5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

Posted March 20, 2014 by Amanda | No Comment

It’s no surprise when we’re researching our genealogy that we come across an occupation that has disappeared from the current job market. As technology advances over time, occupations that were once commonplace get rarer and rarer, until it eventually becomes obsolete. Check out this list of some unusual occupations that our ancestors once labored in that we no longer see today.


5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

Before the invention of the alarm clock, a knocker-up was a profession in Britain and Ireland. During the Industrial Revolution, a knocker-up’s job was to wake people up so they could go to work on time. A knocker-up would walk to their clients’ homes and use a heavy stick to knock on their doors or a light, long stick to knock on windows until they were sure their client had woken up.

Generally, the job was carried out by elderly men and women, but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.

Here’s an interesting question to noodle over, who woke up the knocker-upper to make sure they went to work on time?

Chimney sweeper

5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

Chimney sweepers were in high demand during the age of industrialization. Rising populations in urban areas resulted in a significant increase in the number of buildings and homes with chimneys. During normal operation, a layer of creosote builds up inside the chimney restricting the air flow. The creosote build up caused a very real danger; if it caught fire, the chimney and the building would be set ablaze.

In the early days of the profession, many young boys were hired and worked as apprentices to the master sweeper. Their small size enabled them to better enter the narrow flues. The job was highly dangerous and many were prone to getting “Chimney sweep’s cancer” due to prolonged exposure to the carcinogenic soot.


5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

Lamplighters were employees of the town or city. Early street lights were generally candles or oil that required someone to light a flame each night. It was the lamplighter’s job to ensure the street lights were lit each evening and extinguished when daylight approached. As electricity became more and more common, lamplighters became rare and eventually faded out of existence.

Factory lector

5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

Factory workers would sometimes hire lectors to read news and literature aloud to them to keep them entertained during their long, tedious hours of work. The lector would sit on a raised platform and read aloud whatever was requested.

Ice cutter

5 Jobs Our Ancestors Had That Are No Longer Around

In the days before electrical refrigeration, large pieces of ice were needed for cold food storage. To procure these pieces, icemen would harvest the blocks of ice from ponds, lakes and rivers. Using handsaws, the icemen would cut long continuous strips of ice, then cut them into large individual blocks for transport to the icehouse. From the icehouse, the icemen would make daily rounds in the city, delivering the ice for iceboxes and cellars. It was a dangerous job and often done in extreme conditions. This occupation generally became obsolete with the development of mechanical refrigeration and air conditioning technology.

What are some other jobs your ancestors had that we no longer see today?

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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