3 free websites for researching your ancestors’ occupations


26 June 2018
What did your ancestor do for a living and how did their job influence their daily lives? Explore these 3 free websites to start exploring your family's occupations in days gone by.

One of the things we often most want to discover about our ancestors is what they did for a living, and how that influenced and affected their lives. It’s true that learning about their jobs and careers can help us better understand their lives, and perhaps even clear up some family history mysteries.


What our ancestors did for a living may be one of the first things we discover about them, especially if we’re tracking them down through the national censuses, which have taken place in England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland since the early 19th century.


‘Occupation’ has certainly been part of the information requested and available since the 1841 Census; that said, it is likely to be little more than the briefest of sound-bites, at most one or two words that give only the most cursory outline of people’s working lives. So how do you flesh out their lives more?


In the August 2018 issue of Family Tree, Paul F Cockburn presents an expert guide to how you can start exploring the employment histories of your earlier kin. 


We’ve chosen just 3 of the free websites picked by Paul to help you in your family history research:


1) The National Archives' Discovery


To have any chance of uncovering specific information about an ancestor’s working life, you need to know the name of the company or businesses they worked for – or that they owned.


In theory, from that simple lead it may just be possible to track down more specific employment records connected with your ancestor. However, that ultimately depends on two things: whether potentially useful information was recorded in the first place, and then if the information has survived to the present day.


The latter may seem unlikely, especially if the company itself no longer exists; that said, company records may well have been deposited in their local county records offices or inherited by their successors during mergers and takeovers.


You may be able to track down the location of any surviving records by searching for the company’s name in The National Archives’ (TNA) Discovery catalogue.


2) The Gazette

Search The Gazette, which is the UK's official public record since 1665, for notices of receiverships, liquidations and bankruptcies as well as some appointments.


3) Historical Trade Directories

Locate your trades folk ancestors in The University of Leicester’s collection of historical directories for England and Wales, 1760s-1910s.


Keep on track – research tip

Railway ancestors? Search the Railway Work, Life & Death project database for railway worker accidents in Britain between 1911 and 1915.


Find out more about how to research your ancestors' occupations in the August 2018 issue of Family Tree.


• This may also interest you: Top 3 ways to find out more about your ancestor's trade or occupation



Trade directory image: © Helen Tovey for Family Tree.