Not Your Typical Day Job

by Amy Johnson Crow

Posted on August 30, 2013

With Labor Day almost upon us, it's time to think about work (and not just getting a day off from it). I come from a long line of farmers. If you list my ancestors' occupations in the census, you'd have farmer, farmer, farmer, and...  farmer. My grandfather sort of broke the mold; he was a shovel operator in a quarry. But even he was making his living taking things out of the earth. 

Maybe it's because I don't have much variety in my ancestral occupations that I am intrigued by how people earned their livings. The census is a great place to discover those. 

David S. Strahl was a confectioner living in Grundy County, Illinois in 1880. It makes you wonder if his children were the most popular kids in the neighborhood.

1880-confectioner.jpg

Some kids dream of running away and joining the circus. Chester Barnett and his wife Viola really did. In 1930, they were living in Caddo County, Louisiana; he was a circus musician and she was a circus actress. (They didn't run away too far, though; they were living with Chester's parents.)

1930-circus.jpg

There really were gamblers in the Wild West, and John Hunter was one. It says so right on the 1880 census of Custer County, Colorado. I wonder what his next-door neighbor, the hardware merchant, thought of John's occupation.

1880-gambler.jpg

And there's the occupation held by James Bantells, who was living with the Tilley family in 1880 in Humboldt County, California: "Gentleman of Leisure." The salary wasn't very good, but the number of vacation days was outstanding!

1880-gentleman.jpg

What unusual occupations have you found in your family tree?


Amy Johnson Crow is a Genealogical Content Manager for Archives.com. She is a Certified Genealogist and blogs regularly for Roots & Branches, the official Archives.com blog. Amy has deep roots in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states and she has rarely been to a cemetery that she didn't like. 

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