Occupations: family history guide

Download the PDF version of Occupations: family history research guide  (PDF 40.5 KB)

Where can I find out about my ancestor's occupation?

The following resources may be helpful in discovering how your ancestors worked for a living:

  • Electoral rolls
  • Census records
  • Birth, death and marriage certificates
  • Obituary notices in the newspaper
  • Passenger lists and convict registers
  • Published occupational registers
  • Commercial directories and almanacs
  • Definitions of occupations

What information will these resources give me?

Electoral rolls

Many of the electoral rolls held by State Library record the individual's profession. For a list of our holdings of electoral rolls please consult our Info Guide – Electoral rolls

Example from the 1903 Queensland (Commonwealth) electoral roll:

  • Morthenson, Niel Christen – Peel Street, Mackay. Cordial maker
  • Needham, William – Shakespeare Street, Mackay. Fireman

Census records

Censuses provide a snap-shot of people in a particular place and time. As well as recording the names of people residing in a particular dwelling, they also usually supply other personal details such as age and occupation.

Census collectors would also visit businesses, factories, schools, asylums and prisons. For further information on census records refer to our Info Guide – Census and muster records

Birth, death and/or marriage certificates

Purchasing certificates can often help find a person's occupation. Most marriage certificates list the couple's occupations as well as the occupations of the couple's fathers.

Obituaries in the newspaper

Obituaries can provide researchers with a wealth of personal information on their ancestors. They often contain information that wouldn't be recorded in any government generated record. Some provide details on the deceased's previous occupations as well as volunteer works.

Extract from an obituary published in the Western Star (Roma) newspaper on 26 June 1937, p.2

"...Sergeant Tate...joined the police force in October 1906, at the age of 22, and served at Woollongabba and many country centres. When transferred to Ingham he was promoted to the rank of second-class sergeant. In North Queensland he saw service in several bitter industrial disputes. He was tranferred to Roma, and later to Brisbane, becoming a first class sergeant in July 1932..."

For more information on using newspapers for family history research see our Info Guide – Newspapers.

Passenger lists and convict registers

Some immigration and convict documents list the individual's occupation.

Published occupational registers

State Library holds many published professional directories. Listed here are a few examples:

Check our One Search online catalogue for further titles.

Commercial Directories and Almanacs

If your ancestors ran their own businesses you may find them listed in a commercial directory. These directories are often set out like our current yellow pages as each trade or profession is listed in alphabetical order.

Examples from the Queensland Post Office Directory for 1901

    "Campbell Mrs Edwin, 53 Queen st, Bris."
  • SASH & DOOR MANUFACTURERS"Galbraith John, Logan road, Woollongabba, South Bris."

For more information on directories please consult our Info Guide – Directories, almanacs and gazetteers.

Definitions of occupations

Over the years many occupations have become obsolete due to a constantly changing industrial age.


  • Twist hand – a person who operates a lace machine
  • Town husband – a person employed by the parish to collect money from the fathers of illegitimate children for their upkeep
  • Peruker – a wigmaker

Dictionaries of occupations can be useful to genealogists when trying to define their ancestor's occupation.

SLQ holds Dictionary of old trades, titles and occupations / by Colin Waters (REF 331.700941 1999)

Check our One Search online catalogue for additional titles.

Occupational dictionaries available online include:

What information is available online?

Some websites to try are:

Download the PDF version of Occupations: family history research guide  (PDF 40.5 KB)

Library membership

Become an SLQ member now to access our services, collections and facilities.

Library Shop online

Discover an eclectic range of books, gifts, reproduction prints and more at the Library Shop.