MONTVILLE, NJ – Genealogist Tony Lauriano brought his methods and knowledge to the Montville Township Public Library on Sept. 28 for a lecture entitled “Finding Your Ancestors’ Occupations.”
“I asked my grandfather why he came to the United States,” stated Lauriano, “and he said, ‘We came to work.’ America didn’t have the set-in-stone class system many countries did back then, and they were heroes, to me.”
Lauriano retired in 2006 and when he became bored, he took classes in genealogy and then decided to teach. This was his seventh out of 14 classes in genealogy at the Library. Since this was not an introductory session, he quickly touched on the merits of using websites like Ancestry.com to research ones’ ancestors.
“It’s expensive, but it’s so large that it’s worth it,” he said.
Lauriano stressed that occupations 100 years ago were not called the same thing as today.
“Child labor laws weren’t really in effect until the 1930s, so many children worked. A ‘housekeeper’ was not someone who cleaned, it was a woman who owned a boarding house. ‘Pieceworkers’ sewed together pieces of dresses, and a ‘clerk’ could also mean a religious cleric. An ‘undertaker’ was someone who would ‘undertake’ any job, not a mortician,” said Lauriano. “They were hard-working people – they didn’t have fancy names for their occupations.”
Lauriano also described working conditions in the early 20th century. He stated that workers were paid different wages by nationality or race, and most jobs for women were in the home since many women never left the house. Further, he explained, many immigrants joined the military during World War I because it shortened the time it took to become naturalized citizens.
Lauriano stated it is a myth that clerks at Ellis Island actively changed immigrants’ names. “It was usually because the immigrant didn’t know how to read or write, and the clerk wrote the name they heard the applicant state out loud,” said Lauriano. “Some people changed their own names due to prejudice. You didn’t have to go through a formal process to change your name.
“When you’re looking up your ancestors, you have to search by variations of spelling the name. A website called WeRelate.org will give you different phonetic spellings of a name to aid your search,” explained Lauriano.
He also mentioned some helpful websites such as FamilySearch.org, which contains “more records, but not as many records on-screen,” he said.
Lauriano also showed federal census data that is searchable online, stating that while census information does not include date of death, “if a relative is mentioned in one census, but not the next, it’s possible they died in the ten years in between.” Census information is available online from 1940 and further back in history. “But 1840 to 1850 is the first time they asked for an occupation,” stated Lauriano. “The census takers would ask the landlord for the information if the family wasn’t home, and a lot of times the landlord would get it wrong.”
Other tips Lauriano shared included using “birth returns,” which were similar to a birth certificate but were issued by midwives, or marriage licenses to find occupations. “Some funeral directors are very forth-coming with family details,” said Lauriano. He also stated that it’s helpful to learn the naming traditions of one’s culture. “Italians often name their sons with the name of the father as the middle name. The women often never took the husband’s name after they married, and neither did the French or the Swedish.”
“You have to be like a detective to do genealogy,” said Lauriano. “You have to start with now and work your way back. But there’s always one person who has quite a story. My grandmother owned a pastry shop but the census listed her as a sales person. My other grandmother owned a dress shop, and when I researched my daughter-in-law’s ancestors, I found that her great grandfather owned a fabric auction house very near my grandmother’s shop. It’s possible her great grandfather sold fabric to my grandmother!”
Lauriano’s next workshop will be October 26 at the Montville Township Public Library. Registration is required and the topic will be “Using Military Records.” For more information, go to www.MontvilleLibrary.org.