Saturday, August 24, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ancestor with Most Unusual Occupation

Randy Seaver has gone in a different direction for tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1)  Which of your ancestors had an unusual occupation?

(2) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook post.

Well, I haven't found any truly unusual occupations while researching my family, and certainly no snake oil salesmen.  The best I can come up with is that my great-great-grandfather Frederick Cleworth Dunstan was a file grinder in the suburbs of Manchester, England.  It used to be a fairly common occupation, but I don't know if people still work doing that.

There's an interesting essay online about the life of file grinders in Sheffield, England, which was pretty harsh.  I'm guessing that it was similar in Manchester.   Unfortunately, nowhere in the essay does it actually define the work that a file grinder did, so I'm still a little fuzzy on that.  I don't know what types of files were ground or what the files were used for.  The impression I have is that file grinders were pretty far down on the socioeconomic scale, however.  I was particularly struck by the comment that most file grinders died young, because that is what happened to Frederick Dunstan, who was only about 34 years old when he died.  He left behind my widowed great-great-grandmother Maria (Winn) Dunstan and five children.


  1. I don't know what a file grinder is either, but if most died young, I would imagine that the flakes or shavings produced by the file might have cause lung disease?

    1. Yes, that's pretty much what it says in the article I linked to. "Men who worked as file grinders, especially those who worked at ‘dry grinding’ often developed grinder’s phthisis, a common term for any one of a number of lung diseases and many did not live beyond their thirtieth birthday. Those who did not die from severe respiratory ailments at an early age were debilitated by them and few were able to work beyond the age of fifty."

  2. There were lots of hazardous jobs before machines could take their place and government regulations helped with safety concerns.

    1. Very true. This is one of the areas where unions helped a lot.


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