Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada

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Quakers (Society of Friends)

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) arose in England in the 17th century, inspired by the message of George Fox. Early Friends immigrated to America during this period. The first Quakers to settle in Canada came from the United States during the American War of Independence. Friends were early pioneers in frontier areas of Upper Canada, including York, Prince Edward, Grey and Elgin Counties. While earlier attempts at settlement had been made in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and at Farnham in Quebec, these were not lasting, but permanent communities were realized at Adolphustown on the Bay of Quinte and at the same time at Pelham in the Niagara District.

These first settlements of Canadian Quakers continued in attachment to the parent New York and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings from whence they had come. Consequently, the separations which affected the Society in America produced similar results among the meetings in Canada, culminating in the great Schism of 1828. One group of Hicksite Friends was first organized as Genesee Yearly Meeting in 1834. It later became affiliated with Friends General Conference. A second group called Orthodox Friends of Canada Yearly Meeting claimed, as their name implied, to be the continuing body of Friends after the separation of 1828. It was first organized as an independent Yearly Meeting in 1867 and later became affiliated with the Five Years Meeting of Friends (now Friends United Meeting). The third group, called The Conservative Friends of Canada Yearly Meeting was organized in 1885 following the so-called Wilburite Separation. This group was associated with similar Conservative Meetings in the United States. Terms referring to the three Yearly Meetings in Canada can be confusing but those used hereafter, and which were used consistently through Yearly Meeting minutes prior to union are: Canada Yearly Meeting (Five Years Meeting), Canada Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and Genesee Yearly Meeting (General Conference).

The Quakers came to what is now Canada with a strong sense of religious guidance; they provided for their community by building schools, Meeting Houses and Burying Grounds. They contributed in many ways to the religious and social life of the communities in which they lived. Though small in numbers today, the Religious Society of Friends is an active faith community in Canada.[1]

Information in the Records[edit | edit source]

Records are found in "monthly meeting" records. Most Quaker meeting records include births, marriages and deaths as well as certificates of removal when a member moved from one congregation (meeting) to another.

  • Birth records (found in monthly meeting records) include child's name, date of birth, place of residence, father's occupation, witnesses.
  • Marriage records include names of the bride and groom (including maiden name), parents' names, everyone's place of residence, witnesses
  • Death records might include parent's names, life sketches
  • New Member entries may include birth and marriage information for every family member.
  • Removals: tells the new monthly meeting where they move
  • Disciplinary actions

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.


Canadian Quaker Archives and Library
Canadian Yearly Meeting Archives
Pickering College
16945 Bayview Avenue
Newmarket, Ontario, L3Y 4X2, Canada

Phone: 905-895-1700 x. 247
Fax: 905-895-9076
Email: cym-archivist@quaker.ca

Look for digital copies of church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has microfilmed and/or digitized records for churches in the Canada.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the province or a town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of Canada.
b. Click on Places within Canada and a list of provinces will appear.
c. Click on your province.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Or click on Places within Canada, [PROVINCE] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.

Addresses[edit | edit source]

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Contact local libraries.[edit | edit source]

Churches sometimes donate their records to local libraries. Call or write to the libraries in the close vicinity of the church your ancestors might have attended and the towns where they resided.

Look for published books with transcripts of church records.[edit | edit source]

Many early records, especially from the 1600's and 1700's, have been transcribed and published in books.
These books can be digitized and available online. Check these online digital libraries:

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png Try different keywords in various combinations:the name of the town,
the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[PROVINCE] church records".

Consult the PERSI index for records published in journals.[edit | edit source]

  • PERSI is the Periodical Source Index and is available at FindMyPast.com:PERSI., ($). It can be searched for free at any Family History Center. PERSI is an index to family and local history periodicals from 1847 to the present. Many of these periodicals publish church records. If you locate an index entry for a church, you will then need to find the periodical. Use the WorldCat.org search engine to find a library near you that carries the periodical. Library reference desks can be contacted to request a copy of articles, or you may need to hire a researcher.


Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "About Quakers in Canada" at Canadian Friends Historical Association, https://cfha.info/about-quakers-in-canada/, accessed 27 July 2020.