Celebrating Occupations on Labor Day

Since today is “Labor Day” in the United States, I wanted to take a look at my ancestors’ occupations.  Some of the jobs are still performed in much the same way today as they were in my ancestors’ times.  My grandfather James Pointkouski (1910-1980) was born in the right century to be a truck driver, and the medium-size delivery trucks he drove are quite similar to those used by his fellow Teamsters today.  My great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) was a baker, an occupation that has changed very little over centuries – in fact, today his cousins are still making wonderful things in the same bakery his uncle founded in 1868.  My carpenter ancestors, 4th great-grandfather Karl Nigg (1767-1844) and 5th great-grandfather Johann Baptiste Höck (1700’s), would be in as much demand today as they were back then.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a good carpenter these days?  Similarly, Karl’s father and grandfather, Phillip Nigg ( ?-1774) and Martin Nigg (or Nick), were masons – bricklayers.  The construction business will always be in demand!

But many other jobs of my ancestors no longer exist in the same way. Some of the factory jobs of my 20th Century ancestors, such as the Pater family who all worked in clothing factories as weavers, still exist – but you won’t find the industry as prevalent in the United States as it was when they were working.  Many of the other occupations of my ancestors have become outdated with modern times. For example, one of my 5th great-grandfathers, Franciszek Świerczyński of Mszczonów, Poland, was a carriage-maker in the 1800’s.  Since carriages have been replaced by cars, I imagine that he’d be in another line of work today.

I have shoemakers on both sides of my family.  My 4th great-grandfather, Ignacy Pluta (1821-?) from Mszczonów, Poland (he married the daughter of the carriage-maker), was one as was his father, Ludwik Pluta.  In Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, I have traced over six generations of shoemakers from my Echerer line.  The first Echerer son to be something other than a shoemaker was Karl (1846-1880s), who took up the occupation of his mason great-grandfather instead.  While we still need shoes today, their construction has changed.  Some shoes today are still hand-crafted with leather, probably using the same methods my ancestors used.  Most shoes are mass-produced, and it would be hard to make a living as a shoemaker today unless you were a factory worker.

The more you research your genealogy and the farther back you go, the more interesting occupations you’ll find.  Some will be “modern”, like my innkeeper ancestor.  Others, like the glassmaker, still exist but today the job is more of a “craftsman” trade or art that is more specialized.  Again, modern machinery makes many of the things our ancestors once made by hand.

One of the more unique occupations in my family history is that of my 3rd great-grandfather, Franz Xaver Fischer (1813-?) from Agelsberg in Bavaria.  He was listed as a söldner, which translates as mercenary.  Mercenary?  I was intrigued and pictured a soldier of fortune, hired out to neighboring countries.  Until I learned the Bavarian meaning of the word… A sölde is a small house with a garden.  For tax purposes, there were different designations for farmers.  A bauer owned a whole farm, a Halbbauer owned half, and a Viertelbauer owned a quarter.  Then there was the söldner, who owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  My mercenary was a poor farmer!  Well, not too poor – there was a further designation called häusler – they owned a house, but not the land.

Let’s salute all of our hard-working ancestors today.  I wonder what they’d think about some of today’s job titles.  “A program manager?  What the heck is that?”

Research tip: Translate your ancestors’ unusual occupations with these helpful sites:


3 thoughts on “Celebrating Occupations on Labor Day

  1. To Whom It May Concern,

    The only Fischer Family belong to this family tree:- Irene Elizabeth Freda Ribbons nee Speechly, who married to Leopold Markus Fischer. They have 4 children this marriage, and Leopold has two step children by Irene first husband Henry Noel Ribbons, who has since past on. Irene Elizabeth Fischer is my aunty.
    Irene’s twin brothers were Leslie James and Victor Albert Speechley. Their parents were Ada and Daniel Speechly, but Irene’s mother Ada died 10 days after her twin sons were born.

    The Fischer family went back to Adasztevel, Hungary, to see his family. The they moved back to India and this is where they stayed until the death of Leopold Markus Fischer in 1970 in India.

    Can you shed any light, on this family as I my self is also searching so I can finish my family tree, with the information on these names.

    Irene Elizabeth Freda Speechley
    b: 19 May 1897 in Poona, India
    d: ??

    1st marriage to Henry Norman Winter Robbins
    m: 04 July 1917 in Bhusawal, India

    Harold Noel Robbins
    Ashley Carlisle Robbins

    Irene’s 2nd marriage to Leopold Markus Fischer
    b: 16 April 1881 in Adasztevel, Hungary
    d: 16 October 1970 in Bombay , India

    Beulah Naomi Fischer
    Jeanette Irene Fischer
    Leopoldina Josephina Fischer
    Karl Rolf Fischer

  2. Lesley,

    Sorry, there is no connection to my Bavarian Fischer family. I suggest you get some good how-to genealogy books to figure out how you can learn more about your family. That’s how I started! Good luck in your search.


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