Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A guild is an association of skilled tradesmen and craftsmen organized to promote and protect their craft and "trade secrets,' which today might be termed "intellectual property." In Europe, trade guilds date back to the eleventh century, and encompassed many trades: literally, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Admission to a guild could be inherited, acquired through an apprenticeship, or could be conferred upon select individuals. Even women could be admitted to a guild through the death of a father or husband. Because trade guilds were a powerful and yet closed society, they were often held in suspicion. The Freemasons is perhaps the most highly visible guild still in existence, and has been the subject of much speculation.
As trade guilds existed into the nineteenth century and played such a prominent role in the community, those who practiced any number of trades could have been involved. And there are guild records, which can contain information of interest to researchers, including lists of members, the names and dates of appointments or advancements, and possibly some personal information about guild members. Guild records are usually found in local archives. The GenWeekly article, A Freeman of City of London ($)," provides some interesting insights.