Unusual Occupations of our Ancestors


What unusual occupations our ancestors sometimes had – or upon reflection, at least it seems that way to us nowadays.  Occupations, of course, if you were lucky enough to have a reliable one, changed with the times and were very much aligned with social and gender norms of the day.

Positions that regularly crop up in genealogical research are those of our ancestors ‘in service’ to others – the servants, footmen, scullery maids and so on … with TV shows like the excellent Downton Abbey throwing light on the hierarchy and struggles of such positions, it is interesting to ponder what our forebears did on a day-to-day basis.

The Irish censuses of 1901 and 1911 provide a wealth of this type of information, which can then be followed up by a wider trawl of other historic occupation related websites.  Be sure and have a look at the “Occupation” column of these census returns (check the ‘Show All Information’ box to reduce clicking), as they make for all sorts of interesting reading, listing professions that have long since come and gone.

Spare a thought for young Henry McCabe of the Tinnahinch estate in Wicklow (owned by the powerful Grattan-Bellew family) who was listed as “dog boy” – sounding very much like “dog’s body”, young Henry would have been in control of the estate’s team of hunting dogs – feeding them, keeping them under control and getting them ready for the hunt !

We recommend a trawl through the scullery maids, the under housemaids, cooks and the 2nd footmen – there are sure to be a couple of occupations listed that make us smile and have a hidden story to tell.  As always, keep an eye out for mistranscriptions – your guess is as good as ours as to whether the venerable Mr. Peden (returned below in Co. Antrim) owned a cat or a car !

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