Episode 87: Our Ancestors At Work

Scratching your head over what your ancestor did for work? The answer is usually in a census or city directory, but it also might be in a photo. The late 19th century saw an interest in capturing people at work and businessmen in formal portraits. Such images hold clues to the kind of business in the tools and attire shown.

In your own collection there are probably images of individuals wearing clothing that puzzles you. Some may be recognizable as work outfits while others remain mysterious. You might have an occupational portrait and not know it because you don’t associate the clothing worn in the picture with a particular job.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, men (and women) dressed for their job with particular head to toe choices from shoes to hats. 

What do you know about the work patterns in your own family? If you don’t know your ancestors employment history it might be fun to investigate. You could find out that you have more in common with your ancestors than genes—an occupation.    Whether the answer is nothing or a lot it’s still worth searching for more information. You could uncover some fun facts that to use in a family reunion trivia game. 


About Maureen Taylor:

Maureen is a frequent keynote speaker on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history at historical and genealogical societies, museums, conferences, libraries, and other organizations across the U.S., London and Canada.  She’s the author of several books and hundreds of articles and her television appearances include The View and The Today Show (where she researched and presented a complete family tree for host Meredith Vieira).  She’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Living, Germany’s top newspaper Der Spiegel, American Spirit, and The New York Times. Maureen was recently a spokesperson and photograph expert for MyHeritage.com, an internationally known family history website and also writes guidebooks, scholarly articles and online columns for such media as Smithsonian.com. Learn more at Maureentaylor.com

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