Top 10 Job-Hunting Sources

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

Check these sources for information on your ancestors’ occupations:

  • Family lore: Ask your relatives what they know. Even a single word, such as miner or auto worker, can put you on the right trail.
  • Letters, pay stubs, check registers, insurance and pension paperwork: All kinds of household documents may mention employment.
  • Passenger and customs lists: These note “calling or occupation” as early as the 1820s. (That doesn’t necessarily mean the person found the same employment in the United States, however.)
  • Federal censuses: The 1850 and 1860 censuses request the occupation of free males over age 15. (Slave schedules from those years don’t detail the type of work done by enslaved workers.) Beginning in 1870, enumerators asked the occupation of everyone older than 15. Starting in 1910, you’ll find additional work information and, at times, names of individual employers.
  • Social Security application (SS-5): If your ancestor has a Social Security number, request the SS-5, which lists an employer’s name and address.
  • Military registrations: WWI draft cards list occupation, employer, and location of employment. “Mexican Emergency” registration cards (1916) provide occupation. WWII cards give the name and address of employer.
  • City directories: These precursors to telephone booksoften list residents’ occupations.
  • Death certificates: Civil death records may mention employment, especially if the person was not yet retired.
  • Obituaries, probate records and wills: These other death-related documentssometimes mention the nature of the deceased’s work and/or an employer.
  • Local and ethnic histories: Organizations can offer clues about the major industries in town, and which immigrants found work where.

From the December 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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