Office. Classification of Occupations, 1960. London, England: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1960. (FHL book Q 942 U2gr.)
Definitions of occupations are given in Sir James A. H. Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary. (See the Language and Languages section of this outline.)
Occupational histories, records, and related items are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - OCCUPATIONS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - OCCUPATIONS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH or CITY] - OCCUPATIONS