Sepia Saturday #330: Keeping Occupied


This card is one in the Shirley Temple scrapbook that belonged to my Aunt Sadie. A young woman, very reminiscent of Betty Boop, is waiting on a soda being delivered by the clerk. She has a dog with her but the clerk doesn’t seem to mind. The Valentine’s Day card has the saying “You ‘soda’ got me on the run. Say you’ll be my honey bun!”

The Sepia Saturday prompt shows some men hard at work putting some typesetting together. I had planned to make a list of historical occupations for my ancestors. But, as I was thinking about how I would organize this, bigger questions arose: How do I figure out a person’s occupation? Is it the occupation they toiled the longest at? Is it their last one? How old do they have to be to be considered in the “grown-up” workforce? Do you count the jobs they had as teenagers? It’s not as easy as it seems to classify everyone!


Audrey (Hunt) Strait in the middle of bringing the laundry in….

For example, I have a number of domestic godesses turned outside-the-home workers in my family. My paternal grandmother Beatrice Irene (Repsher) Strait worked in the silk mills before marriage, became a housewife then, when her husband died in 1961, she began a seamstress business out of her house to support herself. Beatrice’s mother, Anna Maria (Karthaeuser) Repsher, was a housewife then, during WWII, became a factory worker at Dover Handbag and worked there for years until she retired. My mother, Martha Ethel (Westra) Strait, moved back into the outside workforce in the early 1980s where she worked as an assembly line worker for E. J. Brooks Company, made air filters for a spell, then worked for Samsung making microwaves in Ledgewood. So, while many of my ancestral women toiled away solely as housewives (Audrey Romine (Hunt) StraitSarah Matilda (Kimble) Strait, Etta Berendine (Pauw) Westra, etc.) some explored other avenues to support themselves.

Albert Westa, circa 1985, holding one of his tabletop models

Albert Westra, circa 1985, holding one of his tabletop windmill models

And what about the men in the family tree that had multiple occupations? My maternal grandfather Albert Westra worked as a dairy farmer when he first arrived in America in 1928 but then became a carpenter constructing houses in Sussex County, New Jersey. He worked almost as long as a dairy farmer as he did as a contractor. My paternal grandfather William C. Strait, Sr. was a factory worker working as a weaver in one of the mills (Darlington) in Newton for years. Before that, he worked for Hardy’s machine shop in Andover during World War II. He then became a handyman at St. Paul’s abbey where, again he worked for years, at that occupation. My 2nd great-grandfather Ira Wilson Strait worked in the mining industry before he switched to farming and bought a small strawberry farm in 1908.

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Bill Strait made this ring at Hardy’s Machine Shop. He wore it on his ring finger.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 3.29.48 PMAnd does military service count as an occupation? William Henry Hunt was apprenticed as a blacksmith before running off to fight in the Civil War. After that, he retured home to become Railroad Station agent/blacksmith for the Sussex branch of the Lackawanna Railroad. My dad William C. Strait, Jr. served in the Army in the early 1970s and also worked as the 3rd man at a grocery store before an employee strike provided him with opportunity to move into carpentry.

And what do you use to classify their occupation? My great grand-father Adam John Karthaeuser is found in a census as hotel keeper, on a birth certificate as a merchant, and on a passenger manifest as a clerk. Which is his main occupation? How would he describe himself? And would the answer change based on when in his life he was asked? I’d say so!

So, I have farmers, miners, shoemakers, hotel keepers, clerks, laborers, handymen, blacksmiths, carpenters, housewives, factory workers, and tailors in my family line. It’s not a simple thing to classify them. I don’t come from a long line of lawyers or ship’s captains. I think I’ll have to stick with describing how the ancestors supported themselves when I write up their biographies!

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo: Working at trades

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9 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday #330: Keeping Occupied

  1. Those windmills are terrific…was that a hobby? My mother taught tap dancing, had a dry cleaning business and was a stenographer. It’s always been an advantage to be flexible as they apparently were and able to adjust to whatever came their way.


  2. Babysitter, waterer of vacationers’ gardens, policy typist, insurance claims clerk, insurance claims examiner, wife & mother, high school receptionist, music teacher, medical claims clerk, publicist, writer . . . I have no idea what comes next. Something will undoubtedly pop up. But you’re right. What would I call myself if I had to choose? I have no idea?


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