24 July 2014

Museums and historic sites tell the story of your ancestors’ occupations part 2

Tewksbury Hospital old administration building
In order to learn about our ancestors’ lives, it’s important to know their occupations. Fortunately, in Massachusetts, we have many museums and historic sites that can help you envision their lives and work—and the tools and equipment they used. Below, you’ll find Part 2 (M-Z) of places to visit in person or online to learn more about your ancestors’ occupations. If you missed Part 1 (A-L), read it here.

Some of these places feature live demonstrations of their craft, while others have tours, displays, classes, and/or hands-on activities. Before you go, contact the museum about hours and admission fees. Some have seasonal schedules and limited hours.

Maritime Adventurer:

Coast Guard Heritage Museum in Barnstable. Also features the oldest jail left in the U.S. 

Hull Lifesaving Museum in Hull. 1889 Point Allerton U.S. Lifesaving Station. 

Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships in Boston. Sail in Boston Harbor. 

Marine Museum at Fall River. Ship models and artifacts. 

New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford. Check out the half-scale Lagoda whale ship built in 1916. See also New Bedford National Historical Park.

USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown. See also the USS Constitution, or Old Ironsides, which launched in 1797 and served in the War of 1812.  

Medical Professional:

Clara Barton Birthplace Museum in North Oxford. Clara Barton (1821-1912) was founder of the American Red Cross. 

Paul S. Russell MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation in Boston. Housed in the Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Public Health Museum in Tewksbury. Opened in 1854, the Tewksbury Hospital served as an almshouse and infectious diseases (tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid fever) hospital.

Warren Anatomical Museum in Cambridge. Part of Harvard Medical School. See also its archives collections. 

Military Men and Women:

Battleship Cove in Fall River. Battleship USS Massachusetts (1941), submarine USS Lionfish (1942), destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (1945), and PT boats.

Fort Devens Museum in Devens. From camp to fort, 1917-1996. 

Museum of World War II in Natick.  

Massachusetts National Guard Museum & Archives in Concord. 

Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield. First armory in nation, largest collection of U.S. military small arms. 


Baxter Grist Mill in Yarmouth. Built in 1710.

Judah Baker Windmill in North Dennis. Built 1791. 
1912 Lawrence millworker strike

Mill Worker:

American Textile History Museum in Lowell. 

Bisbee Mill Museum in Chesterfield. Reconstructed 19th century grist mill, blacksmith shop, and woodworking shop. 

Boott Cotton Mill in Lowell. 1920s weave room, part of Lowell National Historical Park.

Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton. Papermaking from 1770 to today. 

Lawrence Heritage State Park in Lawrence. Visitor center is a restored 1840s boarding house featuring stories of mill workers and the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. 


The Pirate Museum in Salem. Tour a Colonial seaport, pirate ship, and cave. 

The Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown. View what was salvaged from pirate Sam Bellamy’s ship wrecked off Wellfleet in 1717.  


The Plumbing Museum in Watertown. Early examples to modern plumbing fixtures. 

Waterworks Museum in Boston. The machinery and reservoir behind our drinking water. 


The Museum of Printing in North Andover. Graphic arts, typesetting, bookbinding, and printing. 

The Printing Office of Edes & Gill in Boston. An 18th century print shop in the Clough House. 

Quarry Worker:

Quincy Quarry and Granite Workers Museum in Quincy. 

Seamstress, Tailor:

New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. 

Religious Leader:

African Meeting House in Boston. Part of Museum of African American History.  

Bidwell House Museum in Monterey. 1750s parsonage. 

The Mission House in Stockbridge. 1742 house of missionaries to the Mohicans.

School Teacher:

Abiel Smith School in Boston. Part of Museum of African American History. 

Schoolhouse Museum in Eastham. One-room schoolhouse built in 1869 and used until 1936. 


Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis. See boat builders in action. 

Essex Shipbuilding Museum in Essex. The village shipyard is known for building the most two-masted wooden fishing schooners. 

United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum in Quincy. 


E.N. Jenckes Store Museum in Douglas. Circa 1895 general store, built in 1830s and enlarged. 

Monroe Tavern, Lexington, Mass.

Tavern Keeper:

Blanchard’s Colonial Tavern Museum in Avon. 

Buckman Tavern and Munroe Tavern in Lexington. Setting for meetings that played part in the Revolutionary War. 

Kingman Tavern in Cummington. Also includes a replica of a 1900 country store, a barn with hand and farm tools, a carriage shed, and an 1840s cider mill. 


Aptucxet Trading Post Museum replica in Bourne. 

Transportation Driver & Builder:

Amesbury Carriage Museum in Amesbury. Horse-drawn carriages, sleighs, and automobiles. 

Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in Lenox. 1903 Lenox station. 

Chatham Railroad Museum in Chatham. 1887 railroad depot, 1910 caboose, models. 

Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. From horse-drawn carriages to motor cars.

National Streetcar Museum in Lowell. 

Old Colony & Fall River Railroad Museum in Fall River. Four rail cars and displays. 

Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum in Shelburne Falls. Take a ride on Trolley No. 10 and old-fashioned pump car. 


Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington. 

General Industrial:

Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham. 

Museum of Our Industrial Heritage in Greenfield. 

Read Part 1 for more museums and historic sites A through L.

21 July 2014

Museums and historic sites tell the story of your ancestors’ occupations part 1

Samuel Adams Brewery, Boston, Mass.
In 17th century Boston records, William Gibson is often referred to as the cordwainer, apparently so people did not confuse him with another William Gibson whose wife also was named Hannah. But what’s a cordwainer? A shoemaker. If you didn’t know that old-fashioned term, check out the glossary of old occupations and trades.

If you’re wondering what your ancestor did all day and what tools he used, you can learn more at Massachusetts museums centering on occupations. For example, a bunch of local museums have shoemaking displays, but the city of Lynn was particularly known for it, which is why Lynn Heritage State Park includes a shoemaking exhibit. (While you’re there, you may want to explore Lynn’s connections to the world-famous Lydia Pinkham’s medicinal cure-alls.)

Below, you’ll find suggestions of places to visit (or, if you’re not local to Massachusetts, explore online) to learn more about your ancestors’ occupations. Some of these places feature live demonstrations of their craft, while others have tours, displays, classes, and/or hands-on activities. This is not an all-inclusive list; there are many historical societies with great collections and larger community museums (such as Plimouth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village) that cover multiple occupations in one location as well.

Before you go, contact the museum about hours and admission fees. Some have seasonal schedules and limited hours.


Harpoon Brewery in Boston.

Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston. Founded in 1985 with old family recipes. 

Canal Worker:

Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge. 

Candy Maker:

Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop at the Clough House in Boston. In the same building as the Printing Offices of Edes and Gill. Demonstrations, history, and samples.


Willard House & Clock Museum in North Grafton. Three generations of clockmakers, starting in 1766.

Cordwainers and Other Leather Workers:

Peabody Leather Workers Museum in Peabody. Adjacent to the George Peabody House Museum and Library. At one time, Peabody was known as the Leather Capital of the World. 

Customs Collector:

Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport. Includes displays of famous shipwrecks, model clipper ships, and the history of the Coast Guard. 

Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem. Includes the U.S. Custom House where author Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked; replica of the 1797 tall ship Friendship of Salem; the 1675 Narbonne house with artifacts from archeological digs in its backyard; and the 1762 Derby house. 


Appleton Farms in Ipswich. America’s oldest working farm. 

Hadley Farm Museum in Hadley. In the 1782 barn, see vehicles and equipment used from late 18th to early 20th centuries. 

Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm in Newbury. 1690 manor house and hands-on activities.


Boston Fire Museum in Boston. Also see the links page for other fire museums. 

Furniture builder:

Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture is a web site that brings together almost a dozen cultural institutions. Includes a list of exhibitions and events. 


Sandwich Glass Museum in Sandwich. Watch glassblowing demonstrations. 


Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site in Boston. House and office of landscape architect famed for the Emerald Necklace parks.

Lyman Estate Greenhouses in Waltham. Includes some of the oldest surviving greenhouses in the country, with its 1804 grape house, 1820 camellia house, 1840 orchid house, and a 1930 greenhouse.  

Reconstructed forge and mill at Saugus Ironworks by Daderot


Saugus Iron Works. Reconstruction of the first successful iron works in the Colonies, in operation from 1646 to 1670, plus the 1680 Iron Works House.

Lighthouse Keeper:

Bass River Lighthouse in West Dennis. Part of the Lighthouse Inn and restaurant.

See also New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide web site. 


Cape Ann Harbor Tours’ lobstering/harbor tour from Gloucester features a boat tour and lobstering demonstration.

Read Part 2 for more museums and historic sites M through Z.