Images of Ancestors at Work

By Maureen A. Taylor

Happy Labor Day! It’s a day that honors work so why not take a trip into the past to find pictures of your laboring ancestors. Some of my favorite images on the Library of Congress website are the pictures that show individuals in their work clothes posed with tools. Each one is like a time capsule.

Here’s how to find them.

  • Go to the Library of Congress website
  • Click on the link for “Prints and Photographs.”
  • Enter in the search box “occupational portraits” or the specific occupation of your ancestor. You can find your ancestor’s occupation on census records, professional licenses or in family papers. It may be that your family tells stories about work history.
  • Start looking.

I followed these tips and found two daguerreotypes. Those are shiny reflective images first introduced to the United States in 1839.

This peddler carried his wares in two boxes balanced over his shoulders. It was taken circa 1850.

If you have any barrel making ancestors then you’ll love this picture of a cooper with a barrel and his tools in hand, circa 1850.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album