Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Search: Connections Through Occupations


There is a wealth of information that can be found in the census. Some of those facts prove to be quite useful when trying to pull the pieces together in order to learn about a distant relative. And while there are a number of things that should be checked and double checked, there is one piece of information in particular that seems to be regularly reliable… occupation. While the spelling of names, use of nicknames, and inaccurate dates abound in these national reports, the occupation of the individual is something really hard to mess up unless the census taker is told the wrong information on purpose.

While most of my family can be found listed as farmers and homemakers, there are the occasional outliers that catch my attention. Not because they are of any extraordinary profession but because it is simply something different than the norm and it makes me think about what that job must have been like at the time. After all, while the basic functions and responsibilities associated with a particularly line of employment, the means by which the tasks are completed are vastly different from that of over 100 years ago. There are exceptions to that rule as well.

Of course, what is even more interesting to me is the interplay between the different lines of the family tree. Sometimes there are other common connection both in geography and occupation that makes you wonder if ancestors in question ever ran into one another. This is where the intrest is really piqued and when the imagination can sometimes wander in to the realm of possibility regardless of how improbable it may have been. Let’s just take the 1900 Census for example.


In 1900 and at the time of his death in 1902, my great great grandfather on my dad’s side, Samuel Ardis, was a clerk for the railroad most likely the Pennsylvania Railroad which, at the time, was headquartered in Philadelphia (my three times great grandfather was a messenger for the railroad as well). Who knows, maybe he ran into my great great grandfather on my mom’s side, William McKannan, who was a Railroad Night Caller in Trenton. While he may have lived and worked in Trenton, there was still a lot of family that remained in Philadelphia. It is interesting to think about the duties and responsibilities that they each had and whether there was a possible connection between the two families over 70 years before my parents got married.


Another interesting consideration is the fact that at the turn of the 20th century another one of my great great grandfathers on my mom’s side, John Uttley, was a Philadelphia Police Officer in Ward 5 (Roxborough). For good reasons or bad, I wonder if he ever ran into some of the other members of my family years before the trees would merge. You simply never know if there was ever an introduction among the families before the actual connections were made years later.   


And this is just one year of the census, one family, and one geographic location. There are undoubtedly times when you will see different families within the same page or two of the census but it is fascinating to look back decades before the families would eventually merge to find the possible points of contact and connection that may or may not have existed at the time. In a dedicated passion that requires facts, sometimes it is nice to think about the possibilities despite the lack of evidence. I guess you could say that this is part of the process as well. After all, you never know what you might find.