My Ancestor was an Apprentice

Stuart A Raymond (Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, 2010), A5 perfect bound, 122 pp.

This volume in the popular My Ancestor …… series is written by well-known genealogy author Stuart Raymond. Here the author looks at the long established institution of apprentices and apprenticeships, and how it is more than likely that we all have apprentices somewhere in our family histories. His confidence in this assertion is amply demonstrated in this book, showing the importance of apprenticeships to social cohesion as well as industry from the middle ages to the 19th century.

The book is in three parts; the first deals with the history of apprenticeships, the second with sources of apprentice information and the third with the extensive appendices.

The history of apprenticeships takes up the first three chapters of the book and conducts the reader through the social demography of apprentices and their masters, and how this contributed to the control of society. The author describes how the approaches to apprenticeship varied from the sons (and daughters) of the gentry, from those of the tradesmen and middle class, to the children of the poor and paupers. While the first two of these classes considered apprenticeships to be a step to a respectable and prosperous career; but for the poor, apprenticeships were more for the control of the unruly young and reduce their burden on the parish ( and with no particular attention to economic needs other than achieving the cheapest indentures available). In latter case a few lucky individuals (“the deserving poor”) might secure sponsorship from charitable institutions.

The second part of the book, in fifteen short chapters, concentrates on sources of apprentice information. This ranges from indentures and freedom registration at boroughs and guilds, through churchwarden and overseers accounts, inland revenue and charity records, court examinations and proceedings to some less obvious sources such as wills, poll books and parliamentary papers. In each of these chapters the author explains how apprentices can be identified – in some cases by attaining a status that could only be gained through apprenticeship.

The last part of the book comprises the indexes and references. Included here are some seventeen pages of sources containing apprentice information, some 230 text references. At the end there are two indexes – one of place names, and the other of subjects and names, which make finding appropriate references easy for the reader.

This book is well laid out, easily digestible, and given the breadth of the association of early modern lives with apprenticeship makes this both an invaluable guide to all family historians, and essential to most in their research and is thoroughly recommended to our members.

Tony Roberts

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