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United States Occupational Information in Birth, Marriage, and Death Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Occupational Records  by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Birth, Death or Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Vital records are probably one of the first documents that a family history researcher will obtain when building the profile of an individual and a family. Each of these different records occur at a distinctly different time in an individual’s life.

The birth certificate/registration for the individual is not pertinent to their own occupation. However the birth certificate/registration for the offspring of that same person will state the given occupation at the time of the birth of each of their children.

For instance, this list of occupations for the father with four children shows his progression in his chosen occupation.

Date of Birth Place of Birth Occupation
1947 Nampa, Idaho student-electrician
1949 Nampa, Idaho electrician
1951 Salt Lake City, Utah eletrician
1952 Seattle, Washington contractor

This same information also tells us that this person could have been moving from one job to another. And with further investigation it was determined that the electrician worked on the building of two different hospitals, in Salt Lake City and again in Seattle.

Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Marriage Records


The amount of information that is given on marriage records varies greatly depending on time and place.

W.H. White is a good example of the importance of researching all available records for a listing of an occupation. Although the occupation is not often listed on a marriage record, it was for this person. This marriage record for W.H. White states his occupation as “teamster.”

W.H. White does not appear (that has been located) on any census records as an adult with an occupation listed. The birth certificate or birth registration for his four children is not available, no land records have been located and, no probate was filed. No other record is available that states his occupation. This man died before 1900, without the marriage record, his occupation would probably assumed to have been “farmer” or “laborer”, as was his father. And our assumption would have been incorrect.

Death Records[edit | edit source]

The death certificate states the occupation at death. For many this is “retired” or possibly an occupation that would parallel the physical strength of an older person. Similar to the Mortality Schedule of the 1850-1880 Federal census, the death certificate will give information that will assist the researcher in determining if his death was related to an occupational accident or occupation related disease. An example of an occupation related death for a coal miner would be black lung disease.

Read the record closely for cause of death, duration of illness. If you do not know the terms then look them up. Check out a good medical dictionary or go online to Cyndi’s List for the topic of “Medical and Medicine.”

The death certificate information should be cross-referenced with the obituary when it is available, and then included as the last entry for the collected list of occupations.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.