Apprentice Records for Genealogy. Have you any tradesmen or women sitting on a branch of your family tree? I bet you have! Well if they are tradesmen and women then at some time in their younger life they would have been apprentices and being bound to a master tradesman for a term of at least seven years generated paperwork. And paperwork is what we genealogists like very much indeed!
Young people from families right across the various levels of society can appear in apprenticeship documents so don’t think that your ancestors were too poor or too rich to feature. Children from very poor families or orphans were often apprenticed by the poor law authorities as the idea was that if they were given a trade they were less likely to require payments from the poor law funds in the future. Richer families apprenticed their young offspring to other families so that they could experience life away from the family estate and learn skills to take on the management of say a farm from their elders when the time came.
So where can these records be found online?
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Apprentice Records for Genealogy – what can they tell you?
The system of apprenticeship is thought to date from approximately the 1100’s. In 1563 when the Statute of Artificers (Apprentices) was issued, it was stated that no one could set up as a tradesman or woman without completing a term of training with a master tradesman. The apprenticeship was to last at least 7 years and both master and apprentices had obligations and duties that they had to abide by. The law remained in force until 1814 when it was abolished. However apprenticeships are still a common form of teaching young people a trade with which to support themselves and their families, but not for anywhere as long as seven years these days. I have my father’s apprenticeship papers which bound him to a master for seven years to learn the trade of bricklayer and mason, they are dated 1927.
Up until the 20th century many apprentices lived with their masters and were dependent on them for shelter, food and clothing. Their lives were restricted in a number of ways such as they were not allowed to marry, gamble or drink alcohol without their masters permission. As you can imagine such a system was open to abuse of young people and many apprentices ran away from their masters. The master could inform the authorities and if the apprentice was found then they would be returned to their master, forcefully if necessary.
The indenture, which is the agreement made between the master and the families of the apprentice, sets out the terms of the apprenticeship. A premium was sometimes paid to the master to take on the apprentice. generally wages weren’t paid until towards the end of the apprenticeship if at all. The Stamp Act of 1709 levied a tax on the indenture and this created another layer of paperwork of interest to genealogist. This tax was in force until 1808. This tax was collected and recorded by central government and therefore is effectively a national record of almost all apprenticeships for this time period. There were exemptions – apprenticeships with premiums of less than a shilling and those arranged by parish authorities or charities did not have to pay the tax and therefore are not recorded. Documentation for such agreements will have been recorded locally so all is not lost.
The documents are likely to record the name and residence of the master, the trade to which the master is obliged to teach the apprentice, the apprentice’s name, address and parent/guardian details plus the conditions of the apprenticeship with regard to housing, clothing and food plus the obligations of both parties.
Apprentice Records for Genealogy – where can they be found online?
There are two places where I recommend you look online for apprentice records for genealogy.
FindMyPast has a great collection of apprentice records and I have no doubt will be growing the collection on a regular basis as these documents can add so much colour and history to your genealogy. I will take you through the apprentice records for genealogy offered by FindMyPast at the time of writing this article. To give you an idea of the size of the various databases I will note the number of individual entries next to the title.
Country Apprentices 1710-1808 – 1,027,825 records
This database is a transcript that is held at the Society of Genealogists, London. It is based on registers held at The National Archives, Kew. This is the set of documents generated by the tax levied from 1709 mentioned above. Comprising over a million records this dataset gives quite a large amount of information and is a good starting point in your research into apprentice records for genealogy.
City Of London, Haberdashers, Apprentices and Freemen 1526-1933 – 136,468 records
City Of London, Ironmongers, Apprentices and Freemen 1511-1939 – 22,157 records
To become a member of one of the Livery Companies which were generally based in London a seven year apprenticeship had to be served. At the end of this time period the apprentice became a Freeman and qualified as a master able to employ others and take on apprentices themselves. Serving for seven years wasn’t the only way to become a Freeman, this could be achieved by a person’s father being a Freeman at the time of their birth, or by invitation which involved paying a fee. However the last two options of becoming a Freeman did not make them a Master.
The earlier records will just apply to those who were of the occupation of the Livery Company, but later, from the 1800’s, those in other occupations were allowed to join Livery Companies not associated with the trade that they followed. Being a member of a Livery Company and being a Freeman was an important asset when conducting business. This database consists of both images and transcripts which will be of great help with the early 16th and 17th c records as the writing can be a challenge for new researchers. Compare transcript and image and you will be surprised how quickly you start to recognise words and phrases.
London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850 – 486,370 records
This very large database is a brief transcript of records held at the either The Guildhall Library, The Corporation of London Record Office or The National Archives all based in London. The abstract has been made by prolific indexer and transcriber Cliff Webb and his helpers, to whom genealogists with London ancestors will be forever grateful.
Surrey, Southwark, Newington Apprentice Register 1891 – 427 records
This transcript was created by Peter Shilham from original held at the Southwark Local History Library.
City Of York Apprentices and Freemen 1272-1930 – 101,815 records
The details about this set of records are pretty much the same as the Livery Companies above except this time this database covers the whole of the city of York. We are lucky enough to have access to digitsed images as well as transcripts here. I note that FindMyPast states that the original image may hold more information than the transcript so do read the original not just the transcript.
Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Apprentices 1570-1910 – 5,320
If you have ancestors who lived in this area then you need to search this dataset. It is made up of several sets of records set out below, this is a wealth of documents including those drawn up by Overseers of the Poor. Images and transcripts.
- Apprenticeship books / freemen’s papers (1610-1683)
- Apprenticeship indentures, papers and or certificates (1638-1840)
- Apprentices register (1802-1836)
- Apprenticeship order (1821)
- Apprentices’ examinations (1830)
- Orphan’s aid educational foundation apprenticeship indentures (1868-1908)
Gloucester Apprentices 1595-1700 – 369 records
This small dataset is based on a printed publication ” Calendar of the Registers of Apprentices of the City of Gloucester 1595-1700″ published by The Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. It is divided into several sections so if you are browsing then do note which sections you have looked at. You don’t want to miss out the very part that your ancestor is mentioned!
Lincolnshire Parish Apprentice Index 1618 – 1925 – 3,232 records
If you have Lincolnshire ancestors then you will know that this county has a very large number of parishes. This dataset is an index of the apprentice records mainly drawn up by parishes wishing to lessen the poor rate burden by handing over the care and maintenance of young people by way of apprenticeships.
Manchester Apprentices 1700 – 1849 – 690 records
Not a huge database, but a must look at collection if you have ancestors in this area. Remember apprentices would have been drawn in from quite a wide area so worth a look even if you think your ancestors didn’t come from Manchester. Images and transcripts – I do love it when we can see the actual documents themselves, one of the great joys of genealogy plus it means you can download it and attach it to your online tree or print off for your files.
Parish Apprentices For Dorset – 740 records
Parish Apprentices For Somerset – 1,245 records
These two databases have been made by the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society. Having a look for some of my Dorset ancestors I noticed that many of the apprentices were sent up to masters in London, a good example of how youngsters were sent far away from family and familiar surroundings. And yes one of mine was sent away from a tiny village to London, it must have been a huge shock for them.
Electrical Engineering Apprentices & Trainees, 1902-1934 – 4,756 records
This is the printed register of apprentices and trainees who worked at Metropolitan-Vickers, Manchester. Very much a modern day records (to me anything from 1900 is modern – having worked with records dating from the 1500’s does that to you!!). However the people listed here are all someones father, grandfather or great grandfather, so don’t dismiss more modern records.
This is an ongoing project whose aim is to place online an index to apprenticeship and Freeman records for the City of London Livery Companies between 1400 and 1900. The project is a not for profit enterprise and is free for everyone to access. The information offered is brief and basic, but is a great way to investigate if your families have records in archives of the Livery Companies. I have attached a screenshot so you can see what is on offer. Even though images aren’t offered on the website, I do recommend searching your family names as there is valuable information to be found here. Remember to cite your source Click Here to read my article on Genealogy Citation and why it is important.
Apprentice Records for Genealogy – Summary
Once you have researched apprenticeship I am certain you will become as fond of them as I am. They are a real window into our ancestors lives especially when you may only have a baptism, marriage and burial dates and places for them and not a lot more. Apprentice records may hold the answer for where your ancestors were originally from and help you expand your family history back further generations. FindMyPast has a good collection of these types of record which will only get better with time as they add more databases. Whilst the ROLLCO Project has a lot to offer as well.
Even if you don’t find any of your ancestors in these databases do take a moment to go and look at one or two of the original records, they are often a joy to look at and just viewing them extends your genealogy knowledge. I strongly advise you to read the description and various explanations that are listed underneath the search page for each set of records. It is important to good research practice to understand just why the records you are searching were created and what their background is.
The question is was your ancestor bonded to a master for seven years? Take a look at apprentice records for genealogy and find out!
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