Basics on Occupations

Basics on occupations


Records of those occupations regulated by Government in some way are generally held by the official archives authority for the particular State or country. For example, records of doctors in NSW are held at State Records, the State's archives authority.

Sources for other occupations include trade and professional directories, newspapers, apprenticeship records and guild and livery company records (for England) and the archives of the particular business or company for which your ancestor may have worked.

Trade and professional directories

Many directories provide the occupations or professions of those listed. Indeed, they often include a separate "trades and professions" section within which people of particular occupations are grouped together. Such directories should therefore always be consulted, bearing in mind that (for example) what we know as a pharmacist today might well be listed as a "druggist", "chemist" or even double up as an "optician" or "dentist" in old directories!

If your ancestor was qualified in law or medicine then you should also look in directories focussed on these groups - in Australia the Law List and Medical Directory respectively. Clerics are also well-served by specialist directories or indexes.

Lists of Government officials can generally be found in most directories or almanacs.

More generally, civil servants can be found in lists such as NSW's "Public Service Lists" (1897-) and the Commonwealth's "Permanent Staff Lists" and "Seniority Lists". Earlier NSW public servants (1862-1894) were listed in "Statistical Registers" - also known as "Blue Books".

How SAG can help you

SAG's library has a good collection covering the above areas. Search our online catalogue under the above or similar titles.

Old occupations & occupational terms

For more detail , search our online library catalogue for "occupation" - or browse the catalogue under the headings "Britain [or Country] - occupations & professions". This will reveal a number of books dealing with occupations generally, or with particular occupations or industries. The list below draws from both sources and also includes useful magazine articles on old occupations.

Don't overlook searching for the name of the industry involved, or browsing for it under the headings "Britain [or Country] - commerce & industry". Books on the industry involved are useful for understanding not just what your ancestor's job was, but the background against which he or she worked. For instance, what caused an industry to thrive or wither, and when - and maybe thereby explain why your ancestors moved on, or changed jobs or circumstances.

A number of the books in our library dealing with old occupations generally are set out below.

Title Author SAG Library No.
A Dictionary of Old Trades, Titles & Occupations Colin Waters M3/44/5
Dictionary of Old Trades A & S Twining L3.44/Pam 1
Book of Trades or Library of Useful Arts, Pts 1, 2 & 3   M3/44/Pam 4a, b & c
Occupations - a preliminary list, 2nd ed. 1999 Joyce Culling M3/44/Pam 1
Occupational Sources for Genealogists: a Bibliography, 2nd ed. 1996 Stuart Raymond M2/40/Pam 2
Specialist Indexes for Family Historians, 2nd ed. 2000 Jeremy Gibson & Elizabeth Hampson M2/10/Parn 62
A Glossary of Household, Farming and Trade Terms from Probate Inventories Rosemary Milward M9/7/Pam 1
Occupations - List of ancient occupations and useful addresses Penelope Christensen M2/10/Pam 43

The following is a list of books, bibliographies and articles about particular occupations or industries, and where to find records relating to them. Because the articles are from magazines, they will not readily be found by searching library catalogues. Please check our catalogue for the location of particular magazines.

Industry or
Title Author
or Issue
SAG Library No.
Army Occupational Records of the British Army during WW2 Public Record Office M2/10/Parn 107
Blacksmith The Village Blacksmith Jocelyn Bailey N3/60/Pam 9
Brickmaking Article in Family Tree Magazine (FTM) Feb 1996  
Brooms A history of Broom millet industry Bessie Nurse B3/44/14
Chemist The Victorian Chemist & Druggist W A Jackson N3/60/Pam 8
Collier The Collier A R Griffin N3/60/Pam 3
Combs Combs, Combmakers & the Combmaker Company Ron Bowers B3/44/Pam 1
Cooper The Village Cooper K Kilby N3/60/Pam 10
Dancing Master Article in FTM Jan 2000  
Druggist The Victorian Chemist & Druggist W A Jackson N3/60/Pam 8
Engineering Bibliography in FTM Jan 1999  
Excisemen Article in Oxfordshire Family History Society Journal Summer 1990  
Gamekeeper Article in FTM Oct 1995  
Gunmaking Article in FTM Jan 1998  
Higgler Article in FTM Jul 1999  
Horse marines Article in FTM Jan 1994  
Insurance Bibliography in FTM Jan 1999  
Ironmonger The Victorian Ironmonger Cecil A Meadows N3/60/Pam 12
Lacemakers Lacemakers of Calais Gillian Kelly A5/90/50
Lead Lead and Leadmining Lynn Willies N3/60/Parn 4
Leather Bibliography in FTM Jan 1999  
Nails Nailmaking Hugh Bodey N3/60/Parn 5
Nurses Article in Family History Monthly Sep 2000  
Pewterers Provincial Pewterers R Homer & D Hall M3/44/3
Policemen My Ancestor was a Policeman Anthony Shearman M2/1/Pam 35
Railwaymen Railway Ancestors David Hawkings M2/10/67
Ropemakers Article in Banyan Tree Jul 1988  
Sailor The Victorian Sailor David Marcombe N3/60/Pam 13
Servants Victorian Domestic Servant Davidoff & Hawthorn N3/30/17
Ships Historic ships M K Stammers N3/21/Pam 1
Stockingers Article in Your Family Tree Feb 1987  
Theatre Article in FTM Oct 1999  
Wool The Woollen Industry Chris Aspin N3/60/Pam 2
Textiles Bibliography in FTM Jan 1999  
Whaling Whales and Whaling Arthur G Credland N3/60/Parn 6
Wheelwright The Village Wheelwright Jocelyn Bailey N3/60/Pam 11



Apprenticeship records can yield details of a person's training and trade, parentage and abode, but until the 18th century the formal binding of an apprentice to a master was a private transaction. The deed was written twice on the same sheet, then cut in two in a wavy (indented) line - the resulting indentures being held by the master and the parent. Many of these documents have been lost, though some coming from parish chests, private individuals or the extant records of individual firms survive in record offices and libraries.

Until 1710 there was no central register of apprentices in England and Wales. However, by a statute passed in that year, stamp duty was payable on apprenticeship premiums and for a hundred years a central register was kept for the British Isles. The National Archives (UK) holds the resulting ledger books among its Inland Revenue records and there are forty volumes recording stamp duties paid in London and another thirty or so volumes containing the tax collected in the country towns. No premium was paid when an apprentice was bound to a close relative and apprenticeships of parish paupers were exempt from stamp duty. Therefore, the apprenticeships of such young people were not recorded.

The original Apprenticeship Books were, of course, created chronologically so it is fortunate that the Society of Genealogists in London copied and listed alphabetically the apprentices' names and details from 1710 to 1774. There are also indexes to the masters' names from 1710 to 1774.

A leaflet produced by the The National Archives (UK), Apprenticeship Records as Sources for Genealogy, provides useful background information about the Apprenticeship Books, apprenticeships not recorded in the Apprenticeships Books and other apprenticeship records held by the TNA.

How SAG can help you

The above indexes have been microfiched and are available in SAG's library [SAG ref: ENG-DIR-APP:1]. An article - The Apprenticeship Books of Great Britain by Dorothy Loudon - describing how to use these indexes effectively was published in SAG's quarterly journal, Descent, Vol. 25, no. 4 December, 1995.

These typed indexes to the apprentices of Great Britain give most of the details from the manuscript ledgers. However the original records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and can be viewed by ordering them using SAG's Family History Library service.

The Society of Genealogists has also published indexes to various London Livery Company apprenticeship registers, covering the 16th to the 19th centuries and a variety of occupations: plumbers, apothecaries, poulters and farriers, etc.

SAG also holds indexes of individual apprenticeship records in particular cities or counties. Examples include:

  • Wiltshire apprentices and their masters, 1710-1760 [SAG ref: N8.41/12/1],
  • Coventry apprentice enrolments registers, 1781-1841 [SAG ref: ENG-WAR-OCC:1]
  • Oxford city apprentices 1697-1800 [SAG ref: N8.30/12/1].

All these can be located by searching our on-line catalogue for "apprentice" or the appropriate occupation or city.

Guilds and livery companies

Trade and craft associations known as guilds or livery companies have flourished all over Europe for centuries, but the City of London companies, now collectively known as the Livery, are unique in their survival, number and diversity. Now numbering 102, some date back to medieval times; others are very recent.

Some companies own halls, schools, almshouses, investments, lands and substantial charity funds. They have a proud history, traditions, records and magnificent treasures. Liverymen carry out important functions in the elections of the government of the City of London and certain of its officers.

Several companies - such as the Goldsmiths Company, which has been responsible since 1300 for testing the purity of marking gold and silver wares - still have a continuing statutory or regulatory role.

Today the majority of companies support their trade, craft or profession in one way or another. Much of this support goes to universities and other institutions which train young people for careers in particular industries. A growing number of companies are also involved in apprenticeship schemes.

Family historians with ancestors who carried on a trade, craft or profession in the City of London should check the records of the relevant livery company. It is beyond the scope of these notes to delve further into the range of such records. Many companies have published histories that provide detail and some of these are held in our Overseas Library. The records themselves are generally held in the Guildhall Library of the City of London. Its catalogue is online and there is a guide to its holdings relating to liverymen at

More background on the history of guilds, and links to the websites of individual companies, can be found at

How SAG can help you

SAG holds a number of livery company histories - search our online catalogue for the company name.