skip to content

Occupational and Labour Records

Nature of Source

Records relating to various professions, occupations and trades.

Birth, marriage and death certificates as well as census returns record a person's occupation or trade. Parish registers after 1812 might note the person's occupation and look in trade directories for occupational information on a person. Please note that a person described as a journeyman worked as a day worker gaining new skills at each job.

Use the links below to help calculate an ancestor's earnings. When comparing rates of pay over time is important to take into account two factors; firstly inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index (RPI) which measures price changes in a cross section of goods and secondly average earnings which measures changes in the wages of a worker year by year. However, it is difficult to obtain an exact calculation of the worth of an ancestor's purchasing power when so many variables need to be taken into account.

Wage rates were first officially complied in 1893 with the publication of the Board of Trade's Labour Gazette held at The National Archives in series ZPER 45. The publication underwent a number of name changes including the Ministry of Labour Gazette, the Employment and Productivity Gazette and the Employment Gazette. It became Labour Market Trends in 1995 and in 2006 changed to the Economic and Labour Market Review. As collective bargaining increased from the late 19th century, wage rates can be found in trade union journals. Charles Booth's survey into poverty levels called the Life and Labour of the People and other social surveys have data on wage rates. The records of government departments will include wage rates covering those employed in the public sector. Trade Boards and Wages Councils files can be found at The National Archives in series LAB 11 and LAB 35 whilst the records of the Agricultural Wages Committees can be found in MAF 64.

See individual occupations listed in the GenGuide.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Apprenticeship Indentures, Parish
Business & Company Records
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Guilds, Freedoms & Freemen's or Burgess Rolls
Trade Union Records

Where Found

The National Archives (Including LAB 2, Ministry of Labour and Predecessors: Correspondence. Enhanced catalogue descriptions for this series is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue with files on labour and employment subjects including industrial relations, women's equality rights, labour disputes, working hours and health and safety issues. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘LAB 2’)
Society of Genealogists (Professions)
County Record Offices
Modern Records Centre
Working Class Movement Library
Trades Union Congress Library Collections
People's History Museum
Labour History Archive & Study Centre (Archives of the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, trade unions and other left wing political groups and movements)
Bishopsgate Institute Library (Collections include trade union books and pamphlets and personal papers, labour movements and political party records and Co-operative Society records)
Museum of English Rural Life (The museum houses the most comprehensive national collection of objects, books and archives relating to the history of food, farming and the countryside. The museum houses archives, a library, an image library and special collections including the Milling and Baking Collection, the Dairy Collection and the Tools & Trades History Society Library)

Period Covered

1200 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, addresses, occupations, dates of birth, marriage and death

Further References

Anderson, Janice. Working Life in Britain: Futura Publications, 2007

 

Brown, Jonathan. Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide For Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2011

 

Burton, Anthony. Tracing Your Shipbuilding Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2010

 

Crafts, Nicholas & Gazeley, Ian & Newell, Andrew (eds). Work and Pay in Twentieth-Century Britain: Oxford University Press, 2007 (Preview available from Google Books)

 

Collins, Audrey. Portraits of the English Law and Order: Audrey Collins, 1999 (Policemen, Excisemen, Judges)

 

Collins, Audrey. Portraits of the English In Sickness and in Health: Audrey Collins, 1999 (Medical professions)

 

Collins, Audrey. Portraits of the English Working Lives: Audrey Collins, 2000 (Including Postmen)

 

Corder-Birch, Adrian. Our Ancestors Were Brickmakers and Potters: A History of the Corder and Related Families in the Clayworking Industries: Adrian Corder-Birch, 2010

 

Culling, Joyce. Introduction to Occupations A Preliminary List: Federation of Family History Societies, 1999

 

Department of Employment. British Labour Statistics: Historical Abstract 1886-1968: HMSO, 1971 (Includes surveys compiled by the Board of Trade statistician George Henry Wood)

 

Emm, Adele. Tracing Your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2015

Gibson, Jeremy & Hampson, Elizabeth. Specialist Indexes for Family Historians: FFHS, 2000

 

Higgs, Michelle. Tracing Your Servant Ancestors: A Guide For Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2012

 

Horn, Pamela. My Ancestor was in Service: Society of Genealogists, 2009

 

Hurley, Beryl (ed). The Book of Trades: The Family History Partnership, 1993 (1811 & 1818)

 

McLaughlin, Eve. Professionals and Gentlemen: McLaughlin, 2003

 

McLaughlin, Eve. Old Occupations and Descriptions, McLaughlin, 2004

 

McGovern, Index to the List of Workmen and Apprentices in His Majesty's Dockyards in 1748: Naval Dockyards Society, 2002 (An alphabetical index transcribed from TNA series ADM 106/2976)

 

Mawer, Bryan. Sugarbakers: From Sweat to Sweetness: AGFHS Publications, 2011  

May, Trevor. Victorian Factory Life: Shire, 2011

 

Morgan, Paul. Warwickshire Printers' Notices, 1799-1866: The Dugdale Society, 1970 (Printers' notices were declarations by printers of their intention to use a printing press without which it was illegal to print any material. The provisions were issued under the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799 which gave the authorities control over groups and societies deemed a danger to the state)

 

Musson, Jeremy. Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant: John Murray, 2009

 

Raymond, Stuart. Occupational Sources for Genealogists: Federation of Family History Societies, 1996

 

Salis de. Henry Rodolph. Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales: Old House Books, 2012

 

Shrimpton, Jayne. British Working Dress: Occupational Clothing 1750-1950: Shire, 2012

 

Twining, Andrew & Twining, Sandra. Dictionary of Old Trades and Occupations: Twining's Secretarial, 1995

 

Waller, Ian. My Ancestor Was a Leather Worker: Society of Genealogists, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon

Waters, Colin. A Dictionary of Old Trades, Titles and Occupations: Countryside Books, 2002

 

Wilkes, Sue. Tracing Your Canal Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2011

 


My Ancestor Was a..(series): Society of Genealogists

TNA Research Guides:
Business history records held in the UK
Companies and businesses: further research

Websites

www.genuki.org.uk/big/Occupations.html (Links to occupational sources)
www.familyresearcher.co.uk/glossary/Dictionary-of-Old-Occupations-Index.html (Family Tree Researcher: Dictionary of Old Occupations: A-Z Index)
www.cyndislist.com/occupatn.htm (Links to occupational sources)
www.olivetreegenealogy.com/misc/occupations.shtml
(Obsolete Occupations in Genealogy)
www.scotlandsfamily.com/occupations.htm (Old Scottish Occupations)
www.ukgdl.org.uk/category/occupations (UKGDL Occupations/Trades/Apprentices: Links to online transcriptions records dealing with a variety of trades and occupations with some data extracted from trade and street directories)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/business.htm (Looking for records of a business)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-person/other-occupations.htm (Looking for records of a person in business and trades)
http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/topics.occupations/mb.ashx (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)
http://genealogy.about.com/od/records/a/occupations.htm
(About.com: Discovering the Occupations of Your Ancestors: Finding Clues in Occupational Records, by Kimberly Powell)
www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/subject_guides (Research guides to using sources at the Modern Records Centre)
www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/subject_guides/family_history/occupationalguide.pdf (Occupations and their trade union)
www.workinglife.org.uk (Photos of people at work)
www.census1891.com/occupations.php (Victorian Occupations. A collection of the occupations or job descriptions of the people living in London in the 1890's)
www.familytreeservice.co.uk/census%20occupations.html (Family Tree Service: Census Occupations: List of occupations and employment that might be found in census returns)
www.mawer.clara.net
(Sugar Refiners & Sugarbakers: Various resources for those with ancestors involved in the in the sugar trade including a 41,000+ Names Database, locations of sugarhouses with maps and history and a directory of sugarhouses)
http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html (Hall Genealogy Website: Old Occupation Names)
www.history.ac.uk/resources/office (Lists of Office-Holders in Modern Britain)
www.occupationalinfo.org (Dictionary Of Occupational Titles, US based)
www.tcd.ie/iiis/HNAG/HNAG_database.htm (Database of Irish Historical Statistics: Statistics taken from government reports including wages in various occupations)
www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=739 (Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820: Dictionary of terms used in documents relating to trade and retail in early modern Britain)
www.durhamrecordsonline.com/Occupations.php
(Durham Records Online: Occupations of Old County Durham-50 Years of the Top 50 Occupations in County Durham)
http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/podcasts/agricultural-labourers.htm  (TNA Podcast: Sources for tracing agricultural labourers)  
www.swingriotsriotersblacksheepsearch.com (Swing Riots & Rioters: The site is run by Jill Chambers a renowned specialist researcher into the swing riots and transported convicts and includes information on the swing riots of 1830-1831 as well as lists of convicted machine breakers and those held in prison hulks)
www.boatfamilies.org.uk (Boat Families - Ormskirk & District FHS: The site aims is to assist researchers whose ancestors worked on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal & associated waterways)
www.british-history.ac.uk/subject.aspx?gid=102&subject=4 (Dictionary of nearly 4,000 terms found used in documents relating to trade and retail in early modern Britain)
https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/culture-and-heritage/corporate-archives/the-collections (Transport for London: Culture & Heritage Research Guides: Sources for Genealogical Research)
www.stbride.org
(St Bride Library: Resources for ancestors who worked in printing and publishing)
https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/culture-and-heritage/corporate-archives (Transport for London: Corporate archives)
www.britishsteelcollection.org.uk
(British Steel Collection: The project aims to preserve and catalogue the British Steel archives previously held in storage)
https://millsarchive.org (Mills Archive Trust: The Mills Archive is a permanent repository for the documentary and photographic records of traditional and contemporary mills and milling. The archive also includes photographs and correspondence and an online mills database. The library, based in Reading, can be visited by appointment. The Mills Archive Images and Documents Catalogue may be searched here)
www.cottontown.org (Cotton Town: digital archive charting the rise and decline of the cotton industry and its impact on the community in and around Blackburn and Darwen. It includes photographs, print resources, newspaper articles, maps and broadsheets)
www.frameworkknittersmuseum.org.uk
(Framework Knitters' Museum: Explore the living and working conditions of the poorest textile workers in Victorian Britain amongst a collection of restored cottages and workshops arranged around a garden courtyard. The Smirfitt Library holds copies of all the major classic works on the framework knitting and hosiery industries, together with complete runs of trade journals, house magazines, academic research, histories of hosiery firms, various pamphlets and government reports)
www.thedockyard.co.uk/Collections/Family_History/Family_History.html
(How to Trace Your Dockyard Ancestors)
http://navaldockyards.moonfruit.com (Naval Dockyards Society)
Calculating and Measuring Wage Rates
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency (Currency converter: ‘Old money to new’ giving modern equivalents of historical amounts of money and ‘Buying power’ showing how much wool or labour could be bought with the historical equivalent of a modern amount of money)
www.measuringworth.com (Various tools for measuring the historic values of money and the purchasing value of the pound since 1264)
www.measuringworth.com/explaining_measures_of_worth.php (Measures of Worth by Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson. This essay provides a methodology for deciding which measure of worth is appropriate for the subject at hand)
www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Coinage.jsp (Currency, Coinage and the Cost of Living: This article describes the coinage, wages and the cost of living in London from the late seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century)
www.victorianweb.org/economics/index.html (Currency, Wages, and the Cost of Living in Victorian Britain)
www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/default.aspx (Inflation Calculator. The calculator shows how the cost of goods and services has changed as prices change since 1750; Prices Machine shows how the cost of an everyday selection of goods and services has changed as prices have risen over the years)
http://projects.exeter.ac.uk/RDavies/arian/money.html (Money - Past, Present & Future. Information on Monetary History, Contemporary Developments, and Electronic Money, compiled by Roy Davies)
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare/5QDH9BDDMKU (Prices of a variety of goods as sold on August 21st 1625 in Southampton)
http://archive.is/MHkW (Relative Value of Sums of Money including earnings and wages)
www.guildofstmichael.org/money (Guild of St. Michael: Elizabethan Money including Coinage, Wages, Prices and Price Comparisons)

Online Databases

http://collections.canalrivertrust.org.uk/home (Canal & River Trust: The Waterways Archive: Catalogue descriptions from National Waterways Museum which includes documents, maps, plans and drawings tracing the history of Britain's canals. On 2 July 2012 British Waterways ceased to exist in England and Wales and in its place Canal & River Trust was set up)
https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/national-waterways-museum (National Waterways Museum/Canal & River Trust: The Digitised Archive Catalogue has 22,000 images freely available to view and 37,000 historic records which tell the fascinating story of our canals and rivers)
www.findmypast.co.uk (The Matchworkers' Strike, lists of strikers at the Bryant and May factory in East London in 1888)
www.findmypast.co.uk (Electrical Engineering Apprentices & Trainees, 1902-1934. Search for ancestors who trained with the electrical engineering company Metropolitan-Vickers at Trafford Park, Manchester between 1902 and 1934)
www.ancestry.co.uk
(Warwickshire Occupational Records: Boat owners records, 1795-1796; printing press owners records, 1799-1866; Gamekeepers records, 1744-1888 produced in association with Warwickshire County Record Office)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Mechanical Engineer Records, 1847-1930. This database contains documents relating to membership in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
www.ancestry.co.uk
(UK, Civil Engineer Lists, 1818-1930. This collection contains admission and member lists from the Institution of Civil Engineers in the UK. Other resources in the collection include: Civil Engineer Photographs, 1829-1923 containing photographs of members of the Institution of Civil Engineers with digitized images of both the front and back of the photo; Civil Engineer Records, 1820-1930 containing documents relating to membership in the Institution of Civil Engineers)
www.ancestry.co.uk (UK, Electrical Engineer Lists, 1871-1930. This collection includes printed membership forms and annual lists with the names of members, their level of membership and current working address)
www.ancestry.co.uk (West Yorkshire, England, Occupation Records, 1793-1930. This database contains occupational records from the area of West Yorkshire, for the years 1793-1930. Occupations include boatmen, carpet manufacturers, and cotton manufacturers)
www.ancestry.co.uk (London, London Transport Staff Registers, 1863-1931. These staff records date from the opening of the earliest underground line, the Metropolitan line, in 1863, and cover underground, bus, tram and some clerical staff)
www.staffsnameindexes.org.uk
(Staffordshire Name Indexes, brought to you by Staffordshire & Stoke On Trent Archive Service: Canal Boat Register Index, 1795-1797. The register included the names and place of abode of the vessels' owners and masters as well as the number and capacity of the men employed onboard)
http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~frpayments/HC1662/index.htm (Hackney coaches of 1662, a list of the 400 hackney coach licenses of England in July and August of 1662 giving names and addresses)
www.bbti.bham.ac.uk (British Book Trade Index: Index of the names and brief biographical details and trade details of people who worked in the book trade in England and Wales and who were trading by 1851)
www.nas.gov.uk/nras/register.asp (National Register of Archives for Scotland online Register: The catalogue contains titles of collections of private papers deposited in local authority and university archives including the records of landed estates, private individuals, businesses, law firms and societies)
www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-book-trade-index (Scottish Book Trade Index: The index lists the names, trades and addresses of people involved in printing in Scotland up to 1850)
www.glasgowlife.org.uk/libraries/the-mitchell-library/archives/collections/online-resources-for-archives (Mitchell Library Online Resources for Historians: Chimney Sweeps Licenses for the Burgh of Glasgow 1852-1862)
www.clockswatches.com (British & Irish Clock and Watch Makers, c1600-c1940)
www.mawer.clara.net/intro.html (Sugar Refiners & Sugarbakers Database: A database of some of those involved in the sugar refining industry, mainly in the UK, 16-20C)
http://archives.walgreensbootsalliance.com (Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive Catalogue. The digital archive includes photographs, letters, advertisements, building plans and colleague magazines)
http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk (The National Archives Podcast: Sources for Tracing Agricultural Labourers)
www.thegenealogist.co.uk
(First World War Occupational Service Records. Service records of skilled professionals who were part of membership organisations, professional bodies and unions. Datasets include: members of the National Union of Teachers; members of the Institute of Electrical Engineers; Lawyers from the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple)

CD Roms

Your Old Books & Maps (Census Classification of Occupations, 1931)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (The History Of Signboards-From The Earliest Times To The Present Day)
EurekA Partnership (Boats and Barges)
www.genfair.co.uk (Machine Breakers' Riots and Trials covering a number of counties. Supplied by Machine Breakers News and Swing Riots & Rioters. Requests for individual searches can be made of the Protestors Index via the website for a fee)
www.parishchest.com (Directory of Old Occupations: Lists hundreds of descriptions for old occupations, many which have long since vanished. If you have ancestors with strange job titles you might find the answer here)