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Dictionary of Old Occupations and Trades

The world of work has changed greatly from the times of our ancestors, causing many occupational names and terms to fall into disuse. If you found your ancestor named as a ripper (seller of fish), seinter (girdle maker), peruker (wig maker), hosteler (innkeeper), or pettifogger (a shyster lawyer), would you know what it meant? Probably not. Yet, the work that   our ancestors chose for their living is an important part of who they were.

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Learning about the occupations of our ancestors can provide insight into their daily lives, social status, and possibly even the origin of your family surname. Not to mention, many old occupations are interesting enough to add a touch of spice to your family history.


Men making ship nets (photo from

Ancestral occupations can be located in a large number of record types, including census records, marriage and death records, tax records, voter lists, and obituaries.  Lists of tools and equipment found in estate inventories can sometimes provide insight into the individual’s occupation.

This free dictionary of old occupations explains the function of hundreds of old occupations, trades, and job titles. To find the old occupations that you are looking for, simply select the appropriate letter in the navigation bar located at the top of each index page in the glossary.

This dictionary of old occupations
is a continual work-in-progress.  If you come across an old or obsolete occupation that you would like to see included, please send me an email at and include OLD OCCUPATIONS as the subject of your email.