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.


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.)


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.


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!


What unusual occupations have you found in your family tree?

Amy Johnson Crow is a Genealogical Content Manager for She is a Certified Genealogist and blogs regularly for Roots & Branches, the official 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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