The gateway to Europe are the indentured servants,” observed Nathan Murphy MA, AG, of FamilySearch International. Murphy gave a talk titled, “My Ancestor Came to Colonial America as an Indentured Servant” during the Thursday morning session of the National Genealogical Society Conference held in Richmond, Virginia. “The point is, indentured servants are the immigrants that help trace family back to the old country and extend the pedigree,” explained Murphy. “Identifying immigrants is the first step to tracing origins.” Following are Murphy’s tips for finding and tracing an indentured servant in your own line, with a focus on English ancestry.
Who Were They?
An indentured servant is someone who agreed to serve as a servant for a given amount of time in America in exchange for free passage to the Americas. According to Murphy’s lecture, 3 out of 4 immigrants to colonial America were indentured servants.
From England, the major ports of departure were London, Bristol and Liverpool, with most going to Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Barbados.
According to Murphy, a study of London records concluded that the top 3 reasons for choosing indentured servitude were: 1) fatherless (no inheritance), 2) friendless (no social contacts to obtain work), and 3) released from prison.
Murphy explained not all were voluntary servants. Some were “Redemptioners.” These were more common amongst German colonists. Redemptioners were people who agreed to pay passage upon arrival (perhaps family in America had already paid). If they couldn’t come up with money, they were sold as indentured servants. Others may have been convicts who were exiled from the home country for crimes.
How Do I Find Genealogical Records About Them?
The following table, based on the one presented by Murphy, explains potential sources of family history information.
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