Tag Archives: indenture

Tuesday’s Tip – Bound Apprenticeship/Indentured Servant Records

Summer is definitely upon us where I live and the temperature combined with the humidity is making the outdoors suffocating. So what better way to beat the heat than to sit in the air-conditioning and do a little internet genealogy! That’s exactly what I was doing yesterday when I came across a very interesting article in Google’s Newspaper Archive.

The Reading Eagle newspaper of June 30, 1895 featured an article entitled “An Old Indenture – A Relic of the Apprentice System of the Last Century Now in Possession of Warden Kintzer.” The upshot is that a gentleman named L. Y. Kintzer purchased a bureau at the estate sale of Daniel Sohl of Womelsdorf. Inside the bureau was an old legal document. It was an Indenture binding a child named Thomas Shaner to an apprenticeship with “Wintel” Weant. The contract was entered into by Thomas’ step-father Philip Cole and his wife Mary, on January 7, 1793 with the term of the apprenticeship being 17 years, 1 month and 9 days!

In addition to expressing what I interpreted as a bit of shock for the practice of binding out a child for such a long servitude, the article provided a full transcription of the Indenture. I was actually quite interested in the document because the Shaner family is one that I’ve researched pretty extensively. But Indentured Servant documents were new to me. And my knowledge of the practice of binding out children as apprentices was limited. I couldn’t help thinking that there was significance to the term of the indenture. Generally speaking, I would not have thought it legally possible for a parent to bind out a child past the point of the child attaining the age of majority. It has been my understanding (for the time period in question) the legal age for a male was 21 and for a female was 18. But that would mean Thomas was being bound out prior to the age of 4! Would or could parents actually do that??

A Google search turned up an article on Indentured Servants written by Karen Mullian  for the Albuquerque Genealogical Society in Feb 1999 [link]. She writes that the average age for a child to be bound out was 14, but that poor children may have been bound out as young as 18 months to 3 years old. She further states that the indenture could have been as long as 18-20 years – until the child reached the age of majority. It appears to me that this is what happened in the case of Thomas.

While it makes me sad to think about the practice of binding out young children, finding this transcribed Indenture document has shown me that these documents can be a valuable resource for gathering information on poor families. Being that they are poor, they probably aren’t buying property or leaving wills, so this might be one of the few types of documents from which to glean information.

This particular Indenture provided the following facts: 1) Thomas Shaner’s parents were Henry and Mary; 2) Henry Shaner died prior to January 1793; 3) Mary remarried prior to January 1793 to a man named Philip Cole; 4) Philip and Mary lived in Marlborough Township in Montgomery County, PA; 5) Thomas was apprenticed to be a carpenter.

There was an addendum to this particular indenture dated March 27, 1807. It states that Thomas Shaner disliked the carpentry trade because he could not learn it. He and Mr. Weant mutally agreed that Weant would sign Shaner’s indenture over to John Soll and that Thomas would be bound to him for the balance of the term. So an additional fact we know is that Thomas was definitely still alive as of March 1807. And, in addition to the above facts, we can conclude that it is likely Thomas was born February 16. 1789 since his indenture is up on February 16, 1810.

On a personal research note, I have a Thomas Shaner with unknown parents in my database. On February 25, 1810 he married Elizabeth Kurz. The marriage was recorded at Falkner Swamp Reformed Church in Montgomery County, PA. One other bit of information in Karen Mullian’s article is that indentured servants and bound apprentices could not marry until there indenture was completed. Notice that Thomas married Elizabeth Kurz about a week after the indenture ended. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that Thomas, son of Henry and Mary, was the same Thomas who married Elizabeth, it sure is looking like a good possibility!

So, getting back to the Tuesday Tip – be sure to add Indenture documents to your list of resources.