I am lucky: My ancestors haven’t held any jobs with mysterious names, unless you count the maddeningly imprecise term “laborer.”
One of my great-grandfathers may have been a “puddler,” which is someone who worked at an iron furnace with a long-handled rake, opening the furnace and forming molten iron into a ball that could be rolled out into bars or sheets. Then again, he might just have been a peddler. It’s spelled both ways in a couple of places, and there is no hard evidence yet as to which spelling is the typo.
This same great-grandfather was later a steward on a tugboat in Brooklyn, which is a little mysterious, since I associate boat stewards with the care of passengers, who would seem to be in short supply on a tugboat. Finding a detailed job description for a tugboat steward in 1910 is another item on the to-do list.
In the first 20 years of the 20th century, there are a lot of waterfront-related jobs in my family tree: tugboat steward, tugboat fireman, dry dock worker, patternmaker in a shipyard. They were South Brooklyn people, and South Brooklyn was all about shipping in those days.
Still, I am jealous of people who have quirky job titles in their genealogy, and I like reading about them in case one ever crops up in mine. Here are some cool links about strange job titles:
• Old Occupation Names at the Hall family genealogy site: Really extensive, with detailed definitions.
• Ancestral occupations at Rootsweb: Another encyclopedic list, clickable from A to Z.
• The Strangest Names for Occupations: For the greatest hits, try this list. There are real gems here. (Being a “honey dipper” isn’t nearly as pleasant as it sounds.)