Society of Friends (Quakers) in the United States

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History in the United States[edit | edit source]

Historic Plymouth Friends Meetinghoue
Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  • Quakers, also called Friends, are a historically Christian denomination whose formal name is the Religious Society of Friends or Friends Church. The movement started in England in the 17th century, and has spread throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Some Quakers originally came to North America to spread their beliefs to the British colonists there, while others came to escape the persecution they experienced in Europe.
  • The first known Quakers to set foot in the New World traveled from England to Barbados in 1655, and then went on to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to spread the beliefs of the Friends among the colonists. They were persecuted, imprisoned, and their books were burned. Due to the intolerance of the Puritans, the Quakers eventually left the Massachusetts bay colonies and migrated to the more tolerant colonies in Rhode Island.
  • Friends who settled along the Delaware River, forming a settlement at Salem, New Jersey, in 1675. In 1681, King Charles II allowed William Penn, a Quaker, a charter for the area that was to become Pennsylvania. Penn guaranteed the settlers of his colony freedom of religion. He advertised the policy across Europe so that Quakers and other religious dissidents would know that they could live there safely.
  • Quakers in North America are diverse in their beliefs and practices. Friends there have split into various groups because of disagreements throughout the years.
  • Branches of Quakers include:
    • Friends General Conference
    • Friends United Meeting: concentrated in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.
    • Pastoral Friends: found primarily in Indiana, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio.
    • Conservative Friends: found primarily in Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina.
    • Evangelical Friends: concentrated in Ohio, California, Oregon, and Kansas.
    • Religious Society of Free Quakers
    • Conservative Friends

Source: Wikipedia

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Some records have been digitized and posted online, where they are easily searched. More are being added all the time. Partner websites such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.

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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 "so it must be mine". Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, other relationships, and 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!
  • A "meeting" is the Quaker term for a congregation.

Ancestry.com[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com collections be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.


Consult finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.

  • Quakermeetings.com is a website devoted to recording information concerning all Quaker congregations (meetings)which have existed in America, including the date of the first and last meeting, where records are kept and subordinate congregations.
  • Berry, Ellen Thomas and David Allen. Our Quaker Ancestors : finding them in Quaker records. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., c1987. FHL Collection Book 973 D27bq Worldcat entry Free to view at books.google.com
lists both old meetings and existing meetings, and how long they have existed
lists records that exist and where they are
  • Hill, Thomas C. Monthly Meetings in North America: An Index. Second Edition. Cincinnati, Ohio: N.p., 1993. FHL Collection Book 973 K22h 1998; FHL Collection film 1698282 item 11. Alphabetical by monthly meeting. Gives address and sometimes location of records. WorldCat entry

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

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • There are thousands of entries of digitized Society of Friends church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog state-wide, county-wide, or for 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 statewide records:
a. Enter your state name in the "Place" search field of FamilySearch Catalog. You will see a list of topics and, at the top, the phrase "Places within United States, [STATE]".
b. Click on "Church records" in the topic list. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find county-wide records:
c. From the original page, click on Places within United States, [STATE] and a list of counties will appear.
d. Click on your county.
e. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find town records:
f. From the list of counties, click on Places within United States, [STATE], [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
g. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
h. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
i. 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:

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.


Covers New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia

  • HEGE Library and Learning Technologies
    Guilford College
    5800 West Friendly Ave
    Greensboro, NC 27410
E-mail: archives@guilford.edu
Covers North Carolina and the southeastern U.S., Baltimore, Philadelphia

Lily Library
  • Friends Collection
    Earlham College
    Lilly Library
    801 National Road West
    Richmond, Indiana 47374-4095
    Phone: 765 983-1743
    Email: tomh@earlham.edu
Covers Indiana and Western and Northern Yearly Meetings

Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence
  • The Rhode Island Historical Society
    110 Benevolent Street
    Providence, RI 02906
    Phone: Phone:401-273-8107 x410.
    E-mail: reference@rihs.org (For all distance patrons they provide a 15-minute free look-up service)
Keeps archives of New England Yearly Meeting. It is extremely helpful to be able to provide in which Meeting in New England an ancestor was a member.




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

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]


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 gathering 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.