Where Did Your Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Family Occupations.

Introduction: This Labor Day we’re thinking back to our hard-working ancestors, so many of whom came to the United States chasing the American Dream. Scott Phillips, a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services, shows how old newspapers can tell you a lot about your ancestors’ occupations and workplaces, and help you better understand their lives and the times in which they lived. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family story.

Everyone works. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes, but I’d have to add “working” to that list. And in our genealogy this is a good thing. Searching for information about our ancestors’ occupations and work can add significantly to our family trees. This is especially true when you work with the thousands of newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

We can gain some exciting and interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors when we add their occupations to our usual family research. As a matter of fact, my family tree is peppered with some wonderful discoveries that came as the result of researching the occupations and workplaces of my ancestors.

One of the aspects of my youth that I regret is that I neither paid close enough attention to, nor asked enough questions about, the work of several of my ancestors who are now gone.

Uncle Chuck

One example is my uncle Chuck. I remember from my youth and family stories that he worked for a company with the name of Acme-Cleveland, but not much more. So not long ago I decided to do some research to see if I could learn more about one of my favorite uncles.

When I searched on the company name “Acme Cleveland,” GenealogyBank’s search results page showed 2,600 hits. One of those results was this 1978 newspaper article which gave a detailed history of the company, explaining that its roots go all the way back to 1896. It also mentioned that the headquarters were at one time considered “to be one of the most modern manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is a fact I never knew when we would drive by and I would always shout in the car, as though my parents and sisters didn’t know: “That’s where Uncle Chuck works!” In the last paragraph of this old newspaper article they even quoted my uncle.

National Acme Division of Acme-Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 July 1978
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1978, page 23

 My Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Evenden

In another instance, I decided to do some occupational research on my mother’s family. She lost her dad when she was only 12 so I didn’t have much to go on—but one of the stories my mother had shared was that her paternal grandfather, Frederick Evenden (1851-1918) had worked for a firm by the name of Chandler and Rudd. I began my newspaper search and soon found several advertisements for Chandler and Rudd published in an 1876 newspaper. It immediately sounded like a wonderful grocery store. Listed in the advertisements were enticing entries for cheese, nuts, fruit, etc. What a cornucopia of edible offerings!

food ads for grocer Chandler & Rudd, Cleveland Leader newspaper advertisements 28 November 1876
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1876, page 8

Then I found this Chandler and Rudd advertisement in a 1907 newspaper for Easter week. It was fun to see they were offering some of the same Easter treats we can get today, such as Cream Easter Eggs, Marshmallow Eggs, and Chocolate Covered Almonds, plus some others I was unfamiliar with—like Sunshine Candies, Nut Puffs, and Chocolate Covered Fig Squares.

Easter ad for grocer Chandler and Rudd, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1907
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1907, page 9

My Grandfather-in-Law Pasquale D’Aquila

On my wife’s side of the family we are blessed to have many family members who owed their livelihoods to the iron mining industry. My wife’s paternal grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, was one of those men who toiled away in the austere conditions of the open pit iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. This was only after he had spent a few years in the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil; then Western Canada; and then Montana. Sadly, Pasquale passed away long before I joined the family, so I did some newspaper research on what it was like in the mines in his day.

I first found this 1902 newspaper article. In addition to saying Hibbing, Minnesota, was “what is known in the expressive vernacular of the street as a ‘crackerjack,’” the article also stated: “Hibbing is at present the theater of greatest iron mining activity on the planet.”

Hibbing Theater of Big Iron Production, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 19 October 1902
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 19 October 1902, page 2

But of course it wasn’t all “crackerjack”—the mining work was hard and dangerous, as were other types of work such as railroads and sawmills. This 1903 newspaper article reported that more than 1,000 “casualties among the working people of Minnesota” had occurred in the past year.

Many Accidents During the Year, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 October 1903
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 October 1903, page 2

Sometimes it was dangerous just getting to work in the mines in those days, as reported in this 1911 newspaper article. The Scranton Mine was one of the mines Pasquale worked in, and the article explained an accident in detail—and reported that the men involved were John Lampi, Emil Jackson, and John Fari.

article about a train accident at the Scranton Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 November 1911
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 November 1911, page 3

Here’s another mining accident, reported in this 1916 newspaper article. The Albany Mine was another mine in which Pasquale worked, and this article explained how a dozen railroad cars, each filled with 50 tons of ore, broke loose and wrecked in the mine.

article about a train accident at the Albany Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 5 November 1916
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 5 November 1916, page 8

This 1918 newspaper article reported another danger my ancestor faced: the scourge of Spanish influenza. This article explained that the area was under consideration for the imposition of martial law to combat the spread of this flu. The article detailed the situation in Grand Rapids, Gilbert, Hibbing, Aitkin, and Virginia, Minnesota, even listing an entire paragraph of the names of all those who died from the flu in Grand Rapids alone. No doubt, it had to have been a challenging life in a tough environment.

article about the Spanish flu, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1918
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1918, page 9

These many articles from the historical newspapers of GenealogyBank have added immensely to my family tree and my genealogy work. So when you get into your family history work, be sure to do some of your searching on the occupations and companies of your ancestors. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family tree!

Do you know what type of work your ancestors did for a living? Share their occupations with us in the comments.

Related Ancestor Occupation Research Articles:

105 thoughts on “Where Did Your Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Family Occupations.

    1. Thank you, Tamara! I appreciate that some of these tips might help you in your family history and genealogy work in the future!

      Always nice to hear from folks who read my posts!

      Thanks again, Scott

  1. Most of my family back in the 1800’s and 1900’s lived in small towns like Oxford Neb. or Roundtree Ill. or New Madrid Mo. I was hoping I could fine some obit. on them. They were farmers. I really don’t think you can help me.

    1. Dorothy, I would suggest you check out some of the local historical societies and libraries in those smaller towns and their counties. Also the local newspapers from those times can be tremendous resources.
      Also don’t overlook libraries in larger locations in the state of your interest. I found several books written about early settlers from specific nationalities in both those states. Some of those books are wonderfully detailed! Good luck! Scott

    1. That is very cool! My ancestors didn’t hit our shores here in the U.S. until far later. One side in the 1840s the other not until 1911.

      I love to hear about folks who can trace to the Mayflower! Very cool!

      Scott

      1. My family just missed the boat, literally. They were on the Speedwell, the consort of the Mayflower. It had a serious leak and they had to turn back to England twice. The Mayflower went back with her because they weren’t sure she would make it back. After much discussion, most of the Speedwell passengers were transferred to the Mayflower and she headed for the New World. My family remained with the Speedwell. After more repairs, it sailed to London to be sold and my family returned to Leiden, Zuid-Holland. They fled England due to religious persecution. They finally made it to Plimouth, Mass. in 1629. Thomas Blossom, a deacon in the Lutheran church, was my 9th great-grandfather. Rev. John Robinson, who died in Leiden, was my 10th great-grandfather. His granddaughter married Thomas Blossom’s son – my 8th great grandfather.

    1. Herman- Newspapers a great source of finding last names of ancestors. If you search just the last name of an ancestor in the newspaper it will pull up different states they may have lived in. You can also search the internet, like Google and Facebook.

  2. Great great grandfather gunpowder merchant Cornwall circa 1840
    4 grandmothers and great grandmothers ran boarding houses
    Grandfather master carpenter built bridges western Canada
    Great grandfather machinist on railroad and his son an engineer

    Thanks for this idea.

    1. Hi Mary Ann!

      I enjoy hearing from my readers, but have an especially soft spot for hearing those stories of fellow Cornish folks! It is quite an area and community for sure!

      Continued good luck and good skills with your work!
      Scott

  3. My paternal grandfather, Abner Green(e) not sure about the “e”, was killed in 1922 in New York City as the result of attempting to form a union. He had emigrated to this country around 1898 or 1899 from Kumenitz-Podalsk in Odessa, Russia.

    1. Interesting story Alynn! I, too, have spelling issues with my paternal side. Often times spelling with three Ps as Phillipps. My grandfather spelled it that way until he came to the States and changed it ‘on the fly’.

      Early union forming men and woman often had it very hard and as with your paternal grandfather, put it all on the line for better conditions many of us benefit from today!

      Keep up the good work!
      Scott

      1. Richard- If you have the name of the ship that the family came over on, you can search the passenger list on GenealogyBank.com. If not on our website, try searching the internet for the Haff family. You may want to try searching with a first and last name. The names change when they come over and the spelling may have changed. Try searching FamilySearch.org for census records.

    1. Richard- GenealogyBank.com has a large collection of New York newspapers. Searching newspapers can give you a wealth of information about your ancestors by just putting in the last name of Tennant and a date range you are searching with the state you would like to search.

    1. Kathy, That is a great find!

      I found one branch of our family who did bridge building back in the early 1900s and drove across two states to see one of those bridges still standing. I loved it, but not so much for my wife and our two children in the car with me! They still kid me about that vacation ‘side trip’!

      Scott

  4. I want to find an obituary of my cousin who was killed in 1966 in Indiana. I contacted the paper and the only way I can access their archives is if I am a subscriber. Is there another way around this? It seem that everyone want to get paid for a year in advance. There are some things that should be public domain.

    1. Jim- You might want to reach out to the local library in the city that the article would have ran. If the library doesn’t have the copy, ask to see if they know where the newspaper collection can be found for that date range and city. Most newspapers have copyrights and that is why you have to pay for access to the newspapers.

  5. My husband Michael Rex Smith was born February 08, 1973 and his sister Caren Smith was born August 19, 1975. As far as we know they were born Michael Beaumont and Karen Beaumont. Around 1976 they were left with a babysitter and were taken into the custody of the state of Oregon. They both spent the next few years in different foster homes before being adopted by the Smith family, who lived in Nevada, then moved to Idaho. Our number is 5092090317 if anyone has any information.

    1. Mrs Smith- A good way to find this information is to do social media. Have you tried Facebook? Contact the State Foster Care service and see if they have any information. Try searching what the adoption policy is for Nevada? See if there was a police report for abandon children in Oregon. There may even be a newspaper story about the children.

    1. Debra- There are many sites that give information on how to search Native Americans. If you know the name of some of your ancestors you may find newspaper articles about them. GenealogyBank.com has Native American newspaper collections. If you know the name of the tribe that they came from that is also helpful. You can search the web for information about the different tribes. Search for the Dawes Roll on the website http://www.archives.gov. They also have a tutorial for how to search. You can search for the Native American Census on archive.org and FamilySearch.org. These sites are free.

  6. Newspaper articles, many times, fill in the blanks on ancestors and may mention not only their occupations, but might also include other key valuable information. This kind of resource provides invaluable leads in your search for family history.

  7. Do you have information on Carl Oscar? He built frigerators in early 1910-20 in Minneapolis, MN, but some thought it was Oregon. He was also a roaming minister Tabernacle. He had changed the spelling of his last name because there were too many with the spelling.

  8. It appears that the majority of my relatives prior to the early 1900’s listed their occupations on census lists as Farmer or Farm Laborer. Most of them did live in rural areas where farming probably was the type of work available particularly if they were unskilled.

  9. Re Chandler & Rudd Easter article – Jelly Bird eggs are what we call today Jelly Beans. I believe Fannie Mae Candy of Chicago still refers to them as ‘jelly bird eggs’ or something similar.

  10. I wish I had more time to read all these articles. A Mr. Macko (spelling?) had an accident in a mine. It was somewhere around Pittsburgh, Fayette City, and another town, where Jan Benko lived. Jozef Benko, too. Later on he was Banko.
    Thanks for putting your little pieces of newspapers on. It makes me think so much.
    Anna Mae Banko Stanek Schroeder.

  11. My great grandmother, her sisters and daughters were umbrella or parasol makers, or otherwise umbrella cover makers (possibly the less skilled among them)
    However in her earlier working years my great grandmother was a feather curler.

  12. My great uncle, Anthony Kilkenny, worked for the United States Postal Service as a railroad mail clerk.
    He rode the trains from San Francisco to Sacramento, California sorting mail within a special postal
    service train car as the train chugged along.

  13. My great, great grandparents were buried in an old family cemetery in Williamsburg County, South Carolina called Cantley Landing Cemetery. The county has converted the cemetery into a park over the objections of family members. I am attempting to have the county forced to return it to a historic cemetery. For this I need more evidence to support my case. I have gone to Salt Lake City but only found one obituary proving the cemetery existed. My efforts continue and could use help from anyone with knowledge of Cantley Landing Cemetery located on the bank of Black River.

    1. Joseph- You will want to check the obituaries in newspapers other then just one source. Also check the local library and see if they have any collections with obituaries during that time frame. You can also check with the Historical Society or Genealogical Society in the City and County to see if they have any information to help you.

  14. my maiden name was Wilson, that was changed from Willson in 1870 or thereabouts. My Great Grandpa John Wesley Wilson lived somewhere around Mary’s Home in Missouri. I can not find John Wesley Wilson’s family.

    1. Linda- A great source of information would be the local newspapers in the area you are searching. If you can’t find them on sites like GenealogyBank.com, try searching the local library. Historical Societies and Genealogical Society may have information about the family. You can check cemeteries in the area and churches.

  15. Looking at the news Article has given me any ideas as to what my ancestors did or didn’t do, Keep up the good work.

    1. Donna- You can find this information in obituaries or newspapers. If you know the church or funeral home that handled his funeral they may also have the information. Search the the SSDI also for information about death date and last residents.

    1. Jane- We start with the basics. We start with what we know. Start with the person that is closest to you and then go back. Census records are a good source of getting started. It gives you the names of parents, siblings, and approximate ages. FamilySearch.org has free census records, marriage records and some military records and also tutorials for beginners. Newspapers are a great source of information on marriages and obituaries. Start your search with information you know, like the names and towns of the ancestor you are searching. Keep a log of all your searches to help you organize what you find.

    1. Michael, I wonder if our families were neighbors, or family. James Fonce Smith, wife Maude Odell Smith. Had two boys James Arel Smith, born 1910 and Marion Rufus Smith born 1907. James Fonce Smith died just before his son James Arel was born in 1910. They lived in Gorman, Comanche County, Texas. Also in Eastland, Texas. James Fonce died in Sipe Springs Texas. Have no idea what he was doing there that caused his death.

  16. Can this help me to find out about my mom’s side of the family? My grandfather was an Indian that sent my mom a letter about dressing in the white man’s clothes for the 1st time! She was already in an orphanage at the time with her brother & sister.

    1. Darlene- The first thing you would want to know is what tribe your grandfather belonged to. The sites I would begin with would be FamilySearch.org. They have Native American census records. The site is available for free and has tutorial information on how to search. Another site is Archives.gov. This has the Dawes Roll, which lists the individuals who were accepted for tribal membership for the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole). They also offer tutorial information. Last suggestion would be to Google the tribe or your grandfather’s name.

  17. Very interested to know HOW travelers moved from Maine to live in South Dakota where land was purchased and families were established.

    Thank you

    1. Penny- How they traveled would depend on what date range they lived. 1700-1800s would be horse, wagon train and trains. Google the migration from Maine to South Dakota and Google the state and historical events that led them to move.

  18. my uncle Alfred James Barry had a son called Paley – apparently ho was killed in WW2. I do not believe U Alfred was married at his son’s birth.
    Alfred was born in Galion Ohio in 1897 and entered the Army in 1918 . The son must have born about 1918.

  19. My family name at birth is Simpson. My great-grandmother on father’s side was a school teacher, I was told her father was the son of the Governor of South Carolina, his name was W D Simpson. My grand father, on father’s side, retired from a manufacturing plant in Rock Hill, his mother was a house wife.more

    1. Sheila- Start with what you know. Your closest relative and then go back making sure you’re able to source the information on each ancestor. Start with your grandfather, find him in the census, find his parents, and continue going back. You can also check the Historical Society in South Carolina for the history of the Governor. Genealogical Society may have a family tree for the Governor.

  20. I’ve heard the stories everyone has I’m sure: you’re part Indian… But I have no idea tribe name, places they’re from, person(s) names.. How to star, I haven’t got a clue.

    1. Carmelita- Start with your parents’ census records, birth records, marriage records, then research their parents. If Native American, the census records will say they are Indian, Black, or Mulatto. Also, doing a DNA test can clarify origins.

  21. My great uncle the late John M. Williams and his wife Vernell were in vaudeville, playing mostly the “chitlin’ circuit”. Can’t find any info on them. He lived outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Also went by nickname ” Schoonie”. Probably toured in 20s, 30s and 40s(?).

    1. Diane- Try Googling his name and “chitlin’ circuit.” Research vaudeville and performers. Search them in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s censuses, and check the history in Pittsburgh to see if they are mentioned in that local history. Newspapers are a great source of information on ads for the vaudeville acts and performers.

  22. Grandfather on Father’s side, William Edward Frederick, worked for the DeSoto Auto car company in the 1950’s and the 1960’s.

    1. Estella- Have you tried finding them in the US Census records? A good site to start with is FamilySearch.org. If you know where he lived and died, search the newspapers in the area. Also, search the local library for any family histories for the name, Sosa.

  23. This is a great site. I am most interested in my great grandfather’s occupation in New York City in the time period (approx. 1868 to 1978). I know that he was a liquor dealer in NYC and found some information that he owned 40 liquor stores in the city, but no real proof that this person was really my great grand father. Did not appear that his family was wealthy so not sure if that number was an exaggeration. His name was Michael Maguire and he married Mary Broderick in 1872. There were no liquor licenses at that time so I don’t have any way to find out if this was true. Any ideas?

    1. Patricia – A good place to start would be FamilySearch.org, by searching US census records. Start with what you know now from the most recent family members on the census and go back. Start with 1940 census then 1930, 1920, 1910, etc… You will want to follow your family names, ie grandparents, family members etc. On the US census it will show you the occupation of family members, and where they are from. Newspapers can contain names and advertisements on the business.

  24. My brother Edward Jonas worked on the pipeline in Alaska in the 1970’s. I can’t find anything that shows him working there.

  25. My great grandfather Leopold Hahn was Postmaster in Hastings, Nebraska from 1897-1901 (I think this is correct for time.). When there was a political party change, and he was replaced, there are several newspaper articles about how he would not give the keys to the new Postmaster until he was ready to do it. One article mentioned the arrival of a post office person from Washington, DC to be certain that the keys to the post office were given over to the incoming postmaster. Fun reading – community papers have lots of good things to share beyond the vital statistics.

  26. Desperately looking for my father, Ray McCarthy, electrocuted on the PG&E lines in Alameda County, CA, in 1953.

    1. Leslie- Searching the local newspaper in Alameda County may have the information you are looking for. Local libraries are a great source of information for during that time period. You can also check with local funeral homes. They may have information. Also, contacting PG&E employment, they may have a history of your father and the accident.

  27. My paternal great great great grandfather Captain Peter Summers was a patriot, landowner etc and so was his son Ludwick Summers my great grand father. They lived in Guilford County , NC

  28. My Grandmother was born in 1902. She never knew her father, who died when she was a baby. My Grandmother was the youngest of the family and her older siblings and mother told her of the tragic accident in which her father died while working on the railroad in Baltimore, Md. After several years of searching I found the newspaper articles on line which described the accident. Although it was upsetting , it actually helped me to trace my Great Grandfather back to his birthplace on Kent Island, Md. I then researched the history of the area and passed onto to my mother that it was one of the earliest Colonial settlements . This was the link to finding our English ancestors who arrived in the 1600’s and settled on Kent Island. My grandmother had long since passed, but my mother enjoyed knowing more about her Grandfather. In fact, it was so exciting that a few months later my sister, cousin and I traveled with both of my parents ( in their 90’s) to our ancestors birthplace. This required several hours drive and several days overnight. After arriving in Kent Island, Md we visited the ancestral family Church, dating back to the 1600’s. The newspaper articles played a huge role in this.

  29. My Grandmother was born in 1902, the youngest child in the family. Her mother and older siblings passed onto her that before she was born 5 of her siblings died in one week of diphtheria. The family lived in Baltimore, Md at the time. While my Grandmother was vague about the date this happened she did know all the names of the children. Back in 1978 I sat down with her and took notes . I searched family history for many years. Only in 2015 did I find several newspapers articles documenting the deaths of the five children. It was amazing that all the names that my Grandmother had been told and repeated were correct. I went back and checked my notes made 37 years before and there they were. This confirmation , now with the date led me to find their burial place in Md. As part of our family trip to visit the ancestral home of my Great Grandfather on Kent Island, Md we also went to Balt, Md and visited his grave alongside his five children who died of diphtheria in one week, in July 1898 .

    1. Carole- Contact the Butler County library to find if they have a genealogy section. If they don’t, ask if they have a genealogical society or google Butler County, Kentucky and see what information they have on their website. The library may have a history of the county and names of people and genealogies of those that live there. Court houses, cemeteries, churches and schools have information that can be searched. Census records can be found in FamilySearch.org and may reveal additional family names in neighboring towns or counties.

  30. Hello
    I am desperately searching any information regarding Benjamin Joesph Tuckley, born Jan 1 1918, died, Nov, 11, 1973.
    He spent time in a Canadian Orphanage, if u would like to have the name of orphanage pls email me at novakrowchuk@outlook.com

    1. Nova- Start with the death of Benjamin and go back. There may be information in the newspapers with the obituaries or marriage posted. Search census records in FamilySearch.org.

  31. My gr-grandfather published a weekly newspaper with a 100-year history. When it went out of business in 1919 due to the prominence of dailies, he published a many page history of the newspaper in the last issue. He described his boyhood working at the newspaper and the many people he had known through that connection. Unfortunately, genealogybank does not have those years.

  32. I’m searching for some of my Ancestors from Pennsylvania. Noah and Mary Murphy Morris and their Children. Mostly from the 1800 ‘s . My Second Great Grandfather was born in Feb, 2 1802 his name is Abraham William Morris .

    1. Mary- A good place to start would be FamilySearch.org, by searching US census records. Start with what you know now from the most recent family members on the census and go back. If you know the name of the town or county in Pennsylvania will help you with your search. Search tax records, land deeds, and probate records. Libraries are a wealth of information if you know the are to search. They sometimes have histories of the families and genealogies. On the US census it will show you the family members, siblings, spouse, sometimes grandparents and where they are from. Newspapers also contain names, marriages and obituaries.

    1. Linda- GenealogyBank.com does not carry Canadian newspapers, but if they lived on the border states, information was often shared in the neighboring states newspapers.

  33. How to search newspaper articles for family history in the continental United States. States of Illinois and Kansas. How to search for information when the majority of family member(s) were crop and dairy farmers?

    1. Marcia- Newspapers would often report about the crops and farmers. They were the backbone of the community. They were an important part of the community and often involved in community events and activities. You can also check the historical societies in the Illinois and Kansas area you are searching. They have a wealth of information about the community and genealogies of the local farmers and businesses.

  34. Regina- Try doing a broad search for the name Niemeyer with the date range of your grandfather as a Google search. If you know where he live (City, State, or County) try searching the newspapers in that area. Contact the local library to see if they have a Genealogical Society, or section of histories of the area. This can be a wealth of information. Try searching Church records or cemeteries. You can also check with the Court house to see if they have any history of Tax records or Probate records.

  35. Linda Wischow I found your text message very interesting. The relatives I have located in the Wilson Clan came from Ireland, Scotland and England. My Samuel Wilson was born in Virgina around 1772 and lived in MD moved to KY and passed away in 1835 in Ohio Co., KY

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