Two of my direct ancestors were Ship Carpenters:

  • my 4th great grandfather Hugh Sillars was first noted as such in the 1841 Scotland Census: Hugh Sillars 37 Agnes Sillars 30 Robert Sillars 9 Agnes Sillars 8 Hugh Sillars 6 Birth year: abt 1804 Gender: Male Where born: Scotland Civil Parish: Barony County: Lanarkshire Address: Slip Dock Occupation: S Carp J Parish Number: 622; and his son
  • my 3rd great grandfather Robert Sellars was first noted as such in the 1855 New York State Census: Name: Robert Sellers Birth Year: abt 1831 Age: 24 Gender: Male Relation to Head: Head Of Household (Head) Residence: Albany City, Ward 6, Albany, New York, USA Household number: 2 Line Number: 36 Sheet Number: 11 Household Members: Robert Sellers 24 Margaret Clacker 25 Hugh Sellers 5 Robert John Stephen Sellers 1

When he married Margaret Clacher on 1 Feb 1850 at Glasgow, Robert's occupation was given as Carpenter.

Was there an established apprenticeship path for Ship Carpenters in/near Glasgow that these two would have followed? If so, what records are likely to have survived?

Some earlier questions about these two men, which may provide additional context, are:

2 Answers 2


I can only suggest that you try the possibly lengthy process of looking in the catalogues of the National Records of Scotland (former National Archives of Scotland) and any local archives for Glasgow. I am not optimistic, however. "Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: The Official Guide", published by the NRS, has a set of paragraphs on apprentices but I saw nothing obvious for your case.

One aspect is that most discussion of Scottish apprenticeship records is based on Guild records. Such apprenticeships were aimed as much at getting people trained up to run a business as to be a qualified craftsman. You only need to look at the number of weavers in Dundee (my ancestral town) and compare it to the number of apprentices in Guild records to realise that the vast majority of weavers did not serve formal 7-year apprenticeships (with the Guild) but were simply trained on the job - for which there would generally be no formal documentation.

I have no idea what the scale of ship-building and ship-building businesses was in that area and era. It may be that there were lots of tiny family run businesses, in which case the survival rate of documents held by the company is unlikely to be good. Would there be Guild related apprenticeships? Again, I don't know - you'd need to investigate the trades that the Glasgow Guilds covered. Could there be non-Guild related apprenticeships? Possibly, particularly if the Guilds did not cover ship-building? (I'm speculating to try to suggest avenues of research). After all, my 4G GF served a formal apprenticeship as a Ship Carpenter (in Cheshire, not Scotland) without any Guilds being around. However, the only evidence for this is the indenture(?) that has been passed down through the family. It seems to me that one place that these records survive is not in the company archives, but in the records of the solicitors or local courts that drew up these agreements or recorded them. That's certainly the case for apprenticeship records in Cheshire Archives - they often seem to be associated with material from solicitors.

To be clear - virtually all the above is speculation intended to suggest possible contexts to evolve avenues of research. You might do better on a specialist mailing list / board for ship-building or Glasgow.

  • Many thanks for your insights. Do you think that Hugh's "Occupation: S[hip] Carp[enter] J[ourneyman]" is an indication that there probably was something at least semi-formal in the way of apprenticeship for him, if not his son (who may have learned the trade from him)?
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 12, 2015 at 22:49
  • It's tempting but I suspect that the term "journeyman" (which indeed has a meaning in the formal apprentice system) could be used just as often to distinguish a Ship Carpenter who did the work from a Ship Carpenter who ran the business. The English language isn't very good at distinguishing those two concepts without adding in extra words like that.
    – AdrianB38
    Apr 13, 2015 at 8:58

A ship's carpenter was responsible for building the hull of the ship, the masts, etc. Any type of carpenter (joiner) would be eligible for membership in a guild (of joiners), but would not be obligated to join. A journeyman means that they are beyond their apprenticeship and are free to work unsupervised and charge their own daily or weekly fees.

He may or may not have worked for a specific shipping company. He may have simply gone among them - wherever the work was available or a joiner was needed.

Govan, a part of Glasgow, was a HUGE ship building area with several dozen shipyards. The largest two were Fairfield and John Brown shipping companies.

Glasgow archives at the Mitchell library would likely be of assistance. They hold all archival material for Glasgow, including the guild records. Here's the link: http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/libraries/the-mitchell-library/archives/pages/home.aspx

All of the Upper Clyde shipping records are available at the National Archives, now the National Records of Scotland, in Edinburgh. Their online catalogue has been unavailable for several weeks as they transition (rather unsuccessfully) to an amalgamated website.

I would start with the Glasgow archives and see what you can find from them. Further to that, you may want to contact the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society - the genealogy society for Glasgow to see what assistance they may be able to offer you. Here's the link to them: http://www.gwsfhs.org.uk/

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    May 5, 2015 at 20:10

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