Census records list many of my ancestors’ and relatives’ occupation as “laborer.” I do wonder at the variety of jobs that word must have covered.
Some records, of course, are more specific.
In the above listing for my 3x Great Grandfather Origen Thompson (“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHP5-8SZ, National Archives and Records Administration), does that look like “hunter” to you? It sure does to me. I wonder if he would have hunted “nuisance” animals like bears, coyotes, or cougars; or if he sold venison and wild turkeys to people for food. In 1860, the occupation column was left blank for Origen. In 1870, he was listed as a farmer, and in 1880 as a teamster.
Most of my ancestors were farmers, at least at one point in their lives. 2xGG William F. Hahn was different. He worked around ships at the Port of Pensacola. His son Theodore, my great-grandfather, became a farmer, and his son Charlie Hahn, my paternal grandfather worked road construction and drove a truck before getting a job at St. Regis Paper Mill, where he spent the rest of his working life. Grandma Hahn – the former Malzie Silcox – worked at the paper mill as well, as did most of their children at one time or another. My dad joined the U.S. Navy.
Malzie’s father, Henry David Silcox, worked at a sawmill for a time, but other census records list him as a laborer. In 1930, it specifies that he did “odd jobs.”
Another great-grandfather, Billie Stevens, also worked at a sawmill, and after it closed he did a variety of other jobs.
My mom’s parents, Hoyt Cook and Willie Stevens, were lifelong teachers, although Pap-pa owned a farm that he leased to a farmer, and he always had his own garden. My dad’s parents, as I mentioned, always worked at the paper mill. My dad made a career in the Navy, and after he retired, he and my mom started a business making and selling crafts.
Looking at those examples during my own lifetime, I’ve always felt a bit transient, which I somewhat blame on my Navy brat upbringing. I spent a few years in retail, a bit of TV production, a stint at Walt Disney World, a bit of marketing, another TV job. Now, I suppose that bouncing around a bit is part of my heritage – in my own way, I’m a “laborer” doing “odd jobs” for various employers.