Saturday, September 5, 2015

5 Reasons for Not Finding Ancestors’ Occupations

Research Mistakes & Remedies

5 Reasons Why You Can't Find Your Ancestors' Occupations
Photo credit: By Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Family historians should always be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to trace the steps of their ancestors, especially when they hit brick walls.  But what if you’ve finally found a handful of your once-elusive ancestors, yet still can’t seem to figure out their occupations? Not only can this leave gaps in your family’s story, but it can also be rather frustrating when you wish to create a more robust and comprehensive family history.

If you think you’ve exhausted every available research resource, but still can’t figure out your ancestors’ occupations, then you could be making some fairly common research faux pas. And just as there are unique tips for finding your ancestors online, there are other ways to find your ancestors’ occupations — you just have to be willing to dig a little more deeply.

Why You Can’t Find Your Ancestors’ Occupations

The following common mistakes may be keeping you from finding your ancestors’ occupations. If you’re making any of them, consider taking a heavy dose of our research remedies!

1. Only Searching the Obvious Records

Searching certain occupational records can often be a great way to figure out an ancestor’s line of work. But if you’re simply searching the most obvious record types (think union, retirement, and trade association records), then you may not find your ancestor’s occupation at all!
Research Remedy:
  • Search Federal Records – By 1850, the US Federal Census started listing occupations for each enumerated individual — not just heads of household.
  • Search Vital Records – If you want to find your ancestors’ occupations, try searching death certificates, marriage licenses, and other vital records as they sometimes note occupations of the person in question.
  • Search City Directories – If you know the city in which your ancestor lived, you can always look through that city’s old directory to find their occupation. It was fairly common to list residents’ occupations here.
  • Search Military Draft Records – Was your ancestor drafted into the military in the United States? If so, keep in mind that occupations were listed on draft registration cards for World Wars I and II.

2. Not Researching Historic Newspapers

I don’t think we can stress enough just how important it is to research old newspapers to trace your roots and find valuable information about your ancestors. Newspapers can offer up a great deal of clues about your ancestors’ occupations.
Research Remedy: 
Start researching historical newspapers right now! Look through articles, legal notices, classified ads, and even advertisements. You’ll be surprised at how many clues you may have been overlooking for far too long.

3. Devaluing Volunteer Work 

Think about it: If you are a family historian or genealogist by trade, volunteering for your local family history or genealogical library may just seem like second nature. And just like you, your ancestors would use their occupational skills to volunteer for various organizations and committees in their own communities. This is something that is often overlooked when searching for an ancestor’s occupation.
Research Remedy: 
If you know your ancestor volunteered time to a certain group or organization, then pay close attention to the skills they brought to the table. This could be your clue as to what they did for a living! Unsure if your ancestor was a volunteer? Don’t forget to ask your immediate and extended family members for some insight.

4. Forgetting About Family Heirlooms

Those dusty books, broken watches, and knick knacks from yesteryear could hold key information to discovering a family member’s occupation. So, head on up to the attic to sift through your hand-me-down family heirlooms, or pay a visit to Great Aunt Abigail and ask to take a closer look at her bookshelf and fireplace mantle.
Research Remedy: 
Pay close attention to old membership pins, occupational awards, cuff links, watches, and other items that could all contain workplace logos, union emblems, and even inscriptions. Those old books on your great aunt’s shelf may also contain inscriptions with clues about your ancestor’s occupation if gifted from a boss or coworker. Plus, old holiday menus and even office newsletters may offer information about the company for which your ancestor worked.

5. Neglecting Tax Records

Just as you shouldn’t forget to file your taxes, you should also remember to search through tax records to find valuable information about your ancestors — including their occupations. Of course, just like doing your taxes, searching through records of this type can also be…taxing. It may take you a while to find what you’re looking for, but you should never let that stop you from completing this crucial part of your ancestry search.
Research Remedy: 
Bite the bullet, and begin that taxing search through different types of tax records such as land taxes, personal property taxes, and more. Once you know what types of taxes your ancestor paid, this could provide some tell tale clues about his occupation. Perhaps your ancestor was taxed on a large amount of heavy machinery. Figure out what it was used for, and that could provide a clue as to what he did for a living.

Do you have other tips on how to find ancestors’ occupations? Let us know in the comments!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

7 Strange Interests of Our Victorian Ancestors

 Your 19th Century Ancestors Were into Some Seriously Weird Stuff 

7 Strange Hobbies of the Victorian Era
Photo Credit: Wurzeltod via Compfight cc
Back in the 19th century before modern technology took over the entertainment scene, our ancestors were forced to figure out how to alleviate their boredom. Sometimes, reading a book or story telling just didn’t cut it. In addition to their fondness for dressing their pets as humans for family portraits, our Victorian ancestors had a plethora of other odd hobbies that were also surprisingly popular back in the day.
The following interests of your Victorian ancestors will make your weird hobbies seem totally normal!

Strange Hobbies from the Victorian Era

1. Participating in Vignettes

Victorian Era Hobby - Vignette
Photo credit:
Without iPhones or the Internet for entertainment, your Victorian ancestors (whether upper or middle class) would get together with friends and family members, dress up in crazy costumes, and then pose for each other enticing laughter and applause. This was a very popular interest at the time — and perfectly normal. If you can imagine doing this for your friends today, then you’re just as odd as your ancestors were! 

2. Attending Freak Shows

Victorian Era Freak Show Poster
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, our Victorian ancestors could be fairly judgmental and enjoy laughing at people who looked strange. In both 19th century England and the United States, freak shows were at the height of their popularity and considered commercial successes. A “freak show” was an exhibition of biological rarities — think people with secondary sexual characteristics, and those with rare diseases that manifested outwardly making their physical appearances shocking. 
Sometimes this was the only way the “freaks” could make an honest living — all while passersby gawked. Yikes. Queen Victoria actually loved freak shows herself. Could you even imagine the Queen of England or the President of the United States participating in these demeaning behaviors today? It would truly be considered politically incorrect — and downright mean!

3. Displaying and Practicing Taxidermy

Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
When you think of taxidermy, you likely think about Uncle Dan’s prized, stuffed deer head that he proudly displays on the wall of his den. Or, perhaps your mom even called upon a professional taxidermist to preserve your beloved family dog. But what you probably don’t think about is the act of anthropomorphic taxidermy — a hobby that delighted Victorians of all ages. With this type of taxidermy, mounted animals were either dressed as people or displayed in the home as if they were engaging in human activities. Walter Potter was the most successful and well-known anthropomorphic taxidermist creating scenes with everything from kittens playing croquet, to rabbits writing on slates in a schoolhouse.

4. Collecting Odd Things for Curiosity Cabinets

Victorian Era Strange Hobby - Cabinet of Curiosities
Photo credit: Steam Punk Things
Your ancestors from the Victorian era were likely avid collectors. Sometimes, they would stick to one type of item for their collections, but their curiosity cabinets also displayed some rather outrageous things that didn’t fit together at all. Curiosity collections would contain “curiosities” spanning everything from weird botanical finds, shrunken heads, geological specimens, bones found in the woods, shells, old weaponry and more. The more odd the collection was, the better! 

5. Hunting for Ferns

Victorian Era Fern Hunting - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Darwin Country
In the Victorian era, your ancestors were also obsessed with exotic plants. So much so, that not only were their gardens filled with pretty flowers, but their wallpaper, clothing fabrics, jewelry and more fashion items were botanically-themed. Not too strange, right? Well, by 1855, pteridomania was all the rage. In other words, your ancestors loved hunting for ferns and cultivating them. Fern expeditions were popular in Europe, Asia and other other countries where Victorian people could find and bring wild fern specimens home. It may sound like another walk in the park to you, but fern hunting was actually quite dangerous — exactly why your ancestors were thrilled to go on the hunt!

6. Communicating with the Dead

Victorian Era Seance - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Steam Punk Circus
Spiritualism was at its peak during the late 19th century. And as you likely already know, your Victorian ancestors were obsessed with the dead, and for good reason. Back in the Victorian era, practically everyone experienced a death of at least one of their immediate family members. People living in the 19th century thus had an affinity for the afterlife that fueled their hobby of performing and participating in seances. During a seance, mediums would help your ancestors communicate with deceased family members and friends. Even if it didn’t actually work, it helped your ancestors reach loved ones and feel more at peace.

7. Posing for Mourning Photos

Victorian Era Mourning Photo
Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc
One of the most creepy and popular interests your ancestors participated in during Victorian times has got to be post-mortem photography. As stated previously, our Victorian ancestors were very much obsessed with the dead. So much that they photographed dead family members and posed with them for family portraits. Even when a family pet would pass away, families would pose for memorial photos with their furry friends. Yes, this may freak you out a bit, but it was a normal photography practice back then.

Have you found any Victorian photos where your ancestors are participating in strange hobbies? 

Let us know in the comments!  

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

5 Time-Saving Tips for Finding Maiden Names

Discover Your Female Ancestors Using These Smart Research Tactics

5 Time-Saving Tips for Finding Ancestors' Maiden Names
Photo Credit: SaltGeorge via Compfight cc
If you’re deep into your family history research and have not yet been able to find some of your female ancestors, you’re not alone. There are actually good reasons as to why you and many others can’t seem to locate these elusive ladies from your familial past.
For one, if you’re looking for journals, letters, or important documents written by your female ancestors who lived as early American settlers, you could be wasting your time. This is due to the fact that most women were illiterate during that time period and written communications were mostly created by men.
Secondly, federal census records dated before 1850 were only required to list the male heads of household. Even if a married woman owned property before she decided to get hitched, it was turned over to her husband — as well as the rest of her rights. This means seeking maiden names in census records prior to 1850 will likely be unsuccessful, as well. Of course, there are some exceptions to these rules. For example, you might have an ancestor who was widowed. Her maiden name could then be listed as the head of household. Unfortunately, after her husband died, she may have simply been recorded as “Widow” with her deceased husband’s surname listed after — not her maiden name.
The good news is that there are some time-saving research tactics to uncovering the maiden names of your ancestors that can help you finally discover a new branch on your family tree — and some new surnames!
Plus, if you get stuck, remember has over 1,200 researchers ready to assist with whatever help you might need.

Research Tips for Finding Ancestors’ Maiden Names

1. Start with Marriage Records

The smartest way to begin your search for an ancestor’s maiden name is by scouring marriage records. This may be your only way to find an ancestor’s maiden name, so it’s important to start your research here.
Find Ancestors' Maiden Names Using Marriage Certificates
Photo Credit: FotoSupplies via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using marriage records:
Don’t go into your research blindly! In order to find marriage records including certificates, contracts, returns, and registers, you must know the groom’s full name, the bride’s first name, the (approximate) date they were married, and the state or county in which they were wed. From there, you can sift through free online indexes, and head to family history libraries. Keep in mind that these documents can also be found at your local library, funeral homes, old churches, and elsewhere. Tip: Never overlook the names of witnesses in records, who could be on the bride’s side of the family.

2. Opt for Obituaries

At times, death records can be a bust for finding maiden names — especially when a deceased relative’s parents aren’t listed on the death certificate, or the witnesses aren’t related to the family. Alternatively, looking through obituaries can help uncover some pertinent information on your female ancestors.
Find Maiden Names of Ancestors in Old Obituaries
Photo Credit: McBeth via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using obituaries:
The power of the internet has made it easier to find obituaries., and are all great places to start. In addition to searching the names of your ancestor’s parents, obituaries can list siblings names which may also suggest maiden names. Tip: Look at obituaries of your female ancestor’s children or husband, as well. This tactic could also uncover a maiden name you’ve been searching for.  

3. Rifle Through Military Records

Did your ancestor or her spouse serve in the military? Then definitely search through military records, paying close attention to Veteran’s Benefit Records which could show her maiden name.
Find Maiden Names of Ancestors in Military Records
Photo Credit: Pip R. Lagenta via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using military records:
You can obtain all sorts of military records by contacting the National Archives online, by mail or fax. To find an ancestor’s maiden name using military pension records, you must know the veteran’s name, the branch and state in which he/she served and began their service, plus the war in which your veteran ancestor fought. More information on obtaining military records can be found on Genealogists.comTip: Unsure about the branch or time period in which your veteran ancestor served? Look to old photos for help. If your ancestor is in uniform, it could provide you with some clues.

4. Research Historic Newspapers

This research tactic can often be overlooked when it comes to finding ancestors’ maiden names. But if you’re already researching historic newspapers to find family stories, be sure to add a maiden name search to the list. You can uncover them by looking for wedding announcements and obituaries along with photos of the individuals in question.
Search Newspapers for Ancestor Maiden Names
Photo credit: Library of Congress
How to find maiden names using newspapers:
Use online newspaper directories to find owners of historic newspapers from the times and places in which weddings occurred or obituaries were published. If you find a newspaper you need, simply request to search a copy of the newspaper (see the list of resources below). In order to make this type of maiden name search go smoothly, you must know the approximate date of your ancestor’s death, and the full name of the deceased if searching obituaries. If you’re looking through wedding announcements, you must know the date in which your ancestor married and the name of the groom.

Finding maiden names in old newspapers:

5. Ask Living Family Members About Your Ancestors

It seems like a no-brainer that you should ask your family members about female ancestors. But sometimes, we get so deep into our family history and genealogy research that we can forget this important step. Even your younger, living cousins, uncles or aunts might know some of the maiden names you’re so desperately seeking. And if they don’t know the maiden name themselves, they may also have various documents or memorabilia stashed away in their attic that could help you uncover clues to finding your ancestors’ maiden names.
Ask Family Members About Maiden Names
Photo Credit: timailius via Compfight cc

Helpful Videos and Articles for Finding Maiden Names

What time-saving tactics do you use to find your ancestors’ maiden names? 

Let us know in the comments! 

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