Twenty-five years ago today, I submitted the first draft of my master’s essay prospectus to Professor Barbara J. Fields of Columbia University. The thesis itself took another year-and-a-half to complete. In between, I submerged myself in the North Carolina State Archives and the literature of free people of color and forged an unwavering fascination with their time and place in Southern antebellum history. Though I found frustratingly little direct evidence of my own ancestors’ apprenticeship, I gained a depth of understanding of their circumstances and community that has served my genealogical research well.