Your Guide to Finding and Using Apprenticeship(Guild) and Indenture Records for Genealogical Research


Apprenticeship agreements (often called indentures) were common in colonial America, following traditions long in place in the old country. Apprenticeships were a means by which a young person was taught a trade and an established master of that trade obtained help. Some trades still require apprenticeships. Many apprenticeships were privately arranged and there is no documentation, but many indentures were officially recorded.

Indentures were legal agreements and could be recorded even if the child served an apprenticeship under the father or a close family member. The contract usually stipulated the names of both parties, the length of the contract, and the conditions by which both must abide. In general, the master was required to train the apprentice in a trade, provide food, shelter and clothing and perhaps some formal education. The apprentice was to serve the master, behave well and honorably and not pass on trade secrets. These agreements were recorded in a court. If your ancestor engaged in trade, you will want to look for indenture records in the appropriate locality. Often they are with the deeds, but may be found in probate or orphans' court records, with guardianships.
You may find them in books labeled "Minute Books". In some New England towns, they may be in the town records.

There are also connected records. Not all apprenticeships ran smoothly and troubles were sometimes ironed out in the courts. Runaways were not uncommon and advertisements in local newspapers often named and described the absent apprentice.

Not all indenture records are for true apprenticeships. Some record an agreement whereby a child, usually of a poor family, is "bound out" either to earn an income for the family, or to provide for the child when the family can't or if the child is orphaned. Some immigrants paid for their passage to the new world by signing or being bound by agreements to work for a certain number of years to pay off the cost of the transportation.

Definitions and explanations :
Hatcher. Wordscape: Apprenticeships and Indentures

Encyclopedia of Genealogy:

History of Apprenticeship

Finding Age with Apprenticeship records

Apprenticeship Records for the Family Historian (covers UK apprenticeship records)

How to find apprenticeship and indenture records:

Family History Library * abstracted and published in books * on the web * newspaper ads for runaways

To find if apprenticeship records are available through the Family History Library, search the FHL catalog keyword search, using words that might be found anywhere in the record. The best search will include the name of the state + either the word apprentice or apprenticeship or indenture or occupation.

Some examples of keyword searches that will yield results include:

  • Massachusetts Apprenticeship (note that the word apprenticeship is on the film notes page)
  • Maine Indenture (results indicate that some indenture records are found in at least a few town records)
  • Pennsylvania Apprentice (note that in Chester Co. Pennsylvania, some apprenticeship records are with a Justice of the Peace book of marriage record )
  • South Carolina Occupations (while none of the results are specific to apprenticeships, you get an idea of further records that might be available for given trades and professions)

Several books have been published with abstracts of apprenticeship and indentures.

Examples of types of material relating to apprenticeships you might find on the web:


Jefferson County Indiana Apprenticeship Records (abstracts)


The Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association Records 1791-1995 ar held at the Massachusetts Historical Society. These records do not include indenture records, but members served apprenticeships. Only the finding aids are available online.


Apprenticeship Records as Sources for Genealogy (UK)
Indenturship record (UK)