Family History: Bonds Offer A Rich Source of Data

Note:  This information was posted on-line at Asheville and sent to me from the Caswell County, North Carolina Historical Society.
Written by Dee Gibson-Roles

Many researchers, especially novices, fail to recognize the importance of bonds in their research. There are many different types of bonds, and the information gleaned from each may vary.

A bond is an oath under seal, in which a person binds himself to perform a certain act, pay a certain sum, appear at a certain place or faithfully perform duties.

The bond remains in full effect until the conditions are met. If the conditions are not met, the bond is forfeited, and the person or persons making the bond are liable for the whole payment.

Many officials were required to post bond prior to assuming the duties of their office. This was to ensure that they would carry out the duties faithfully and honestly. These might include bonds for justices of the peace, sheriffs, constables and so on.

In most cases not only the official himself but two or more persons would also “go bond” with the official. Needless to say, these other folks were not just randomly chosen (as witnesses to wills and deeds could be), but people who knew the prospective official well and had faith and trust in him.

Of course, there were always the few officials who absconded with money and/or other valuable items, leaving the others on the bond with him to “pay the piper,” so to speak. This situation usually generated more records, such as court records, debtors’ records, sale of property to satisfy the obligation and so on.

If an ancestor seems to have suffered a financial reversal, these records may explain the reason for it. For example, in one case in Macon (later Jackson) County, two friends signed the bond with a sheriff-to-be. When that sheriff “skipped town” with funds belonging to the county, these two friends had to pay the bond, and lost most everything they had.

Apprentice bonds are also very interesting. Although a parent could request that a child be apprenticed (aka indentured) to a person to learn a trade, more often than not, apprenticed children were fatherless and sometimes orphans.

We often see in the court records that a child of a certain age is without means of support and is ordered to be brought into court to be “bound out” or apprenticed to a person (usually a male) in the community who was to teach the child a trade, and provide food, clothing, shelter and some manner of education for the child, such as teaching the child to read and write.

When the matter came before the court, the “master,” or person to whom the child was “bound,” would sign an agreement and post a bond agreeing to care for the child as ordered and provide certain things when the child became of age, such as a Bible and a new suit of clothes.For example, in one instance the child was to be taught a trade and to “read and write and figures to the mystery of three” and was to be given a saddle and two new suits of clothes when he became of age.

Sometimes the child would unofficially take the surname of the family he or she was bound to, at least for the time that he or she lived with them. Researching these bonds can close gaps in research and locate children who seem to “disappear.”

Guardian bonds are another source of valuable information. When a child’s parents were unable to care for the family or were deceased, a guardian was appointed to take care of the child, at least financially.

A child was considered an “orphan” if the father was deceased although the mother was alive and well and raising the family. In this case the guardian would see to it that the child or children were cared for and had what they needed.

The guardian was required to post a bond assuring that he would handle the child’s affairs in an honest manner, and he was required to make a yearly report to the court with an accounting of expenses incurred in caring for the child or children. Researchers can often track a child through the years with these bonds and reports.

Also, the parents or at least the father of the child was often named in the bond and sometimes even the death date of the father and/or mother was given. Often the ages of the children at the time the guardianship was established were also listed.

Next week, we’ll cover three other types of bonds: administrators’ bonds, bastardy bonds and marriage bonds.


Through this monthly column, Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society volunteers address particular family histories as well as genealogical research in general. To submit questions about your family or others, please specify that it is for the Family History column and send to the society via snail mail to P.O. Box 2122, Asheville, NC 28802-2122 or via e-mail to For more information, call 253-1894.



Family History: Bonds Offer A Rich Source of Data — 1 Comment

  1. Very interesting. Another tool to find ancestors. Never thought of this.Thank you Vicki.

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