Free People of Color in Apprenticeship Records

March 12th, 2018 by National Genealogical Society Blog Editor

Title: Studying Free People of Color in Apprentice Records
Session: S448
Time & Date: Saturday, 05 May 2018, 2:30 pm

Apprentice records offer an abundance of great information when studying free people of color. While some apprentice contracts may plainly demonstrate an alternative source of free labor; others could offer subtle clues that place an apprenticed child in between census years, validate oral history claims, or demonstrate how a father could legally protect and provide for his illegitimate children. Used in conjunction with other research, apprentice records can add rich and colorful detail to an ancestor’s surroundings, education, livelihood, and family life. They can also offer insight into the business, private lives, and intimate relations of free people of color and the white communities they lived in.

Understanding the legal status of men, women and children, both white and black, during the time period is vital. From early colonial America through the Reconstruction Era, free African American children were apprenticed to local masters for a variety of reasons. This session will talk about how free people of color existed within antebellum communities. It will discuss how Black Codes laws affected their movements, and the causes of voluntary and involuntary servitude. It will discuss the importance of researching state and federal laws governing free African Americans and apprenticeship. The presentation will also examine the responsibilities and motives of the master.

A case study will show the daughters of three generations of a free African American family that were apprenticed to numerous masters during the 19th century. The case study will illustrate how the free family of color fared and maneuvered – living among the enslaved community and slave masters.

ABOUT: Ari Wilkins is a staff member of Dallas Public Library Genealogical Division. Ms. Wilkins has spoken nationally at National Genealogical Society, Federation of Genealogical Societies, Ohio Genealogy Society and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research. Ari teaches basic research classes for genealogical databases  and methodology. She specializes in African American research.