Price & Associates Genealogists: Acquiring Fluency in Reading Archaic English Documents

O let us love our occupations,

Bless the squire and his relations,

Live upon our daily rations,

And always know our proper station.

Charles Dickens, The Chimes, 1845.


Not all of us love our occupations, but in a very real sense they define who we are.  In introductory conversation, “What do you do?” follows shortly after “How do you do?”

“Occupation” can be interpreted broadly to include status as well as vocation

Occupations for a given individual can change over time, or they may be seasonal. A man who worked in London as a pawnbroker’s assistant, later became a commercial clerk, a general salesman and a shopkeeper.  It was typical of a Victorian husband and father to turn his hand to a series of different jobs to earn enough to support his family. To most of our ancestors, an occupation was something they learned in their early years and practiced until they dropped.  Not for them the luxury of pursuing the path of ambition which was afforded to those in the law, the church or the military.  You hewed stone or drew water because that was what was needed to keep the wolf from the door; indeed, you probably did both, since dual or multiple occupations have often been the norm in British society, as is evidenced by many a 17th century “shoemaker and alehouse keeper” or a 19th century “collier and grocer”.

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