Have you come across an occupation in a census record that you’ve never heard of before? Many of our ancestors held jobs that are rare or no longer exist today. We’ve scoured our archives to learn more about those jobs and what our ancestors did to earn a living. Here are a few of the occupations we found:
AArtificial Flower Maker: This intricate job required long hours and a lot of skill. The detailed artificial flowers embellished bonnets, dresses, and hats.
BBath Attendant: In the early 20th century, school children in cities like New York and Chicago were bathed at school. Often the children came from tenements with no access to washing facilities. This 1909 article invited women to apply for the position and described the qualifications needed to become a bath attendant.
CCorset Factory Worker: Factories became common during the Industrial Revolution. In this 1910 help wanted ad, a corset factory was hiring women between the ages of 16-40 to work in the factory.
DDaguerreotypist: A daguerreotypist was an early photographer who used a now-obsolete process to create images on a silvered copper surface. In this 1846 article, a traveling daguerreotypist offered to create miniature likenesses in Joliet, Illinois.
EEsquire: Today the term esquire describes a lawyer, but that wasn’t always the case. If your 19th-century ancestor was an esquire, it meant that he held a title of office, such as a lawyer, sheriff, justice of the peace, etc.
FFellmongers: A fellmonger is a person who removes hair or wool from hides in preparation for making leather.
GGlazier: A glazier cut, installed, and removed glass in windows, display cases, and more.
HHokey-Pokey Man: The Hokey-Pokey man was a vendor with a pushcart that sold cheap, low-quality ice cream in the late 1800s through early 1900s. The Hokey-Pokey man was popular with children in tenement neighborhoods. In this 1910 article, a San Francisco Hokey-Pokey man found out he would likely inherit a fortune.
IIce Cutter: Before refrigeration was invented, ice cutters went to lakes and rivers during the winter and cut out blocks of ice for use in the summer. Workers transported ice to ice houses where it was kept cold with straw or sawdust. It would stay frozen for many months.
JJapanner: Japanned leather was a process to coat leather with a Japanese varnish and then dry it on a stove, producing a smooth, shiny surface like patent leather.
KKnocker-Upper: A knocker-upper was the equivalent of a human alarm clock. They roamed the streets with a tall wand used to tap on windows to awaken workers in the morning.
LLeech Collector: Leech collectors, often women, gathered leeches for medicinal use. Doctors believed that bloodletting could cure disease, so leeches were placed on patients to suck infected blood out. The practice was especially popular in Europe.
MMillwright: A millwright was responsible for designing, installing, maintaining, and repairing mill machinery. This 1902 article reported on a labor dispute when millwrights demanded an eight-hour workday, but employers wanted ten.
NNeedle-Pointer: A needle pointer was a person who filed the points of needles. According to this 1822 article, breathing in steel dust caused health problems for needle-pointers, forcing most to end their careers by the age of 35.
OOrdinary Keeper: An Ordinary Keeper was an innkeeper. The terms “ordinary” and “tavern” used to be used interchangeably. Early records from Maine cautioned Ordinary Keepers about serving too much liquor.
PPinsetter: Bowling became popular in the 20th century and before automated pinsetters were invented, workers handset the bowling pins each time they were knocked down. This 1943 article describes how a pinsetter might set 132 games a night and be paid 9 cents a game.
QQuarrier: A quarrier was a quarry worker.
RRag Man: A rag man walked the streets with a cart, collecting old rags and other discarded items. He then brought them to a junk shop where they were resold. This 1894 article describes the job of a rag men and gives a detailed description of a junk shop.
SSaddler: A saddler was in charge of making, repairing, and selling saddles. This 1872 article describes what a saddler’s shop might have looked like.
TTeamster: A teamster drove a team of oxen, horses, or mules, pulling a wagon. A man who drove a team of oxen was called a bullwhacker. Teamsters transported cargo and supplies. This 1875 article described the duties of a teamster.
UUptwister: An uptwister was a textile industry worker that was in charge of winding yarn onto a revolving spindle.
VVitner: A vitner is a wine merchant. This 1859 article talks about the South Carolina grape industry and the oldest vitner in the South.
WWhitesmith: A whitesmith works with metals like tin, copper, and brass.
XXylographer: A xylographer is a person who makes engravings on wood, especially for printing.
YYeoman: A yeoman was a farmer that owned his land.
ZZincographer: A zincographer worked in the printing industry etching images on zinc plates. The line drawings used in newspapers before photography (like this 1893 example), were created by zincographers.