Every time we go back a generation, we double the number of ancestors that we can add to our family tree, except when we come across an illegitimate child. As the base born child was baptised with the mother’s surname, it is normally very difficult to find out the name of the father. Where would you start looking?
Some apprenticeships were organised by the overseers of the poor in a parish in order to enable a poor child to provide for himself and his family in future years. These documents may be found in the parish chest and can often give a little more information than expected.
For example, an apprentice indenture, dated 12th January 1772, found in the Down Hatherley records, relates to young William Gibbs and informs us that William was the son of the late John Gibbs who was a labourer from the hamlet of Wotton, and that his mother was Dorothy who was then married to John Finch of Wotton, also a labourer. William was being apprenticed to John Blanch who was a cordwainer in Down Hatherley.
Many years later, on 28th February 1801, William Gibbs was declaring to the overseers that George Piff of Down Hatherley had his apprenticeship indenture. No reason was given for why he did not have it himself.
A week later, William Gibbs was examined by the authorities – presumably he had become dependent on the parish for some reason. In his examination on 4th March 1801, he declared that he had been born in the hamlet of Wotton in the parish of St Mary de Lode and, about 27 years before, had been apprenticed to John Blanch of Down Hatherley, cordwainer, with whom he had served 5 years. This qualified William for settlement in Down Hatherley and therefore to support from the parish.
On 6th March 1801, the overseers of Down Hatherley were ordered to pay William Gibbs the vast sum of 3 shillings per week.
Early tradesmen and women were organised into guilds. Today, there are over 100 guilds, each with its own crest and associated patron saint, a list of which can be found online. Some archives exist, consisting of information on apprentices, freemen, minutes of meetings and requests for help from petitioners. However, there is no central repository of their records; most are based in London at their guild headquarters. Some information, particularly on apprentices and freemen may be found locally. For Gloucestershire, we have two good books which contain transcripts on apprentices between 1595 and 1834 and their masters and one which lists freemen from 1641 to 1838. These records don’t necessarily relate to a Gloucestershire person – either the apprentice, the master or even the freeman could be from another county. An example of an entry in the Apprentices book is:
Ref: 1/549 1641 Nov 1
Draper, John son of Thomas, upholsterer, dec’d, of Gloucester to Plomer, Robert & Christian, 8 years, pewterer, 20s.
Check out my chapter on Apprentices and Freemen to find out more about guilds, apprentices, masters and freemen.
For many years I tried to find a link between my Worcestershire Gwinnetts and the Gloucestershire family without success. Then, thanks to an index to Gloucestershire Overseers of the Poor documents, I located a settlement certificate from the overseers of Painswick to their colleagues in Bewdley, stating that they did ‘own and acknowledge’ Richard Gwinnett of Painswick and his wife Ann and their issue. This meant that, should Richard fail to support himself and his family once he settled in Bewdley, Painswick parish would pay any costs incurred in supporting him and removing him to his home county. Read more about settlements and removals in my latest book.
The parish chest included vestry minutes. The vestry was the name given to the early equivalent of the current parish council and was the main body for administering the parish in days gone by. It would appoint the parish officers who were the churchwardens, the overseers of the poor, the highway surveyor, the petty constable, and the parish clerk and would oversee their work and their accounts. The many tasks of the vestry included setting a rate for the parish (sometimes done by the overseers of the poor), and ensuring its collection, caring for the poor, sick and elderly, upholding the law, maintaining the roads and keeping the church in good repair. Anything that occurred in the affairs of the other parish officials could also be discussed in the vestry meetings. The topics dealt with can be seen from the various vestry minutes that have survived. Whilst the vestry minutes are not generally as informative of family affairs as other parish chest documents may be, they should not be ignored in the search for more information on your ancestors, you may find a fascinating entry relating to your ancestor. For instance, in the Painswick vestry minutes, you could discover that, on 17th March, 1771, the vestry ordered that the two children of Joseph Scott be removed to the isolation of the local pest house because they were suffering from smallpox.
There’s more in the parish chest than baptism, marriage and burial registers. Back in the 16th century, each parish was required to purchase a strong oak chest, with three locks and keys, to hold the church silver, the parish registers and other documents necessary for the administration of the parish. This followed on from the Poor Law Act of 1522 which had ordered a similar chest to be bought to hold securely the alms collected for the poor. The three keys were to be given to the bishop, the minister and a religious layman.
If you have finished searching the registers and want to know more about your ancestor’s life in a parish, look at the settlements and removals, the apprenticeship records and the bastardy bonds (We’ve all got some of those!). Check out Chapter 1 in my latest book, Discover Gloucestershire Ancestors, Volume 2.