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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Occupational Records  by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Building A Profile Of An Individual's "Working Life"

Building a profile of an individual with a focus on their occupation

Whether the researcher is completing this work for him/herself or as a professional genealogist there are a few steps that will help you in developing this profile of a person’s working life.

First, the researcher will need to compile these documents in an orderly fashion, in date order. This will be the beginnings of a timeline or chronological listing of all the records that you have obtained.

The timeline will act as the outline from which you will develop a profile of the individual’s “working life”.

Let us begin with an example and then a build a profile from actual documents.

What questions will the researcher be looking to answer with the occupation of farmer?

Here is a basic example:

  • Where did he/she learn the trade?
  • Was a formal education obtained?
  • Did the individual read and/or write?
  • Did the individual remain in the same area as the training or move to a new area?
  • If they did relocate did they remain in the same growing/climate zone and continue to grow similar crops; or was there a change?
  • If there was a change, what was the change and where did they learn to manage this new or different crop?
  • Did the new farmer own land immediately or rent land first?
  • If they owned land immediately, then where did they get the capital investment (money) to beginning their farm (home, equipment, livestock, etc.)?
  • How much land was purchased or rented?
  • What was the water source?
  • If this individual continued to farm during their life did they?
  1. continue to move from one farm to another improving their holding and value with each move
  2. move from farm to farm with no change in value or size
  3. move from farm to farm with a loss each time
  4. stay in one place and added to their holdings and value
  5. stay in one place and lost value and holdings
  6. or just kept the same place and level of value/income
  • What was the purchase and sale price of land?
  • If land was not owned, was it rented for a dollar value or share of the crop?
  • What percentage of the overall land was being utilized for farming?
  • What type of farming was practiced; dry land, irrigation etc.?
  • What crops, livestock etc. were on the farm?
  • What was the percentage of each item toward the income of the farm?
  • What equipment was utilized on this farm; was this equipment current for the time or out dated?
  • Was farming the only occupation of this individual?
  • Did this farm also produce all or much of their own food?
  • Did this farmer have any records that indicated bad debt problems or bankruptcy?
  • Was there natural disaster that negatively affected this farm, flood, hurricane, drought, etc.?
  • Was there a financial disaster that negatively affected this farm, bank failure, national economic depression, war, etc.?
  • Did this individual farm until their death?
  • If yes, then what was the disposition of the farm after their death?
  • Was this individual’s death related to farming, accident etc.?

After reviewing these questions, you will never be able to say, “My people were just farmers”.

The documents and records that would be used in the research to answer the above questions include but are not limited to:

  • Land Records
  • Court Records
  • Probate Records
  • Census, Population and Non-Population Schedules, particularly the Agriculture schedule or Mortality schedule
  • Vital Records, birth, death and marriage
  • County and local histories
  • School Records (grade through trade school and universities)
  • City and Business Directories
  • Diaries and Journals
  • Newspapers, a daily history of a specific area
  • Periodicals
  • Church Records

As you are building this profile do not forget the “non-paid” or volunteer work that was also a part of the “working life”. They include the non-paid pastor or lay minister, the deacons, ladies aid society, mayor, council members, farmers co-op or grange member, to name only a few.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.