U.S. Quaker Research (Society of Friends)
Quakerism in America began in Rhode Island in 1657. The earliest Quaker settlements were in New England, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. From these states Quakers migrated in the mid- to late- 1700s to Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Then in the 1800s they spread into the Midwest, Oregon, California, and Canada. Quakerism was founded in 1647 by George Fox, who also established a rich system of record keeping.
Quaker meetings were organized by geographic areas consisting mainly of Preparative Meetings (Particular Meetings), Monthly Meetings, Quarterly Meetings, and Yearly Meetings. Records of Monthly Meetings hold the most vital information for genealogists. They may contain a history of the meeting, lists of members, marriages, deaths, removals, and disownings. Quakers did not practice baptism.
The following clues may indicate that your ancestor was a Quaker:
- In your ancestor’s records, months of the year are recorded as numbers rather than by their names.
- Male ancestors do not appear in military records.
- Your ancestors lived in an area where there was a high concentration of Quakers.
In 1750 Quakerism was the third largest religion in the British colonies with about 250 monthly meetings. By 1775 it had slipped to fifth place with 320 meetings. There were several separations in Quakerism beginning with the Hicksites in 1828.
Search abstracts of Monthly Meeting records
Search William Wade Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, on compact disc no. 9, part 192, or in FHL book 973 D2he and 977.2 K28h. These books contain abstracts of many, but not all Monthly Meetings. The first six volumes (FHL book 973 D2he and on compact disc) were compiled by William Wade Hinshaw. The compact disc indexes all six volumes and is available at the Library Attendant window on the third floor of the Family History Library. The books are found in the U.S. and Canada books on the third floor.
Vol. 1: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee Vol. 2: Pennsylvania and New Jersey Vol. 3: New York City and Long Island Vol. 4-5: Southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and one meeting in Michigan Vol. 6: Virginia Vol. 7: Indiana (FHL book 977.2 K28h. Abstract of Records of the Society of Friends in Indiana). Volume 7 for Indiana has a different title and call number: FHL book 977.2 K28h. Abstract of the Records of the Society of Friends in Indiana.
A card index of names intended for future volumes of this series is in The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Quaker Meeting Records in the Friends Library in Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. It is on 73 FHL films beginning with FHL film 2164.
- Choose the volume for your state and become familiar with the format of the book. Read the introductory material to determine what records were extracted and what may be missing. There are several alphabetical sequences within each monthly meeting. Search them all for your family’s surname(s). Search all monthly meetings in the state if you are not sure which monthly meeting your ancestor belonged to.
- If your ancestor is in these abstracts, copy the page containing the information because there may be many details you need to study. See the front of each volume for a list of abbreviations used.
- Search the card index using the Family History Library Catalog Film/Fiche Search. Type in the beginning film number 2164. Click on the title and the View Film Notes button to find the number of the film you need for the state and surname of your ancestor.
Find where records of Monthly Meetings are located
Use FHL book 973 K22h 1998. Monthly Meetings in North America; A Quaker Index. 4th ed., rev. Thomas C. Hill. Cincinnati, Ohio: Thomas C. Hill, 1998. This book can be found in the Church section of the U.S. and Canada reference areas of the Family History Library. The book lists all known monthly meetings in alphabetical order, with their locations, dates of existence, known records, and location of the records. Use the Geographical Index on page 420 to see which Monthly Meetings were held in a specific state or county.
Example of an entry from Monthly Meetings in North America
Many Family History Library microfilm numbers are listed in this book. They appear in the Where Records Kept field, preceded by LDS. If film numbers are listed, write them on your research log. If there are no FHL film numbers, skip to the section on contacting other repositories.
Find the Monthly Meeting records
- If Thomas Hill’s book lists more than one FHL film number, type these film numbers into the Family History Library Catalog Film/Fiche Search. Click on the title and the View Film Notes button to find the film number that includes the time period when your ancestor may have been listed. Write down the films you plan to search on your research log.
- Find the film, put it on the reader, and search the Monthly Meeting for your ancestor’s name.
- If you did not find the film number in the book above, you may find additional Quaker records by looking in the Family History Library Catalog Place Search under the name of the town and the topic Church Records.
Contact other repositories for Quaker records
The Family History Library does not have copies of all Quaker records. Many records are available only in selected archives, libraries, and other repositories. Use Thomas Hill’s book to determine where records for your ancestors might be. Some of those repositories are listed below.
- Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College 500 College Ave. Swarthmore, PA 19081-1905 Telephone: 610-328-8497 Internet address: www.swarthmore.edu/fhl.xml This library has microfilms of monthly meetings, manuscript collections, and more. They have a searchable online catalog.
- Friends Historical Collection, Hege Library, Guilford College 5800 W. Friendly Ave. Greensboro, NC 27410-1408 Internet address: www.guilford.edu/library/fhc/ The collection includes the written records of North Carolina Society of Friends from 1680 to the present, printed and microfilmed copies of other Friends records, personal and family papers, the college archives, printed materials by and about Quakers worldwide, and other sources for studying Quaker family history.
- For other repositories see chapter 8 of Our Quaker Ancestors below.
Search other sources Study the history of Quakerism and its separations so you can locate records. Look in the Family History Library Catalog using the keyword or subject search for Quakers. For an overview of Quaker history and record keeping, see: • FHL book 973 D27bq, Our Quaker Ancestors: Finding Them in Quaker Records by Ellen Thomas Berry and David Allen Berry. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 1987.
The following Internet addresses provide links to other sites on the internet with information on Quakers.
- The Quaker Corner is available at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~quakers/
- Cyndi’s List is available at www.cyndislist.com/quaker.htm
- The Religious Society of Friends at http://www.quaker.org/