Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
The word occupation most commonly refers to the type of work an individual does to earn his or her livelihood. "Occupation" is sometimes used in contrast to "profession," which is defined as a "learned occupation," suggesting some amount of schooling was required. The word also has a broader meaning, suggesting anything that which engages one's time.
Understanding early occupations and knowing the occupations of ancestors is important to genealogy and can be very enlightening. An ancestor's occupation can even figure in the family surname. The naming conventions in some cultures identified individuals according to their occupation: Smith, Baker, Fisher, etc. Occupations can also help researchers identify people and establish relationships in census and other records. Occupations can indicate not only what work an ancestor did, but may also indicate the very nature of a community, based on the occupations of its residents. An ancestor's occupation may also suggest a particular talent or aptitude handed down through the generations.