Discovering Occupations in Deeds

Deeds, at times, can appear like pretty dry reading. Yet deeds are crucial to your house history research. Part of what you are trying to accomplish with your research is to “flesh out” the lives of the people who lived in your home. By taking a closer look at deeds you will find some wonderful clues that will help you.

One aspect of social history that you can glean from old deeds are the occupations of the parties involved in the sale. Perhaps the former owner of your house was a blacksmith, a doctor or a minister. Not only will this information provide you an idea of what their lives were like it could also help you find other sources for information.

Let’s take a look at three examples. I have underlined the names of the parties in yellow and the names of the occupations in orange. Only a portion of each deed is shown.

These particular deeds are from the 18th century but I’ve seen occupations in 19th century deeds as well.

Deed: Jenckes Norton identified as physician

In the first deed (above) from 1793, the grantor, Jenckes Norton of Wrentham (Massachusetts) is identified as a Physician. The grantee, George Hawes, also of Wrentham, is indicated as a Gentleman. These “occupations” indicate that both men were educated. More information might be discovered in university records, journals or account books.

Deed identifying Benjamin Howard as cordwainer

In this deed (above), Barnabas Clark of Randolph (Massachusetts), the grantor, is called a Gentleman. Meanwhile Benjamin Howard of Randolph , the grantee, is a cordwainer. A cordwainer is a old style term for a shoe maker. Clark is educated and of independent means while Howard is a tradesman who likely knows how to read and write but little more.

Deed - William Hathorne as Mariner

In the final example from 1754, William Hathorne, the grantor, of Salem (Massachusetts) is identified as a mariner. The grantee, Joseph Goldthwait, of Danvers (Massachusetts) is a yeoman. Yeoman was the term at the time for a farmer. So here you have a deed where a sailor is selling his property to a farmer.

As you are checking the deeds to your home, be sure to look for the occupations of the occupants. It could give you a whole new image of what the former residents were like.

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