Quaker-Roots Finding Your Quaker Roots


From Cheska Wheatley, Fidonet Genealogy Conference, 1995

The Society of Friends (Quakers) probably maintained the most detailed records of any church save the Church of England. The body which maintained the vital records of most interest to genealogists is the Monthly Meeting which served a number of meetings for worship within its jurisdiction. Sometimes a Monthly Meeting served a very wide area, crossing counties and even states or a large city where there was a large population such as Philadelphia had four or five Monthly Meetings. Like county boundaries, the areas served by a particular MM varied over time. As Quakers moved into a new area such as North Carolina, new Mms were set off from older ones and as people moved on MMs were consolidated or laid down. There was no central repository for these records which were generally maintained by the MM. That would make our search too simple!

Each MM had at least three books. The men's minutes, the women's minutes, and the book of marriages, births and burials. Certificates of removal were recorded and issued in men's and women's minute books. Many of these books have been lost over the years, some remain with Mms that are still functioning, others have been turned over to the Yearly Meeting, and others can be found in the libraries of several Quaker Colleges, e.g., Swarthmore in PA; & Guilford College in NC. William Wade Hinshaw abstracted many of the original records and they are contained in six volumes entitled the " of American Quaker Genealogy".

These are available in most genealogy libraries and have recently been reprinted by the Gen. Publ. Co. They are also available in every FHC on the microfiche set which contains the 300 most frequently consulted genealogy reference books. They are also available on microfilm through the FHL and can be purchased from AGLL. There is also a volume referred to as "Hinshaw VII" which was compiled by Willard Heiss and contains many of the Indiana records. These cover most of the most popular meetings but by no means all of them.

Start with your local FHC. Check the microfiche collection I referred to. If you can find Vol. VII, it has an excellent explanation of what can be found in the Quaker records, explanations of abbreviations commonly found in the abstractions and lists of various meetings. If you can print this off, it is a great reference to keep on hand. Use the FHL catalog, checking under the author "Society of Friends" should provide a list of their microfilmed copies of the original records. Check also the locality catalog under the county you are interested in and then Church records. Here you will usually find any abstractions that have been done for meetings in that area.

Once you find you have one Quaker line, you will soon find you have many Quaker lines since "good" Quakers were required to marry within the Society and would be disowned for marrying a non-member. Another plus in Quaker research is that their migration patterns were very predictable. Families and individuals received permission from the Monthly Meeting and were issued certificates to move to another meeting. When they reached their destination, these certificates were deposited with the new MM. Both the granting and receipt of certificates were recorded in the minutes. Once you connect to a family that were practicing Quakers it is relatively easy to track them from meeting to meeting. Even when the books of a meeting are missing entirely, you will quickly learn where to expect them next and can usually find the family in the general vicinity.

The hardest part is finding a link between those Quakers who left the society and their earlier ancestors who were practicing Quakers. If you find the marriage of the person you are after in the county records this usually means the person was not a practicing Quaker as the Society did not believe in marriage by a justice of the peace and members who did marry outside of meeting would also be disowned. When you can't find a county marriage record, this is a good sign that you may have your practicing Quaker! If you still can't find the person you are looking for in the nearby Quaker minutes, then go through the land records and look for clues as to where they came from. Check wills as they will give lots of clues since the Quakers also believed in being financially responsible for their families so wills are probably more common among the Quakers than most other groups.

My Quaker lines have been the most enjoyable to research. Not only are the records great but you will find many cousins on any given BB who readily share information with one another. Afterall, we are a "Friendly" bunch!

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