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May Day is recognised worldwide as a celebration of the labour movement. Throughout early May, there’s an increased focus on our working lives. So, what better time to take a look at the jobs your ancestors performed?
We have millions of records to help you. As well as their job titles, you could discover where your relatives worked, what their roles involved and how much they earned.
As with most family history discoveries, the best place to start is census records. These have listed everybody’s occupation, all over the country, since 1851. More recent records have even more details, such as the exact industry they worked in and whether they worked at home.
Census records also provide a unique insight into changing working habits around the country. Back in 1851 the most common occupation was agricultural labourer, as Britain was covered in farmland. By 1911 domestic servant had taken over, and jobs like builder and metal worker were on the rise.
Once you’ve found their job titles in censuses, you can learn far more about your ancestors’ careers in our more specific occupation records. We have several collections dedicated to many of the most common and significant trades in British history.
If you had railway workers in your family, find them in Railway Employment Records, 1833-1963. These comprehensive records go right back to the beginning of the train. They reveal positions, salaries and transfers around the country.
The postal industry is equally historic. Postal Service Appointment Books, 1737-1969 tracks the
changes from horseback messengers to airmail, and tells you everything from the role each person was given to where in the country they were stationed.
We also have detailed records of doctors, vicars, pilots and more. Plus, our Apprenticeship books, 1710-1811 help you discover your ancestors’ training more than 300 years ago.
Our occupation records are available to Premium and Worldwide members. Upgrade your membership now
The 1911 Census isn’t our only new census. We’ve actually just added an even larger, even more comprehensive collection from the USA. The 1940 US Census reveals how our American cousins were living in-between the Great Depression and World War II — and it’s completely free!
As with the 1911 records, we’re releasing this census in stages. All the record images are already on the site. The first transcriptions are from Nevada and Delaware, so you can search for your relatives in those two states now. We’ll be adding transcriptions for all the other states over the next few months.
Even in the records that aren’t yet searchable, you can find your relatives if you know where they were living. Look for their addresses in the 1930 US Census, City Directories and World War II Draft Cards. Then select the right state, county and district using the browse options on our 1940 search page.
Because it’s so recent, many of you will be able to find several relatives that you recognise. If your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles lived in the USA, you’ll be able to learn all kinds of new things about them.
All the American censuses are more detailed than their English equivalents, with information such as where people came from, what languages they spoke and their military history. However, this one reveals even more than its predecessors. For example, you can discover the highest qualification your relatives earned at school and their annual income.
You’ll even see where they were living five years earlier in 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. This means you can work out whether they were forced to move house, live in a hotel or even become homeless.
See what you can discover about your American cousins. Search now
Marriage records are among the most crucial family history documents. As well as recalling some of the happiest days in your ancestors’ lives, they can reveal whole new sides to your family, giving you dozens of new relatives to explore. Our new collection helps you discover your family’s unions more than 200 years before the start of civil registration in 1837.
London and Surrey, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597-1921 takes you right back to the reign of Elizabeth I. It reveals 750,000 potential marriages around the capital, all of which were arranged through licences.
But these records aren’t actually proof that a wedding took place. Instead, they tell you where and perhaps when it was planned. That leaves you free to check that it actually took place using parish records.
Marriage licences are given to couples who want to avoid the traditional calling of banns in church. This may be because they’re in hurry, they want to marry in a different parish or they wish to avoid the public exposure.
In the past, if they wanted a licence, the bride and groom had to sign a written allegation confirming their marriage was legal. They also had to sign a bond, which forced them to pay a sum of money if they turned out to be lying. It’s these records that form our new collection.
Although the details vary through the centuries, you’ll usually find the bride and groom’s names, ages and home
parishes, so you can make sure you’ve found the right people. You’ll also see the parish where the wedding was arranged, making it far easier to check for confirmation in local parish records.
Our Marriage Bonds and Allegations are part of our ever-growing range of London records, provided in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives. These records are available to Premium and Worldwide members. Upgrade your membership now
One of the best things about being an Ancestry.co.uk member is our Hints. These are our personal suggestions to help you make new discoveries about your family’s past.
Our Hints are totally unique — no other family history website has them. We’ve also been working on improving them further in recent months, so they should be even more useful.
To receive Hints, you need to create your family tree at our site. Add as much as you can about your relatives — even guesses of important places and dates. We can then use these details to search for them in our billions of records from all over the world.
We also look in other members' family trees, as long as they’ve agreed to share their discoveries. Just make sure you check any details you find in these trees, as it's always possible that other people may make errors.
Every time we find anything that seems to mention one of your relatives, we give you a Hint. We let you know by adding a ‘shaky leaf’ to your family tree, next to the relevant person’s name.
To view any new Hints, hover over your relative’s name and click on the shaky leaf. You’ll see a list of all the records and trees where we think we’ve spotted that person.
To see what we’ve found, select a Hint and click Review Hint. You’ll need to become a member to view the information. You'll then see all the details we've found — including any further relatives who appear in the same record or tree.
You can use these details to check that this person is indeed your ancestor. As soon as you're happy, you can save all this new information — and all the extra relatives — to your tree.
To see a list of all the people in your tree with Hints attached to them, select Tree Overview from your Tree pages menu, then click on 'All people with Hints' on the right-hand side. You can then filter this list to see only the most recent Hints, or particular types.
We'll also email you regularly to let you know when you have new Hints. To make sure you receive these emails, check your preferences in your account settings.
Remember, to receive your own personal Hints, you need to build your family tree at our site. Build your tree now
Welcome to our Ask the experts section. This is where we answer your questions on all things genealogical, so if you have any pressing queries, send us your questions now*.
If your question doesn't appear here, you can email our Member Services team at email@example.com or call 0800 404 9723, and they'll help you with your research.
This month’s question is answered by Chris Paton. Chris is a professional genealogist with both Scottish and Irish roots, and expert knowledge of records from all over the UK.
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