Monday, March 14, 2016

Preoccupied with Occupations

While working on my husband's Snider and Gossman lines last week, I ran across a Find A Grave entry for a distant cousin who apparently got his start in radio in Minnesota, then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he continued what turned out to be a lifelong career in broadcasting. According to an obituary posted on his Find A Grave memorial, Ryan Halloran was considered "the last surviving member of WAVE-TV's original 'Fabulous Five.'"

Finding this reminded me of another family member—this time on my mother's side of the family—who had also been involved in radio. Though in this case a broadcast engineer, like my husband's distant cousin, my grandmother's cousin also spent a lifetime in the formative years of radio (in the case of "Jeep" Jones, it was in eastern Tennessee).

This might fall into the "oh, nice" category for those with simply a passing interest in the oddities of another person's family tree, but for my husband and I, it resonates: both of us got our start, during our formative, starving-student years, in radio.

Looking at the records of our ancestors' occupations can be enlightening. Of course, if you go back in time far enough, it seems everybody listed as his profession, farmer. Yet, even then, there were the occasional storekeepers, attorneys or dentists.

Keep in mind, though, in my current genealogical projects, I'm tracing my way forward in time, documenting as many descendants of these progenitors as possible. By the time I cross the line at the turn of the century—1900, that is—those occupational descriptors become quite varied.

Remembering, too, the discovery that great grandfathers on both sides of my husband's paternal line—John Tully in Chicago and John Kelly Stevens in Fort Wayne—served in law enforcement, I have learned to keep a close eye on that detail gleaned from census records. After all, those men ended up with a great-grandson with lifelong service in law enforcement, as well. Sometimes, our own occupational choices turn out to have been part of an ancestor's legacy.

The discovery of ancestors' occupations actually turns out to be a great find, if the career was affiliated with any organization which kept records of their members or employees. Seeking such research treasures was what led my husband and me to first query Allen County area researchers about any local police benevolent associations which might have kept historical records of the force. We were eventually referred to the Allen County - Fort Wayne Historical Society where, as it turned out, not only did the museum include a basement exhibit housed in the old jail, but their archives included a number of photographs of department personnel—including our own John Kelly Stevens.

Sometimes, such records are passed along to historical societies or county archives. Some of these seem invisible to researchers, because they are not part of readily-accessible finding aids. However, it never hurts to ask—especially if planning a trip to the area. Whether through a place of employment, a library, a museum, or even the holdings of a labor union, immigrant association or fraternal organization, it may turn out that occupational clue is the research key opening a cache of genealogical treasures.

Above: Photograph of Fort Wayne Police Force team taken in front of the then-current city hall and jail, early 1900s. When my husband does law enforcement training sessions, he likes to show this photo and have class members guess which one was his great grandfather. Knowing my husband, no one ever guesses John Kelly Stevens was the thinnest man in the lineup—third from the left is the correct one. 


  1. Farmers is all I have...not a trade in the bunch. My one grandmother was a Maid for a well to do family in there you have it. Farming and housework...your ancestors are pretty exciting! :)

    1. Well, they might have "just" been farmers, Far Side, but they must have been skilled at it if they made it all those generations. After all, they didn't starve to death. You're here to prove it!

  2. My dad's side of the family doesn't have a single farmer in the bunch.

    My mom's family has a farmer of every thing that could be grown!

    1. Now, that's fascinating about your paternal side, Iggy! That on its own provides ample research clues, I'm sure.


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