How our ancestors were educated (or not!) (Part 2)

Without any formal schooling, how how else were our ancestors educated and and what records may exist?

Many of our ancestors would have learned their trade through practical experience.

Apprenticeship Indentures

A written contract binding the apprentice to his or her master was a bipartite agreement or Indenture  and was nearly always a private arrangement between the master and the parent or guardian of the child. Indeed, the master was frequently a friend or relation or found on personal recommendation. Some trades kept apprenticeship very much in the family, and their expertise became the monopoly of a small handful of connected families.

Parish indentures were important documents (required from 1601), sworn before a Justice of the Peace by the overseers and the churchwardens. Two copies were made, one for the master and one for the parish. The master had a legal obligation to feed, clothe and impart the mysteries of his trade for the duration of the contract. By the 17th century the system had been expanded to include not only children of the poor and needy, but also the children of the middle classes and even gentry who found themselves under economic pressure. Typically, children of the latter would be bound out to manufacturers, merchants and the professions.

1563 Statue of Artificers first required written contracts for apprenticeships although official records were not retained until later. From 1710 to 1811 masters paid stamp duty for taking on apprentices. Details of the stamp duty paid were recorded in apprenticeship books. Search the apprenticeship books from 1710 to 1811 (IR 1) on (charges apply) by name of master.

The apprenticeship books are divided into Town Registers (London) and Country Registers (elsewhere), depending on where the stamp duty was paid. There are original indexes of masters to some of these registers, available to view online, in IR 1/74–79.

If the apprenticeship was in Middlesex or one of the home counties the duty may have been paid in London and the details entered in one of the London registers.

The payment could be made at the start of the apprenticeship or any time up to one year after the expiry of the indenture.

Indexes to apprenticeship books (1710–1774) can be browsed on

Freedom Admission Papers / Freedom Admission Books

A freeman of a company would usually have proceeded to the Freedom of the City of London. The “alphabets” to Freedom Admission Papers (1681-2, 1688-1783) and Freedom Admission Books (1784-1940) provide an in important centralised Index to City of London Livery Company members and apprenticeships.

They are arranged chronologically by the surname initial and are deposited at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)16 and have been made available online (up to 1925)

Freedom admission papers can record many biographical details about the individual to whom Freemen status is awarded making this collection of particular interest to genealogists. Many of the documents in this collection are “indentures” or sealed agreements for things like apprenticeship agreements. The original document was made with all copies on the same page of parchment. An “indented” or wavy line was drawn between these copies, which were then cut apart straight through the wavy line. When brought together later these copies could be realigned or “tallied” by matching the indented lines.

Information in this database:

•              Surname

•              Date of indenture

•              Parent or guardian’s name

•              County of residence

•              Master’s name

Trade Directories

Trade directories date from the mid-17th century providing a single alphabetical list of names of merchants and giving the location of their premises. Published by the Post Office, Kelly and White, but also by numerous smaller publishers. Only those who paid were included.

They were arranged alphabetically by the nature of the business with those outside London giving physical, historical, ecclesiastical and social descriptions of each district, together with listings of trades people and of gentry and private individuals; for larger towns, the different trades are listed separately, but that is not the case for rural communities.

The information printed in a directory will be about one year out of date by the time that it is published. They can be found at The Guildhall Library, the Society of Genealogists and at IHGS with various directories available online at,, and

Specialist published sources

For those professional ancestors, such as lawyers and doctors, tracing details for their career following their formal education, there are specialist sources available, including, but not limited to:

Law: Brownes General Law List 1775-97; New Law List 1797-1840; The Law list 1841-1976

Medicine: Medical Directory 1845 onwards; Roll of College of Physicians 1518-2001; Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England by Victor Plarr

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