Friday, November 20, 2020

Ancestral Traditions: Occupation and Middle Name

Many of my husband's English ancestors went into the same line of work as their fathers, generation after generation. That's definitely true of the WOOD family woodworkers (going back to the 1400s and lasting through the mid-1900s). In addition, naming traditions were often handed down from father to son, even continuing into the 21st century.

Recently, I researched ancestral traditions of occupations and names in the WHITE family, united by marriage in England with my husband's SLATTER family. I examined two specific aspects of the White line: the distinctive middle name of Hoxland carried by one male in nearly every generation, and the similar/related occupations of these male ancestors over the years.

Three Generations of Thomas White, Stone Workers

Thomas Hoxland White, born in Devon, England, in 1800, was a stone sawyer, according to UK Census records. He and wife Mary named their son Thomas Hoxland White, and he grew up to be a stone sawyer like his dad (see marriage document at top). This Thomas married Caroline Corbett, the daughter of a waiter.

Thomas and Caroline's son Thomas John White, born in Westminster, Middlesex, England, was not given that distinctive middle name of Hoxland. Perhaps a different son (one who died young?) received that middle name, but so far I haven't found him in the records. 

Thomas John White was yet another stone sawyer in this family, according to his marriage document. He changed careers later--more about that in a moment. Thomas married Fanny Gardner, the daughter of Fanny Slatter who was hubby's 2d great aunt. That's the connection point between the White and Slatter families.

Stone Sawyer vs Stone Mason

In the 1901 UK Census, Thomas John White's occupation was shown as stone mason, not stone sawyer, as was his father's occupation. What's the difference between stone mason and stone sawyer?

My gen friend Dr. Sophie Kay helped me out by consulting an early 20th century UK dictionary of occupations. She says stone sawyers did less skilled stone cutting. In contrast, stone masons did more skilled work, dressing and and shaping stone. This tells me that in less than three generations, the White family's men progressed in their skills from sawyer to mason. 

Hoxland Middle Name Lives On, Tradition of Stone Work Does Not

Back to Thomas John White, who did not have the Hoxland middle name but did begin his work life as a stone mason. He left the United Kingdom in 1905, marrying and settling in the bustling manufacturing city of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1910, he told the US Census that his occupation was draftsman in a cemetery. Finally, an ancestor who worked in a cemetery!

Thomas married Florence Elliott and their son, John Hoxland White, carried that distinctive middle name but had nothing to do with stone work. According to US Census records, he was a bookkeeper in a Cincinnati, Ohio machine shop, and rose to become assistant treasurer, he said in a later Census. 

Although there is no longer a tradition of working with stone, the White family has carried on the tradition of Hoxland as a middle name for 200 years and counting.


  1. As Registrar in my DAR chapter, I see lots of family trees. I am always delighted to see family surnames carried on as middle names. I don’t see that in my own family tree except for my sister whose middle name is Jollette in honor of my mother's favorite grandmother.

    1. I wish more families carried on surnames for middle names, generation after generation. Your sister is privileged to have the Jollette name living on as her middle name, IMHO! Thanks for reading and commenting.