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An ancestor who worked in a craft or trade during the 19th century or earlier may have served an apprenticeship. He, less commonly she, was probably aged 13 to 16 when they were 'bound' or 'indentured', but in certain circumstances and for some trades they may have been younger or older.
An Act of 1710 made stamp duty payable on indentures of apprenticeship and registers recording payment were kept from 1710 to 1811 (The Oxford Companion to Family & Local History). Records were made of the name of the apprentice, their master, term of apprenticeship, fees paid, location and, in some periods, the name of the apprentice's father and his trade.
A typical register entry follows for Jno Woods, whose master was Robert Paddon, draper of New Brentford. Paddon received a fee of £150, for providing a 5-year apprenticeship from 25 Aug 1790. The entry spans two pages in the register and Woods is the third apprentice recorded (find out more about Paddon's other apprentices).
Some online sources of apprenticeship records follow; at the end are links to free resources.
Records of London's Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) (free)
ROLLCO (1) below: records of Apprentices and Freemen for 11 City of London Livery Companies between 1400 and 1900, searchable by name, occupation and place. The year, not the exact date, is given - fine for most purposes.
The link between the Company and actual craft or trade was lost over time: a Merchant Taylor was not necessarily a tailor, in a similar way that a freemason is unlikely to be a mason in modern times. Membership of a company conferred benefits: 'Membership of one was essential if you wanted to make your own way in life'. Checks of company websites suggest these now are primarily social and charitable organisations.
The 11 companies covered by ROLLCO follow in alphabetical order; the number in square brackets is the order of precedence in the list of 110 Livery Companies:
More recently formed Companies are the Company of World Traders and Company of Information Technologists.
Summary of online apprenticeship records
These three subscription websites have record sets:Findmypast (FMP); Ancestry (Anc) and TheGenealogist (Gen). Each offers search facilities by name and date, sometimes by place too. In some cases the original register can be viewed, see final column in the table below. An entry may be split over two pages, as in the example above, so check the next page too
Findmypast has other record sets for specific places or trades, for example
Links to free sites
Records of London Livery Companies online (ROLLCO) at https://www.londonroll.org/ has a free searchable database of records for 11 Livery Companies.
LondonLives has general information about apprenticeships at https://www.londonlives.org/static/IA.jsp#toc2; it also has many other indexed and viewable records for the period up to 1820.
Carpenter and joiner apprentices and masters: more links available.>
Inspiring City at https://inspiringcity.com/2013/07/27/the-great-12-livery-companies-of-the-city-of-london/ has information about the history of the 12 most powerful livery companies.
The Oxford Companion to Family & Local History, several editions published since 1996 by the Oxford University Press, has a useful section on apprenticeship.
If you have any links to other apprenticeship records, please get in touch so they can be added.
Page published July 2021