Have you ever wondered whether there could be another definition for a familiar word? That’s my case with the word, orphan.

I recently uncovered several apprenticeship documents in Ohio County, Kentucky, that refer to John Thompson as a 14 year old orphan. Having assumed that an orphan is a child who has lost both parents, I searched the order books prior to the apprenticeship for a mention of the death of John’s father. So far, I have not found a record for a Thompson death in Ohio county, Kentucky prior to John’s apprenticeship in 1810.

Since Anthony Thompson appears in multiple entries in the same Ohio County, Kentucky court order books prior to 1810, he is a potential guardian for John. A second potential guardian is William Thompson, who was appointed constable in the first district of Ohio County in 1805. Unfortunately, I have not found any mention of a guardian for John Thompson in those Ohio county court order books.

Could one of these men been John’s guardian and arranged for the apprenticeship so John could learn a trade? If so, where is a guardian record? If so, why aren’t they mentioned in the apprenticeship record?

Perhaps, I need to broaden my understanding of the word, orphan. A check of the Merriam-Webster dictionary confirms that my interpretation of the word orphan to mean the loss of both parents is too narrow an interpretation.

a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents.


For the legal definition of the term, I turned to The Law Dictionary, where I also found a broader definition.

Any person (but particularly a minor or infant) who has lost both (or one) of his or her parents. More particularly, a fatherless child.


Based on these broader definitions of the word orphan, it is possible that John’s mother was still living. If so, a re-marriage may have pushed John Thompson out of the household and thus needing to be apprenticed.

Thus, my search for guardian records continues and may need to be broadened to other early Kentucky counties.