WAs your ancestor an apprentice?

Apprenticeship is one of the most famous and enduring features of British history. Yet we know very little about how time spent as an apprentice fitted into the lives of people in the past. We are asking for your help to fill in this gap in historical knowledge.

Thanks to the painstaking work of a generation of researchers, lists of apprentices exist for many guilds and towns and cities. If you can help us connect someone who appeared as an apprentice in one of these to evidence about their family then we can understand much more about how apprenticeship worked.

If you have identified an ancestor of yours in one of the lists of apprentices in London or any other British town or city (or village!), then you could make a valuable contribution.

What kind of historical questions will this help us answer?

How important was kinship in training? We know that many apprentices trained with people they do not seem to have been related to. This willingness to share skills outside the family seems like a distinctive feature of European history. But we can’t be sure whether apprentices were really joining unrelated masters unless we know about their extended families: if we have their mother’s maiden name, the names of their aunts and uncles, or their cousins, then we can spot connections that we might otherwise miss.

Where did apprentices go after they trained? We know that a lot of apprentices disappear from the records of the guild or town where they trained. Fewer than half seem to join the guild! So where did they go? Did they return home? Did they move elsewhere? If you have found your ancestor later on, maybe through a will, maybe through parish records, maybe some other way, then this will help solve a big puzzle in how migration worked in the past.

Who did former apprentices marry? It’s easy to imagine that – like Dick Whittington – they married their master’s daughter. But did that happen? Or did they look back to a girl back home? The answer to this helps us understand how families were formed and the balance between different reasons for marriage.

How can you help?

All you need to do to help is to share part or all of your family tree, along with the information on who was the apprentice! To find out how to do this, read the directions on the how to contribute page.