What did they do? How did they do the job they had? Were there inherent dangers? Did the occupation bring financial security?
Knowing what a job title means can bring us a clearer understanding of the life of an ancestor. With each occupation comes a life style which may explain life events such as economic austerity or prosperity, propensity to illnesses of certain types, living conditions, reasons for migration or immigration.
Peter Hogg Drummond began life in 1878, at Crossgates, Fife, Scotland. Peter was married at Crossgates, a quaint Scottish village nestled in the rolling hills and pasture land just across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. He immigrated to south-central Illinois in 1905. The passenger manifest lists his occupation as “Loader”.
On the face of it, based on our romantic and ignorant view, Peter Hogg Drummond was born and raised in the enchanting Scottish countryside, he was gainfully employed (doing what?). Why would he ever want to leave and come to the US?
In reality, Peter’s occupation as a “Loader” is the gateway to understanding his life circumstance. A “Loader” in the southwest of County Fife is one who daily crawled into the coal mines and loaded into the small rail cars, by hand, the heaps of coal which were stripped from the face of the mine shaft. Then, often on his knees, he would push or pull the load out of the mine to be transported to the rail line. The risks to life and limb were a constant threat. Giant slabs of coal could fall on him at anytime. Loaders were prone to slipping in the often damp environment as they pushed or pulled their load along. Such falls could result in being run over by a coal laden car, causing loss of life or limb. Additionally, those who worked in the coal mines were subject to lung disease from constantly breathing in the coal dust.
At least, so we think, Peter was able to go home to the peaceful setting of his home in the idyllic Scottish village of Crossgates. However, an article published in the Dunfermline Journal, Saturday, February 27, 1875, reveals a much clearer view of life as a coal miner in this village.
“Crossgates is a large village of old houses tenanted by miners in the employment of Halbeath, Fordell, and Netherbeath Coal Companies, and is situated in the Parishes of Dunfermline and Dalgety. This division of responsibility has an unfortunate effect, each proprietor and Parish leaving it to the other to inaugurate much needed improvements. The houses, so far as I saw them, and I was in a good many, are low in the ceilings, badly lighted, and have earthen floors scooped out into what may almost be called mud holes. Coals are kept below the bed, ashes thrown where they must be offensive, and open drains within a foot of the doors in one of the Roes lie chocked up and smelling.”
The poor sanitation and drinking water conditions were such that diseases such as scarlet fever and typhoid were always present. The hope of a “better life” in America must have been most attractive.
Learning what the occupation name means and what was required to perform the work truly paints a far more realistic picture of the life struggles our ancestors endured.