Context is Key: Know the Law!

Law-1

At the time our ancestors lived, there were laws that came into being and which affected the way our ancestors lived and the documents they created.  In last week’s post, we learned how important it is to understand the collection our record is in. It is perhaps even more important to understand the laws at the time the record was created. This is particularly important in the case of probate, deed, marriage and other court records. The way a will disperses property is influenced by the laws in effect at the time. These laws may be local, state and national. Just as our lives are subject to the laws of today, our ancestors lived and created records influenced by the laws of their day.

An example: Coverture and the status of women as guardians

In the early colonies and even later in the United States, women had very few, if any, rights. Under the doctrine known as coverture, a married woman could not own property, enter into a contract or even claim legal guardianship of her children should her husband die. All her rights were subsumed under her husband’s 1. It’s important to understand this law and how it affected your female ancestors. Should you come across children in an Orphan’s Court document, with a male guardian being appointed, you would be incorrect in assuming their mother had died and that they were literally orphans. I noticed this recently on a mailing list I participate in. The poster was assuming their widowed female ancestor must have died as the guardianship document, recorded in the local Orphan’s Court, showed the five young children being assigned an adult male guardian. Widowed women held no rights, not even to be guardians of their biological children. Usually there was an inheritance in play, land or other goods, and with women having no rights to make contracts or own property, she was judged unable to properly look after her children’s affairs. A male guardian was appointed to do so. Her children were not taken from her and she still cared for them physically but anything to do with their inherited property was a matter only for the male guardian.

An example: Primogeniture or the right of the eldest son to inherit

Estate law in Colonial America (specifically the southern colonies: the Province of Maryland, the Colony of Virginia, the Provinces of North and South Carolina, and the Province of Georgia) gave the right of inheritance to the eldest son of a couple who had died intestate (without a will). This was referred to as primogeniture and applied only to land and not personal property left by the deceased. Where the deceased man had several sons, the oldest would inherit the entire estate 2. If a man had only daughters, all would inherit equal shares of the land. Should the oldest son be deceased but have a living son of his own, that son would inherit first, followed by his own siblings, in birth order if males, or all equally if females. There were complex rules of descent which had to be followed in every inheritance case. Can you see the benefit of knowing this information when you uncover an estate document from the 1700s? One benefit would be the ability to determine the birth order of children based on the order of inheritance in the document.  One caveat – the law changed often and varied by state. Be sure you understand the law at the time of the document’s creation, in the particular colony or state you’re working in.

These are only two examples of areas where laws greatly affect the way a document was created by our ancestors. There are many, many more.

Where to find information on archaic legal words?

In learning about archaic laws, you will no doubt come across unfamiliar legal words which we no longer use today.  The go to book for genealogist’s is Black’s Law Dictionary. First published in 1891 by Henry Campbell Black, this is the best place to look up those unfamiliar words. It is still being published today but it’s best to stick with the 1891 version. There are a few places online to find the 1891 version:

Where to find information on the laws of British America?

William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England can be found online at:

This volume, the first of four, was published in 1765, and is a commentary on the common laws of England. Early colonies followed English common law so this book is helpful in understanding the laws around some of the early records we may come across.

Good genealogists place their ancestors into their historical, geographical, social and cultural contexts. This involves understanding how the laws of the time affected our ancestors and the documents they created.

 


  1. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), “Married Women’s Property Acts in the United States,” rev. 10:35, 25 November 2018. 
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), “Primogeniture,” rev. 00:24, 24 November 2018. 

Context is Key: Understanding the Record within the Record Collection

Records don’t exist in a vacuum. (For the purposes of this post, I am referring to microfilmed images of records we have located online). It’s important to understand the record in terms of the collection it’s found in. Once we’ve located a record, we need to ask ourselves questions about the record and the collection. Questions such as:

Who created this collection?
Does my record fit in this collection?
Is there anything unusual about my record that other records in the collection don’t have?
Is something missing that should be there?
Is the record an original or a copy?
Are there gaps in this collection?
Does the collection have an index and if it does, was the index created at the same time as the record?

We can answer those questions in two ways:

First, by studying our record image and the images that come before it and after it on the microfilm. We can compare handwriting – is it all the same in the collection (indicating perhaps a clerk copied the information from elsewhere)? Have we gone to the beginning of the film (or the beginning of the Item number on the film) and studied any images that may appear of the book cover that our record comes from? As we do so, we gather information which helps us place our record in context.

Second, we can study the collection description, which is what this post focuses on.

Where to find collection descriptions?

A quick example using Ancestry

One of the results in a search for Patty Dawley, born about 1771 in Vermont, is a death record.

Context 1

The top red arrow in the image above points to the title of the collection that the record is found in. In this example, the record is in Ancestry’s collection titled, ‘Vermont, Vital Records, 1720-1908’. The red arrow in the middle gives us further source information on the collection, including where the original data came from and which repository was responsible for first compiling the collection.

The red arrow toward the bottom points to the description of the collection and this is where Ancestry does a decent job of describing the collection further. Click on the Learn more… in the blue circle and a page will appear with a search box at the top, allowing you to search only within this collection. But page down, past the Source Information we just saw on the previous page. Here we are given more information (see image below) about the collection, including a brief history of when vital records were kept in Vermont, when the law came into being which dictated the keeping of those vital records and the availability of the records. Any known gaps in the records are also given. All of this information helps us to place into context our specific record. Perhaps even more than that, the description of the collection allows us to determine whether a record we are seeking exists in this particular collection.

Context 2

Another example using FamilySearch

Familysearch.org offers excellent descriptions of its record collections. Begin here at the Category: FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections. This is an alphabetical listing of all the FamilySearch historical record collections (only the published ones). Find the collection you are interested in and click on the link provided. We’ll use the Arizona Marriages collection as an example:

Context 3
Image showing Category: FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections

 

Context 4
Image showing Arizona Marriages collection description within the FamilySearch Historical Records Collection

There is a wealth of information on the individual collection page. The red arrow above points to the Contents of the page.  Of great importance is the general collection description which states that this is an index only collection so we will not find images of the actual marriage documents here. There is a coverage table and map showing which counties are covered by this index. There is information on what to do if you are unable to find your ancestor in the collection. The blue arrow points to the ability to access and search the collection from this page.

When we understand the record collection, we are better able to understand our specific record. Genealogists consider the weight of evidence in each document they use. Understanding why and how that document was created aids in being able to effectively weigh the evidence the document provides.

As important as it is to understand the collection our record is in, it is equally important to understand the laws at the time the record was created. Next week’s post will focus on how the laws of the time influenced the records created by our ancestors.

Locating Original Records for ‘Text Only’ Indexes on Ancestry

We’ve all seen them. Those Ancestry search results that pop up with a few details but without an image attached. They provide tantalizing bits of information but thorough researchers know that they need to find the original record, if at all possible.

Index
Image from Ancestry.com

These ‘Text-only’ collections can often be used as a finding aid to the original record. I was surprised to learn how many people don’t realize that there is another, more important, step to take.  The clue is in the FHL film number given.

Index arrow

This is where we head over to Familysearch.org and using the top menu, hover our cursor over Search. A drop-down menu appears, and we select Catalog. A search page appears with various search options. We want to search by Film/Fiche Number.

Index Catalog
Image from Familysearch.org

Click on Film/Fiche Number and enter the FHL film number which you located on the Ancestry ‘Text-only’ record. Familysearch.org displays a list of the microfilm/s with that number and which contain the original records.

Index Films

The information we found on the ‘Text-only’ record tell us that the birth date of the Craft child in question was 17 October 1883. We can see in the image above that the first film covers birth registers for the years 1880-1913, and this is where we will find the original record. Once we click on that film, we are given a screen which displays the Film/Digital Notes.

Index film notes

The second entry shows us it is for the Register of births, no. 1-2 1880-1900 and we are in luck, as a small camera icon is displayed. This means that the film is available to browse online. Clicking on that camera icon will take you to the original microfilmed images and it is a matter of navigating through the film to 17 October 1883 to find the entry for the child. Always take note of the Item number/s on the film (in this case, Items 2-3) as they will guide you to where those records begin.

Tip: You may be tempted to click on the magnifying glass icon shown in the image above as this indicates a link to a Familysearch index. But be warned, if you do so, you will find yourself looking at the indexed entry again with no image.

Index May

Having the original record in our hands, we might think we have completed our research with this film. But here is another tip … if the film also contains an index to the registers, it is always worth searching it! Going back to those film notes, we can see that this film does contain images of the original Indexes to the Register of Births.

Index film notes green

This is how I discovered a previously unknown child. By searching the microfilmed indexes under C for Craft (and knowing that this family remained in the same place for several years), I was able to confirm all the births of the known children. However, I found one more entry in that Index to Register of Births  for a child that I had no knowledge of.

Index Unknown

By going back to the film and navigating to entry 2501 in Book 1, page 192 as was shown on the Index to the Register of Births, I was able to find a male child (unnamed at the time) born 8 January 1894. This child must have died as an infant as he does not appear in any further records for this family.

Index Craft child

My tips:

  • Sound genealogical research means we should always try to locate the original record from an indexed entry.
  • If searching on Ancestry.com (or anywhere else) and you find a FHL (Family History Library) film number, head to Familysearch.org and locate that film. If you are lucky, it will be available to view online.
  • Always check the Index to a Register, if filmed, for the name you are researching.

 

RootsTech 2019: Over 30 Classes on DNA!

DNA

RootsTech is always on the cutting edge of what’s new in genealogy. Look back at RootsTech 2018 and see the emphasis on DNA from Angie Bush’s presentation “You’ve Taken a DNA test, Now What?” to Diane Southard and Lisa Louise Cooke’s, “A DNA Match with No Tree? No Problem!”. DNA is a hot topic these days and RootsTech never fails to keep up by  providing a rich variety of classes and labs focused on using DNA in our research.

RootsTech 2019 offers over 30 classes/labs on DNA!

I took a look at the 2019 conference schedule found here (it’s a tentative schedule so subject to change) and used the search box on the left of the page to only look for sessions or labs on DNA. There are over 30 different classes or labs on some aspect of DNA! That’s an incredible resource for anyone looking to learn more about how to use their DNA results. There are classes tailored to all levels of difficulty from beginners to advanced.  There are classes on which DNA tests are available and which ones to use depending on your goals, classes on using third-party tools like GEDMatch and DNAPainter, classes and labs on techniques such as using your shared matches, visual phasing, chromosome mapping, and creating a DNA triangulation table. There are classes on analyzing Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA and classes dealing with endogamy. Whichever aspect of DNA you are interested in, there is likely a class or lab at RootsTech 2019 that will address that!

Why the emphasis on DNA?

On 28 October 2018, the Board for Certification of Genealogists came out with new standards regarding the use of DNA as another form of evidence in our research. More information can be found here. DNA results go hand in hand with other evidence in the forming of any conclusions we make. You may not be a professional genealogist or hold a credential but thorough researchers know that good, in-depth research means you look everywhere and you use everything that may help in providing an answer to your research question.  DNA evidence can be part of that reasonably exhaustive search.

RootsTech 2019 will be a great way to gain more education on exactly when and how to use DNA, in conjunction with documentary evidence, to answer that stubborn research question you may have.

*Don’t forget to visit the Expo Hall in between all your DNA classes to take advantage of the special prices on DNA kits. Every year that I’ve attended RootsTech (this will be my 5th year!) there have been great specials on DNA kits, I expect 2019 will be the same.

Hope to see you February 27 – March 2, 2019 at RootsTech!

 

 

 

Using Newspapers to Uncover an Emigrant’s Journey

Newspapers are incredibly valuable for genealogical research. They help put the flesh on the bones of our ancestors. Through newspapers we gain a little insight into the times in which our ancestors lived. Newspapers can also help find the story of your emigrant ancestors. Many are full of information on ship arrivals and departures, what life was like on board the ship, tragedies at sea and messages back to their homelands from those who left.

Illustration 1 1

Migration Ship
“On Board an Emigrant Ship”

From the advertisements seeking those willing to leave their home for a foreign land, to the letters sent back to those homes from those emigrants, newspapers can add great context to your emigrant ancestors’ journey.

Advertisements for free emigration

Newspapers were full of advertisements offering free or assisted emigration to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. High in demand were those skilled in a trade such as blacksmiths, carpenters, bakers, and bricklayers. Women were also in demand as housemaids, nurses and dairy maids. 2

Migration free
“Free Emigration to Queensland.” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

Life Aboard Ship

Newspapers often contained reports on life aboard ship. Most described the awful conditions, the disease and deaths, the lack of food and water and the ill-treatment of the emigrants by the crew. Yet, emigrant’s kept making the journey, hoping that life in a foreign country would be better than where they were previously.  These articles describe the deplorable conditions on many ships, but they also contain clues for further research. The article below contains the ship name, the port it arrived in and the date it arrived, where it departed from, the number of days at sea and the number of passengers aboard when it left Liverpool. It also gives the number of passengers who died on the voyage and the number of babies born. 3

Migration sick
“Emigrant Life on Board Ship.” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Ships lost at sea or plagued by disease

Traveling by sea was often perilous. Ships sometimes caught on fire and sank,  some were damaged by storms, others ran aground on reefs or sand bars. Newspapers carried the stories of survivors, if there were any, or simply reported that the ship was considered late to its port and therefore ‘lost’.

The loss of 20 lives aboard the English emigrant ship, the Trusty, was reported by the Norfolk News (England) on 14 August 1852.4 The ship had left Scarborough, in North England, with 200 emigrants on board. Their final destination was Quebec. The ship had sighted land when a dense fog occurred and the ship struck a reef and began to sink. A boat was lowered and 20 persons climbed aboard and tried to get to shore. Sadly, the boat capsized in rough surf and all drowned. Their names appear in the newspaper article. The remaining emigrants clung to the sinking wreck for over 8 hours until another vessel was able to pull alongside and rescue them.

Migration wreck
“Melancholy Wreck of an Emigrant Ship” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The emigrants aboard the ship, Hartha, left Hamburg, Germany in October 1865, bound for New York. Three months later, in January 1866, the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press noted the arrival of the ship at Spithead, on the southern English coast. The journey from Hamburg to New York should have taken about a month, instead the emigrants had now been on board the ship for two and half months, arriving on the coast of England instead of New York. Their journey had been fraught with problems from a leak which caused the ship to head for the coast of Scotland for repair, to the discovery of small pox among the passengers. On 20 December 1865, sixteen passengers suffering from small pox were left behind in Scotland while the ship sailed on. In the English Channel, a ferocious storm with gale force winds, forced the ship back to Spithead again. Once more, small pox broke out, this time affecting many more of the emigrants. The Captain was forced to move all the sick off the ship and have it fumigated. Many of the children aboard also suffered from diphtheria.  The newspaper noted, “The misfortunes this ship has encountered have dispirited the intended emigrants, as might naturally be supposed.” 5

Migration sick1
“Remarkable Voyage of an Emigrant Ship” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

These are the stories that add color to our ancestors’ lives and make them more than just names and dates on a piece of paper. Whether mentioned by name or not, reading these accounts allows us to understand more fully what our ancestors went through in their journey to their new home.

Letters sent back home

Once our ancestors reached their new home, they would send letters back to family left behind. Letters would often be sent to the vicar of the local parish where the emigrants had once resided, and the vicar would request that the newspaper publish the letter so all in the parish could hear how the family was doing.

William and Mary Anne Randle wrote the following letter to their children in Coventry, England, from Quebec, Canada, in 1862.6 The letter is filled with information on their journey to Quebec and their new life there. If William and Mary Anne Randle were your ancestor’s, how fortunate you would be to find all this information! However, if your emigrant ancestor’s followed the same route as the Randle’s, you now have an idea of what that journey entailed and what life was like for new emigrants.

Migration-letters-all
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Newspapers are wonderful for filling in the details of the journey our emigrant ancestors’ took to get to their new homelands. From the advertisements ‘selling’ the idea of emigrating, to the letters sent back home, we can add context and color to their lives.

All images are from the British Newspapers Archive and used under their terms of conditions which state that the image appear with a copyright statement and attribution to British Newspaper Archive.

 


  1. Illustration 1 “On Board an Emigrant Ship,” Every Saturday: An Illustrated Weekly Journal, Vol. III, 30 December 1871, p. 628; Hathitrust (https://babel.hathitrust.org : accessed 26 September 2018). 
  2. “Free Emigration to Queensland,”The Cornish Telegraph (Penzance, Cornwall), 28 March 1876, Vol. XXV, No. 1318, p. 2, col. 3; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  3. “Emigrant Life On Board Ship,” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 28 April 1847, Vol. XXIII, No. 1238, p. 270, col. 1;  British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  4. “Melancholy Wreck of an Emigrant Ship,” Norfolk News, 14 August 1852, No. 398, p. 4, col. 4; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  5. “Remarkable Voyage of an Emigrant Ship,” Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 27 January 1866, p. 3, col. 4; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  6. “Letters from Emigrants,” Coventry Herald and Observer, 5 July 1862, p. 3, col. 4 & 5; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 28 September 2018). 

James Box – Artificial Limb Maker

Did a serious injury prompt the start of a family business?

In 1861, James Box was a young boy of about 14 years old. He lived with his parents, John and Ann Box, and several siblings, in Surrey, England.1 By 1871, James was on his own, having moved from Surrey to West Ham, Essex.  James was now 25 years old, unmarried and noted on the 1871 census was his occupation “Anatomical Mechanician”. In the last column of the census, under the heading, “Whether Deaf and Dumb, Blind, Imbecile or Idiot, Lunatic” is the comment, “Leg amputated”.2

Box snip 1871

What did an Anatomical Mechanician do and was James’ injury the impetus for a family business in which his wife, two sons, a daughter, his younger brother, and two nephews would all work?

In 1878, James and his younger brother, George, started their business in Manchester, Lancashire under the name, “J. Box and Co. Artificial Limb and Surgical Instrument Makers”.

leg
Artificial Leg, England, 1890-1950. Credits: Science Museum, London (broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk)

The job of an anatomical mechanician or artificial limb maker was described in 1855 as, “When from accident or disease it has become advisable to have the whole or a part of the natural leg removed…the first thought invariably arising in a patient’s mind is how he can possibly walk and pursue his usual avocation when minus a limb. Difficult as the matter appears, it is by no means too much so for human ingenuity to accomplish…It is therefore, clearly the part of the “mechanician” to render himself acquainted with the anatomical details of the limb he has to imitate…and also ascertain any peculiar action by which the various joints are brought into motion or sustained at rest.”3

James Box’s inclusion in the 1883 Manchester and Salford Directory:4

JamesBox1847_1883Directory_arrow

 

Unfortunately, in the same year, James Box died at the age of 37. His brother, George, took over the running of the business. George seemed to be a busy man, heavily involved with the community, his church and trips to the United States.5

GeorgeBox1855_bio snip

George, his son, George Percival Box and his nephew, Henry A. Box were all part of the business in 1911.6

GeorgeBox1855_1911Directory arrow

The last mention of various members of the Box family working as Artificial Limb Makers and/or Surgical Instrument Makers are in 1939:7

Annie J. Box, aged 67, occupation: Surgical Appliance Maker (child of James Box who started the business).
James Joseph Box, aged 65, Artificial Limb Maker (child of James Box who started the business).
George Percival Box, age 56, son of George Box (who took over the business when brother, John died).

From the early 1870s to approximately 1939, various members of the Box family worked in the Artificial Limb and Surgical Implement business started by James Box. Did the amputation of James’ leg prompt the start of a family business? It certainly seems possible.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 36 prompt: Work

 


  1. 1861 census of England, Surrey, Leatherhead, p. 42 (stamped), James Box; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2016); citing The National Archives, RG9, piece 420, folio 24; Epsom registration district, ED 1, household 293. 
  2. 1871 census of England, Essex, West Ham, p. 2 (stamped), James Box; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2016); citing The National Archives, RG10, piece 1629, folio 114; West Ham registration district, ED 10, household 9. 
  3. Henry Heather Bigg, On Artificial Limbs Their Construction and Application (London: John Churchill, New Burlington Street, 1855), chapter 1, part 1, B; digital images, Internet Archive (http://archive.org : accessed 6 September 2018). 
  4. Isaac Slater, ed., Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Manchester and Salford (Manchester, England: Royal National Directory Offices, 1883), 44; digital images, University of Leicestershire (http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4/id/149008 : accessed 9 September 2018). 
  5. Manchester Archives, digital images, Mr. G. Box (https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/sets/ : accessed 9 September 2018). 
  6. Isaac Slater, ed., Slater’s Manchester, Salford & Suburban Directory (Manchester, England: Slater’s Directory Limited, 1911), 32; digital images, University of Leicestershire (http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection : accessed 8 September 2018). 
  7. 1939 Register, Lancashire, England, Manchester, RG 101/4469J Letter Code: NJKC, Schedule 49, George Percival Box; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : accessed 9 September 2018), citing The National Archives, Kew, London, England. Also 1939 Register, Lancashire, England, Manchester, RG 101/4469J Letter Code: MJNT, Schedule 71-1, Annie J. Box and James Joseph Box; digital image, Ancestry(http://ancestry.com : accessed 9 September 2018), citing The National Archives, Kew, London, England. 

In the Parish Chest: Apprenticeship Records

ParishChestApprenticeship

This is the third post in my In the Parish Chest series. You can learn about bastardy bonds here and Settlement Examinations & Removal Orders here.

Was your English ancestor an apprentice? Apprenticeships date back to as early as the 16th century when young boys were formally bound to a master, usually a craftsman, who would teach the apprentice his trade. From 1563, the Statute of Apprentices made apprenticeships mandatory for anyone who wanted to take up a trade. This meant that no one could call themselves a Master of a trade without serving a 7-year apprenticeship.

Commonly, it was the child’s father who would put him up for an apprenticeship. It was more financially feasible for many poor families to apprentice out a child than to raise him.  In 1601, authority was given to the Overseers of the Poor for the parish, to locate an apprenticeship for any children who were orphaned or considered a pauper.

Although most apprenticeships were sought within the parish, there were times when the Overseers of the Poor would advertise in the local newspapers as seen below:1

Newspaper1

Overseers Apprenticeship Registers

Once an apprenticeship was secured for a child, the Overseers of the Poor would write down the details in an Apprenticeship Register. They would record details such as the date of the indenture, the name of the apprentice, their age, their parents’ names and abode, the name of the Master and his or her trade and residence, and the terms of the apprenticeship (in years). The register would be signed by the Overseers of the Poor and the Magistrate giving consent.

Below is an example of an Overseers Apprenticeship Register for Rothwell, West Yorkshire.2  On 12 October, 1802, 11-year old Sarah Fothergill was apprenticed out to Nathan Nichols, a farmer.  Her father was David Fothergill and her mother was noted as dead. The family’s residence was noted as ‘no settled place’. Sarah would be apprenticed to Nathan Nichols for 10 years, until her 21st birthday.

Apprenticeship-1

An Order of Indenture would then be created by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor and presented to the Justices of the Peace for their approval. The proposed Master will have been interviewed as to his circumstances and character as well as the parents of the apprentice, if they were alive. The Overseers would recommend that the indenture be made.

In the example below dated 12 December 1818, a father, John Hollingrake has put up his son, William Hollingrake, as an apprentice. The order states that “William Hollingrake, a poor child, which its parents are not able to maintain” is proposed as an apprentice to Thomas Sutcliffe, a spinner, of the parish of Langfield, West Yorkshire. The Order of Indenture is signed by the Justices of the Peace and an Indenture is made.3

41440_1831101881_2383-00006

The Apprenticeship Indenture was a legal document setting out the terms for the apprentice and the master.  The age of the apprentice is given and the length of the apprenticeship. William Hollingrake’s indenture states he was 12 years and four months old and would serve as an apprentice to Thomas Sutcliffe until he was 21 years old. Thomas Sutcliffe is to teach William a trade, and “find, provide for, and allow unto his said Apprentice, sufficient wholesome and competent Meat, Drink, Washing, Lodging, Apparel, and all other Necessaries…during all the said Term.” The indenture also states that should Thomas Sutcliffe die within the period of indenture, the agreement would terminate within three months of his death. For the apprentice, they were bound to serve their master and willingly perform his duties and be a “good and faithful Servant”.4

41440_1831101881_1912-00008

Interestingly enough, on the same day, 12 December 1818, William’s younger brother, John Hollingrake, only 9 years old, was also apprenticed out to John Baron, a weaver. Two years later, on 19 August 1820, Betty Hollingrake, just turned 9 years old, was apprenticed out to Abraham Sunderland, also a weaver. And four years later, Abraham Hollingrake, aged 9, was apprenticed out to James Barnes, a weaver.  All were children of John Hollingrake, living in the Parish of Langfield, West Yorkshire.

Some interesting facts on Apprenticeships:

  • An apprenticeship was for a period of seven years but many children were apprenticed at very young ages and often spent nine or ten years with their master. The 1563 Act determined that apprentices were bound until they were 24 years old, but this was later reduced to 21 in 1768.
  • During the Indenture period, the apprentice could not marry or start his own household. He could not gamble or visit a public house (a place selling alcoholic drinks).
  • The Stamp Act of 1709 put a tax on the Indenture and this practice lasted until 1808. Due to this practice, apprenticeship records were recorded more centrally. This is why it is often easier to find records in the period 1700s to early 1800s than after 1808. However, parishes were exempt from having to pay the tax with the result that their apprenticeship records were not recorded or accounted for in any central manner.
  • Persons aged 12-20 could not refuse an apprenticeship if a householder of sufficient means demands it, unless they are already apprenticed elsewhere. If they did refuse an apprenticeship, they could be imprisoned.
  • The Justice of the Peace was the only person who could break the agreement between apprentice and master. However, many apprentices ran away from masters who mistreated them. These masters advertised in the newspapers for the return of their apprentices. Many times a physical description of the apprentice can be found in the advertisement as seen below.

Below is an example of a newspaper advertisement asking for the return of two apprentices who left their master “without sufficient cause”.5

Abscond

The information you might find on your apprentice will vary from document to document. You may find the names of the parents enabling you to move back a generation in your research. You will often find an age given of an apprentice, allowing you to calculate an approximate year of birth. You will find the trade learned which may help in distinguishing your ancestor from someone else with the same name. You may learn, as in the Hollingrake example above, more about the family structure, including siblings.

Apprenticeship in the United States

There are several extant records for Indentures and Apprenticeships in the United States. A search on FamilySearch.org for ‘apprenticeship’ in the Keyword search box on the Catalog page will result in a list of over 1,400 hits for both the United States and England. You can refine your search further by entering a location. For example, “Apprenticeship Alabama” will result in 13 hits.  The same search terms can be used on the other genealogy research sites to locate records there.

An excellent article on the history of apprenticeship in the United States can be found at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.


  1. “Parish Apprentices,” Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, Yorkshire, 28 November 1801, page 2, col. 3; The British Newspaper Archive, (http://BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2018). 
  2. West Yorkshire, England, Rothwell Parish, Parish and Township Records Register of Apprentices, 1802-1809, unpaginated; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), images 7 & 8 of 11, line 3, entry for Sarah Fothergill, 12 October 1802. 
  3. West Riding, Yorkshire, England, Langfield Township, Apprenticeship Indentures; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), order of indenture for William Hollingrake, 12 December 1818. 
  4. West Riding, Yorkshire, England, Langfield Township, Apprenticeship Indentures; images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 September 2018), indenture of William Hollingrake, 12 December 1818. 
  5. “Apprentices Absconded,” Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, Yorkshire, 12 September 1801, page 1, col. 2; The British Newspaper Archive, (http://britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2018).