Practitioner Records

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Business Records

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Business Records
Business Owner Records
Practitioner Records
Employee Records
Customer Records
Locating Business Records

This article originally appeared in "Business, Institution, and Organization Records" by Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, CGL, and Ann Carter Fleming, CG, CGL in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Trades and Professions

Between 1780 and 1870, many of our ancestors became ministers, lawyers, doctors, or other professionals. Another large group became craftsmen. These occupations generated valuable records such as histories and directories in specific areas. Compiled from several sources, they usually contain secondary information prepared by historians.


Most denominations have established an archival facility to maintain their materials, including ministerial records, which may contain valuable genealogical information. Some denominations publish directories of their ministers. Old editions of directories or historical directories, such as the following example, can provide important biographical and genealogical information about an ancestor who was an ordained clergyman or notable church layman.

Brinkman, Benjamin F., b Graafschap, Mich, May 3, 1863. WTS, 1906. Ord United Presby. Pas Second, Englewood, Chicago, Ill 1906'10; Second, Pella, Ia 1911'17; fin agt Central 1917'20; pas Calvary Cleveland, 1920'21. d Cleveland, Mar 5, 1921.
Breck, John Randlett, b Newbury, Vt, jun, 1831, s of Jacob R. AB, Rutgers C, 1859; NBTS, 1862. Lic CI Passic, 1862; ord CI Paramus, 1862. Pas West New Hempstead, N.Y. 1862'65; Spring Valley, N.Y. 1865'69; tchr 1869'71. d Marysville, Tenn Aug 7, 1872.
Brocklos, Albert. Received Presby 1911; pas Ave B, NYC 1911'13; dismissed Meth Ch 1914.
Brodhead, Jacob, b Marbletown, N.Y., May 14, 1782, s of Charles W. AB. Union C, 1801; NBTS 1804; ord CI Poughkeepsie, 1804. Pas Rhinebeck Flats, N.Y. 1804'09; Collegiate, NYC 1809'13; Crown St, Philadelphia, Pa 1813'26; Broome St, NYC 1826'37; Flatbush, Ulster Co, N.Y. 1837'41; Central, Brooklyn. N.Y. 1841'46. Pres Gen Syn, 1816'17 and 1825'26. d Springfield, Mass Jun 6, 1855.<ref>Peter N. Vandenberge, Historical Directory of the Reformed Church of America, 1625'1965 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Reformed Church in America, 1966), 22.


Researchers can locate the denomination headquarters on the Internet or by using the current edition of the annual The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.<ref>The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (Nashville: Abingdon Press), annual.</ref> (See Overview of Church Records) This publication may also help determine the current name of a church, which has merged with another. The yearbook also includes lists of 'Depositories of Church History Material and Sources,' arranged by denomination, with an appended 'Standard Guides to Church Archives.'

Lawyers and Judges

Legal professionals have long occupied prominent positions in American society. This profession established the bar as a means of determining each person's qualifications and then required civil registration for those who passed the bar examination. Each state has a state licensing process and a list of currently licensed attorneys available on the state's website.

From John Hill Martin, Martin's Bench and Bar of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh and Co., 1883), 243.

A valuable source for information about lawyers is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, an annual publication that lists nearly every practicing lawyer in the country.<ref>Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (Martindale, N.J.: Martindale-Hubbell), annual.</ref> First published in the 1860s, most public libraries have recent editions while many law libraries retain the earliest copies. This source gives some biographical information, as well as residence and affiliation with a law firm. Their website includes the capability of searching for current attorneys by name, location, and law school. However, both Martindale-Hubbell and many other legal directories often are severely out of date. Most American lawyers practice in small firms and the various legal directories do not contact such firms to update information.

In most states and many large cities and counties, books have been written on 'The Bench and Bar of . . .' These books contain biographical information on those practicing law in a locality at the time of and prior to publication. Martin's Bench and Bar of Philadelphia, for example, includes references to most attorneys who ever practiced in Philadelphia and many colonial lawyers who worked anywhere in Pennsylvania.<ref>Martins's Bench and Bar of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh and Co., 1883).</ref> It also includes an alphabetical list of all those admitted to practice in the courts of Philadelphia, both city and county, and death dates and ages at death for those no longer living at the time of publication.

Contrary to common belief among the general public, most American lawyers do not regularly handle court cases. Generally there are three levels of courts in the American legal system: (1) A trial court with one judge where witnesses present evidence and lawyers present legal arguments; (2) an appellate court with three judges that can review trial court rulings to determine whether the law was properly applied; and (3) a supreme court consisting of about nine judges that can review decisions of courts of appeals. Only about three percent of lawsuits filed wind up being appealed and only a small portion of those wind up getting to a supreme court. Decisions of state trial courts usually are not published but decisions of federal trial-level courts often are. Over the years, one company has taken over publication of cases nationwide and now offers a subscription database known as WestLaw. Although subscription rates are much too expensive to make WestLaw a practical tool for genealogy research, most attorneys have access to WestLaw under a flat-rate subscription plan and you may be able to have a friend at a law firm do a quick search for odd names. Case reports routinely identify the lawyers, the judges, the parties, and often witnesses or other persons. I once searched my surname Reinckens and found a 1928 case in which my great grandfather had been a witness. It gave his name, the company he worked for, its location and his occupation. One particularly nice thing about WestLaw is that it has one of the most advanced search engines available anywhere. For instance, (duty /10 care) % (willful malice) & da(last 10 years) meaning "find the word care within 10 words of the word duty, omit cases containing the word willful or the word malice and only search the past 10 years." It allows complex nested searches, so you could look for "cases where Word B is within thirty words of Word A, and where Phrase ABC is within fifty words of that combination".


Similar directories and biographical sketch books exist in many areas for doctors and surgeons (see the References section). Since these professionals, too, were often registered by the government, certificates or licenses should be sought in city, county, and state archives. The Pennsylvania State Archives, for example, has medical licenses from 1894 and dental licenses from 1897.

The American Medical Association has been gathering information on the personal and professional backgrounds of licensed medical practitioners since the late 1800s. The archival collection includes information on more than 350,000 doctors who practiced in the United States from as early as 1804 through 1969, although records prior to 1907 are incomplete. The microfilmed cards are available at the Family History Library and through local family history centers. The attached image shows the entry for William James from the AMA records. The National Genealogical Society maintains the original cards, and copies are available by request for a fee. The Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804'1929 lists almost 150,000 deceased doctors in the two-volume set.<ref>Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804'1929 (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1993).</ref>

Two-page file on William A. James, M.D., of Monroe County, Illinois, from the American Medical Association.

Nurses and other medical personnel are also subject to licensing procedures and are listed on each state website. Lists of all licensed professionals are available by state and county within the state, usually through the state board of medical examiners (or its equivalent) website. A Web search should reveal the list for your state of interest. Also, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides links to information on each state.

The American Medical Association maintains a list of every physician in the country, which is available on its website. Databases for medical personnel, past and present, are available in some locations. An alphabetical list of Baltimore medical care personnel from 1752 to 1919 is available at This list includes dentists, druggists, nurses, and physicians. Another example is in book format, Hospitals and Medical Doctors in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, by J. Boyd Collard.<ref>J. Boyd Collard, Hospitals and Medical Doctors in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma (Lawton, Okla.: the author, 1994).</ref>

To search for a physician or doctor in city directories, try the online entries. Go into and type in the keyword 'doctor' or 'physician.' The list of people with those occupations will appear. This is a quick way to locate all the doctors in that particular directory.

Professional Licenses

Most states require a license for a variety of professions. As part of its Web information, Wisconsin identifies all occupations that require a license at Among these, in addition to attorneys and medical personnel, are architects, boxers, and funeral directors.

One state, Colorado, has an online searchable database of all licensing boards. This makes it possible to search for information about a living individual by license number, name, and type of license at A typical entry includes the city of residence, license number and type, license status (active or inactive), along with the dates for first issuance, last renewal, and expiration. Another field shows if any complaints have been filed against the individual.

Records for teachers date back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse. Teacher certificates include the name of the teacher, date of certification, grade taught, town of residence, and hometown. An index to teacher certificates granted for Rio Grande County, Colorado, for the years 1874'1893 is online at


Artisans, writers, and skilled tradesmen are also the subject of biographical sketches in collective biographies. The following example of a silversmith in Staunton, Virginia, is from a book-length study of local professions.

C. E. EVARD & BROTHER opened a 'New Jewellery and Watch Establishment' in Staunton in June 1849. There were two persons in the silversmith and jewelry business in this vicinity who might have been the principle in this firm. Charles Eugene Evard of Winchester and Charles Edward Evard of Leesburg. This was undoubtedly the Leesburg jeweler, for the same illustration was used in the advertising in Staunton and Leesburg. The name of the brother is unknown. This firm advertised clocks, watches, and jewelry repaired, and warranted at its shop, one door above M. Cushing's Confectionery Store. On July 9, following, the firm had just received from their manufactory a large supply of 'silver Table and Tea Spoons, also Dessert and Salt Spoons, Sugar Tongs, Butter Knives, all superior articles and manufactured especially to order. . . . The public generally are informed that the subscribers will sell all kinds of jewellery and spoons much lower than the Baltimore prices.' How long this firm continued in business here is not definitely known, but on March 1, 1850, C. E. Evard announced to the public of Leesburg that he had returned to and permanently located himself in Leesburg; so that the firm did business in Staunton not longer than nine months.'<ref>George Berton Cutten, The Silversmiths of Virginia from 1694 to 1850 (Richmond: Diete Press, 1952), 172.</ref>

Similar books are available for many of the early states. See List of Useful Business, Institution, and Organization Resources section for other occupational histories.

Other Records

An ancestor need not be prominent to be included in a business record. Many people were recorded by cities because of their occupations. An 1863 register of prostitutes compiled by the Guardians of the Poor in Philadelphia is remarkable for its detail. It includes information about these women's ages, length of time in the city, literacy, marital status, number of children, how long and why they were involved in the profession, other trades they held, parents' occupations, and when, why, and from where they emigrated. Parents' or siblings' names were also recorded. Despite the uniqueness of this particular record, it illustrates the eclectic nature of such records. If a local government was interested in a particular occupation, there are likely to be records among the archives of that government.

A wide range of information is available on other occupations as well that we might not expect to find documented. For example, the Pennsylvania State Archives houses applications for teaching certificates from 1866, a Register of Pilots' Homes and Securities for 1783 to 1876, Philadelphia licenses for peddlers and hawkers from 1820 to 1838, and tavern licenses applied for and granted from 1750 to 1855.<ref>Robert H. Dructor, A Guide to Genealogical Sources at the Pennsylvania State Archives, 2nd ed. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1998), 114, 119, 155, 168.</ref>



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