In an 1880 US Census entry, the occupation of Daniel Card is listed as "Works in Woods." What does that mean?

Where I grew up, the word "woods" was a synonym for forest so I immediately thought "Works in the Forest". If that's true, what kind of work was he likely doing in the forest? Lumbering? I also see how "Works in Woods" could be another way to say "Carpenter".

The census entry is from Pennsylvania. You can see on the image that many others who lived near him had the same occupation.

  • 1
    What sort of locality was he living in -- was it rural/likely to be forested? And what were the occupations of neighbours? If lumber was a local industry, you'd expect to see more than just Daniel Card employed in it, which would give a clue which interpretation is correct. (Although I'm leaning towards the lumber industry or some other forestry activity -- Works in Woods would be a very convoluted way of saying Carpenter or Joiner.)
    – user104
    Apr 15, 2013 at 11:14
  • I updated the question to include a few more details. I tend to agree with your assumptions.
    – user47
    Apr 15, 2013 at 14:27

3 Answers 3


I think you can interpret "Works in woods" as being involved in lumbering out in the forests. There are various tasks involved (such as felling, climbing and limbing trees, attaching chains, hauling with mule teams, etc.), and they may or may not be divided into individual specialties depending on the operation. "Works in woods" is simply avoiding such complications.

The phrase is very unlikely to be used for carpentry, cabinet-making, etc. as the normal terms are more likely to be used, and further, the use of the plural form, "woods", indicates "forest" was meant. If the phrase "Works in wood" had been used, the carpentry interpretation would be more reasonable.


A post on an Ancestry message board led me to the 1880 census entry for Joseph Simpier who's occupation is also listed as "Works in [the] Woods". He is listed as a boarder at a logging camp with a bunch of other men who's occupation is also "Works in [the] Woods".

I have found some other occurrences of the occupation which all strangely come from the 1880 census.

  • Could possibly be the the same enumerator.
    – Luke_0
    Apr 16, 2013 at 16:07

While it is usual for genealogists to focus on specific records relevant to particular individuals of interest, as historians we also need to conscious of the background. Often a general-purpose search engine is the appropriate tool to obtain a broader perspective.

If you search for {"works in woods" ~genealogy} then you will see nearly 700 hits. While there is a preponderance of references to Pennsylvania and the 1880 census, there are sufficient others to indicate that this is not a purely localised phenomenon. You can be certain that is not simply a quirk of a single enumerator.

You can probably infer an English origin for the term from the fact that there are hundreds of entries with similar titles (particularly Labourer In Woods) found in the UK censuses before the 1880 PA references. (Note that FreeCEN lets you enter a search term into occupation and then hit Count for a summary; that is much faster than trying to Find each instance.) I suspect that it was the natural counterpart of the ubiquitous Ag Lab.

I found one (derivative) reference to a pair of brothers in Michigan one of whom "works in woods" while the other "works on farm". To me that is a useful distinction between two men whose actual activity probably varied with the seasons in very similar ways but only one could be supported by the family farm.

  • Late here: another formulation to consider would be the relation to farmworker versus woodworker. another thought farms are owned individually and so singular while the forests may have been company or state reserves and so woods plural? working perhaps for different companies in different roles through a season.
    – civitas
    Dec 18, 2023 at 0:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.