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, watchmakers and so on.
To learn a trade, an individual had to be apprenticed. Depending on a person’s social standing, he could be apprenticed by his parents or by a parish or charity. When a person was apprenticed, a record called an indenture was usually created. It was a legal agreement that bound the apprentice to serve a number of years, usually seven. Indentures usually contain the names of the apprentice and the master who would teach him, the master’s trade and residence, the terms of apprenticeship, and sometimes the name, occupation, and residence of the apprentice’s father. Indentures are the only surviving records for some occupations, like carpentry, stone masonry, and weaving.
Starting in 1710, a tax was levied on apprenticeship indentures, except those of poor children. For more information on the apprenticeship tax, see the "Taxation" section of this outline.
Parishes and certain charities indentured poor children as apprentices. These records may survive in parish records. For more information on the apprenticeship indentures for poor children in parish records, see the "Church Records" section of this outline.
After learning the trade, the apprentice became a journeyman. A journeyman was an employee who received wages and continued to refine his skills.
The level after a journeyman was a master. A master was the most skilled craftsman or the owner of the business where the trade was practiced.
Craftsmen such as clock makers, gold and silver smiths, coach makers, and so forth worked in Welsh towns and boroughs rather than in farming and mining areas.
In large cities craftsmen would often band together and form a guild. Welsh towns and boroughs were not large enough to have separate guilds for individual trades and crafts, so men from different occupations formed associations of burgesses to regulate and control the market. Burgesses were inhabitants of a chartered town, and they were freemen who owed no obligation to a feudal lord. They did pay rent and other dues to a lord, but they were more free than other inhabitants.
Freemen borough records are more useful than apprenticeship records, often providing ages, parentage, occupation, and sometimes place of origin (if other than the borough).
Doctors, lawyers, ministers, and other professionals were educated at British schools and universities rather than through apprenticeships. While not members of guilds, they did have organizations that published biographical directories of members and sometimes histories.
Definitions of occupations can be found in:
- Murray, Sir James A.H., ed. Oxford English Dictionary. 13 vols plus supps. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1933–. (Family History Library book 423 M964o.)
A bibliography of sources for occupations can be found in:
- Raymond, Stuart A. 2nd ed.Occupational Sources for Genealogists. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1996. (Family History Library book 942 U23rs 1996.)
Occupational histories, records, and related items can be found in county record offices and at the National Library of Wales. Those found at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - OCCUPATIONS
WALES, [COUNTY] - OCCUPATIONS
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - OCCUPATIONS
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 55-56.