One of the best ways to understand the lives of your ancestors is to look at their occupations.
My great grandfather William John Mathers was a shoe and boot maker. I believe he lived over his shop in New York City most of his life. In the census records where they ask for occupation, he is listed as a shoemaker. I've also found it noted in the city directories of the time period he lived in New York City. I found an old film that had to do with having a shoe making business. The film is "Hobson's Choice" with John Mills and Charles Laughton. The movie really showed you how a shop would look back years ago. I'm sure great grandfather William worked long and hard everyday and made a very nice living for his large family.