Thursday, May 2, 2013

O is for Occupations - Family History Through the Alphabet

O is for occupations, specifically carpenter and wagon maker.  I have several in my family, on both sides.

On my maternal side
There were four generations of Bickerstaff men who were carpenters.
  • Generation 1:  Ellis Bickerstaff (1840-1907) was a listed in the 1880 census as carpenter and in the 1900 census as bench carpenter.  Ellis orginally lived in Steubenville, Ohio, then later moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
  • Generation 2:  Edward Jesse Bickerstaff (1871-1945), son of Ellis and Emma (Nelson) Bickerstaff, was also a carpenter.  He was born in Jefferson County, Ohio, then moved to Mineral Ridge, Trumbull County, Ohio.  At least one house he built still exists there.
  • Generation 3:  Edward Bickerstaff (1904-1962), son of Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff, also worked as a carpenter in the Trumbull County area.
  • Generation 4:  Edward C. Bickerstaff (1923-1983), son of Edward and Agnes (Pressell), worked as a carpenter in Trumbull County.

Henry Carl Meinzen was both carpenter and wagon-maker according to various resources.  He emigrated from Germany in 1866 and lived in Steubenville and Jefferson County from about 1870 until his death in 1925.  His son, William Carl Robert Meinzen, married Edward Jesse Bickerstaff's daughter, Emma Virginia Bickerstaff.  I sometimes wonder if the children met because their fathers shared a profession and knew each other.  Were Henry and Edward Jesse in a carpenter's union?  No records have yet been found for a carpenter's union in Steubenville.

On my paternal side
Dixon Bartley (1806-1900) was listed as a farmer in census records but a newspaper article mentioned that he also worked as a wagon maker in Martinsburg, Butler County, Pennsylvania.

When I think about these men who worked with wood a century or more ago, I try to imagine what they would think of our modern tools:  power and table saws, electric drills, nailers, and sanders.  How much more quickly their work would have gone with such tools.  And yet I think they would would have felt a loss of some satisfaction in the work, of measuring, cutting, and accurately chiseling a tendon to fit snugly into a mortice; dovetails to fit neatly together; of seeing a house or barn erected as a result of the labors of their own hands; of seeing a wagon surviving the repeated jostling over unpaved roads and holding fast.  Surely they would have missed the joy of using real wood instead of today's modern composites.

I have nothing to recognize or commemorate their work, no artifacts of any of their efforts, no photographs, no tools passed through the generations.  Yet I can imagine their satisfaction in work well done and a good night's sleep at the end of the day.  Well done, Grandfathers, uncle, and cousin.

This post was written for the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge, created and hosted by Alona Tester of  Genealogy & History News.  Thanks, Alona.

Image from Woodworking Tools 1600-1900 by Peter C. Welsh, available at Project Gutenberg.



  1. It's so interesting that you should mention wagon makers. I have several generations of wagon makers in my Tennessee "Guy" family line. I love watching how the occupation passes down through the generations, too. It makes me think of fathers patiently teaching sons their trade. Great post for this topic!

    1. Hi, Jennealogy. It is interesting to see which occupations are passed on to sons and grandsons. Have you done much research about wagon makers and their work. I haven't but hope to soon. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.


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