Professions / Occupations


  Most of the men who have resided in Old~Bedford County down through the years can be associated with a profession or occupation. Despite the fact that many of the women who resided in Old~Bedford County were not employed at any particular profession, other than that of housewife, they should not be excluded from a listing related to professions and occupations. But because of that very fact, the comments in this section will be directed primarily toward the male residents and how they made a living for themselves and their families.

  The initial image that might come to mind when either of the words profession or occupation are stated is of a craftsman, such as a shoemaker, a preacher or a doctor. Seldom does the image of a farmer or a woodsman come to mind. But, although the shoemaker, preacher and doctor are indeed professions or occupations, the farmer and woodsman are just as much valid professions or occupations. The problem arises because people tend to generalize that a profession or occupation could only be something that would apply to a resident of an urban setting or be indicated by some specialized skills. The words profession and occupation simply refer to the way by which a person derives the majority of an income. I, the author of this volume, derive the majority of my income by employment as a supervisor of the stores department of Appleton Papers Inc; I also perform genealogical research and write books. My profession, therefore is that of a factory supervisor. If I would derive the majority of my income from the writing of books, my profession would be that of writer. The stereotyped viewpoint that the more ‘mundane’ occupations, such as that of the farmer or woodsman, were not actual occupations is simply mistaken.

  The historical or genealogical researcher has a number of sources to utilize to determine in what type of profession or occupation an ancestor engaged. A good source for information on residents’ occupations is the tax assessment return. Quite often, the tax assessment will list only the occupations of residents who did not make a living as a farmer. The reason for that is because the majority of residents were farmers up to the mid-Nineteenth Century, and the majority of the residents were primarily farmers because they had to provide sustenance for their families. There were no grocery stores where loaves of bread and fresh vegetables could be purchased. The earlier tax assessment returns might show a miller or a tavern keeper in the earliest years. But most of the entries would not have anything listed in the ‘occupation’ column. Rather than have to write the word ‘farmer’ after each entry, the tax assessor would simply leave the column empty, and only fill in the column for residents who made a living at something other than farming.

  Around the 1830s you start to find iron forges and furnaces appearing throughout Old~Bedford. In conjunction with the iron industry, the first type of factory in the region, came a myriad of occupations. The iron industry itself gave rise to occupations such as engineers, firemen, forgemen and supervisors, while the activities that were required to supply raw materials for the operation of the iron forges and furnaces gave rise to occupations such as colliers and limeburners.

  Through the late-1800s and early-1900s, as the region embraced by Old~ Bedford became more ‘civilized’, more more native sons acquired training on specialized crafts, and men from other places who were schooled in specialized crafts moved into the area. It was then that you find occupations being listed on the tax assessment returns such as physician and cabinetmaker. That period also saw a tremendous increase in population and the rise of villages into towns and towns into cities, such as Altoona. In the more populated towns and cities, you would seldom find a resident listed as a farmer because there would not have been enough space to engage in either dairy or crop farming. Most of the people who resided in the towns and cities were engaged in one way or another with a major industry. The fact the matter was that many of the towns that are in existence today were started as ‘company’ towns; the owner of an industry, such as an iron furnace, would construct houses for his workers to reside in. The company towns eventually became self-contained communities separate from the industry that they were originally established to support. In the case of Altoona, most of the residents were employed on the railroad, whether as workers in the repair shops or on the trains themselves.

  The tax assessment return is not the only source of information on the occupations and professions of Old~Bedford’s residents. The atlases and maps that were created during the Nineteenth Century are good sources of indications of residents’ occupations. The maps and atlases invariably show structures as sawmill or tannerry, which indicate the occupations of their owners.

  Birth and death certificates sometimes included the occupations of the parents of newborn children or that of the recently deceased individual. Marriage certificates also may include information pertaining to the profession or occupation of the individuals getting married, or that of their parents.

  The following list comprises books which include lists of Old~Bedford residents who were engaged in particular professions.

Bedford County Pennsylvania Archives, Volume 5
edited by James B. Whisker, 1989 (available from Closson Press)

Early Distillers Of Bedford County, Pennsylvania
by James B. Whisker, 1983 (available from Closson Press)

Gunsmiths And Gunmakers Of Bedford And Somerset County
by James B. Whisker, 1983 (available from Closson Press)

Gunsmiths Of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania
by James B. Whisker, 1985 (available from Closson Press)