quakers, quaker genealogy

Preeminent Source to Find Quaker Ancestors

As discussed in last week’s article on Quaker genealogy by Ellen and David Berry, almost no class of records, religious or secular, has been kept as meticulously as the monthly meeting records of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. The oldest such records span three centuries of American history and testify to a general movement of population that extended from New England and the Middle Atlantic states southward to Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, then west to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The importance of these records cannot be overstated. Not until recently have the vital statistics of Quakers been recorded in civil record offices; thus, for more than two centuries the only vital records identifying these people were found in the Quaker records themselves.

Quaker monthly meeting records contain extensive lists of births, marriages, and deaths, as well as details of the removal of members from one meeting to another. Following we’ll discuss state by state examples of these records, contained in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, and give an overview of what each volume of his work contains.

Painstakingly developed from Quaker monthly meeting records, William Wade Hinshaw’s Six-Volume work, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, is the magnum opus of Quaker genealogy. In its production thousands of records were located and abstracted into a uniform and intelligible system of notation. Each of the original six volumes of the Encyclopedia is crammed with genealogical value, and each of the prodigious volumes (all but one of them are over 1,000 pages) is indexed. The records include births, marriages, deaths, and minutes of proceedings, grouped together for each meeting by families, in alphabetical order, and covering the period from 1680 through the early 1930s. The minutes relating to certificates of removal are numerous and of great genealogical interest, as they give evidence either of membership in a previous monthly meeting or membership in a new meeting, thus enabling genealogists to trace Quaker ancestors from one place to another. Identified below are the monthly or annual meetings covered in each of the six volumes of the Encyclopedia.

Despite the importance of the index at the end of each volume, the parent company of this blog, Genealogical.com, commissioned a master index to the work, a vast collection of all 600,000 names in the Encyclopedia. Each entry in this “seventh” or companion volume contains the surname and given name, and the volume number and page number wherein the name can be found. For those who own the Encyclopedia, or even individual volumes, this is a godsend; for those hoping to find out if any of their ancestors appear in Hinshaw, this is as good as it gets. For those with Quaker ancestry, this is a researcher’s dream. Following is a summary of the Quaker meetings covered in each volume of the Encyclopedia.

Volume I: North Carolina (including meetings in Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee)

  • North Carolina Meetings: Perquimans (Piney Woods), Pasquotank (Symons Creek), Sutton Creek, Rich Square, Core Sound, Contentnea (Nahunta), Neuse, Woodland, Cane Creek, Spring, Holly Spring, New Garden, Dover, Hopewell, Greensboro, Center, Black Creek, Marlborough, Deep River, Springfield, Union, High Point, Westfield, and Deep Creek
  • Virginia Meeting: Mt. Pleasant (Chestnut Creek)
  • South Carolina Meetings: Bush River, Wrightsborough, Cane Creek, Piney Grove, and Charleston
  • Tennessee Meetings: New Hope, Lost Creek, and Newberry (Friendsville)

Volume II: New Jersey and Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: Salem Monthly Meeting (NJ), Burlington Monthly Meeting (NJ), Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (PA), and Falls Monthly Meeting (PA).

Volume III: New York

  • New York Yearly Meeting: New York City (including Flushing, Westbury, and Jericho Monthly Meetings) and Long Island from 1657 to 1940. Comprehensive for both Hicksite and Orthodox groups of the New York Yearly Meeting.

Volume IV: Ohio (including meetings in western Pennsylvania and Michigan)

  • Ohio Meetings: Concord, Stillwater, Flushing, Somerset, and Plainfield (Belmont Co.); Plymouth-Smithfield and Short Creek (Jefferson. Co.); Middleton, Salem, New Garden, Upper Springfield Sandy Spring, and Carmel (Columbiana Co.); Providence (Fayette Co.); Alum Creek (Delaware Co.); Goshen (Logan Co.); Deerfield (Morgan Co.); Marlborough (Stark Co.); Chesterfield (Athens Co.); Gilead and Greenwich (Morrow Co.); East Goshen and West (Mahoning Co.); Plymouth (Washington Co.); Columbus (Franklin Co.); and Cleveland (Cuyahoga Co.).
  • Pennsylvania Meetings: Sewickley (Westmoreland Co.), Westland (Washington Co.), and Redstone (Fayette Co.).
  • Michigan Meeting: Adrian.

Volume V: Ohio

  • Ohio Meetings: Miami and Springborough (Warren Co.); Fairfield, Fall Creek, and Lees Creek (Highland Co.); West Branch Mill Creek and Union (Miami Co.); Center (Clinton Co.); Elk and Westfield (Preble Co.); Caesar’s Creek, Clear Creek, Newberry, Springfield, Dover, Hopewell, and Wilmington (Clinton Co.); Cincinnati (Hamilton Co.); Green Plain (Clark Co.); and Van Wert (Van Wert Co.).

Volume VI: Virginia

  • Virginia Meetings: Chuckatuck, Pagan Creek, Western Branch, Black Water, Upper, Henrico, Cedar Creek, Camp Creek, South River, Goose Creek (Bedford Co.), Hopewell, Fairfax, Crooked Run, Goose Creek (Loudoun Co.), and Alexandria.

Master Index Volume – Volume VII, or the companion index

  • Here in one mammoth volume–in a single alphabetical sequence–are the 600,000 names found in the great Encyclopedia. Each entry in this index contains the surname, the given name, and the volume number and page number wherein the name can be found.

Image credit: The Atwater Family of Quakers, From a family archive. See page for author (none available) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.




The Quak­ers – Records and Genealogy

Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from the Introduction to Ellen and David Berry’s book, Our Quaker Ancestors, which sets out to acquaint the researcher with the types of Quaker records that are available, the location of the records, and the proper and effective use of those records. This includes guiding the reader through the pyramidal “meeting” structure to the records of birth, marriage, death, disownment, and removal awaiting him in record repositories across the country.

Following is how to recognize towns where Quakers may have lived, an overview of the types or records Quakers have kept, and a brief introduction as to how the Quaker beliefs are intertwined with the method of record keeping. 

“The Quakers and Quaker Genealogy” by Ellen and David Berry

The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, has a rich storehouse of records kept from its beginning in the mid-1600s to the present. There are vast differences among Quaker records, and the genealogist must know which ones to use. The study of Quaker records is mechanically different from that of other religious organizations. More emphasis must be placed on historical context, because organizational history and record-keeping are closely related. Unless you are careful–and knowledgeable–you can become hopelessly lost and find yourself giving up on one of the richest sources of genealogical records you could ever hope to find.

Across the U.S. are small towns with names that have a certain rhythm or quality of sound. As you move south and west from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River and beyond, through Virginia and the swamplands of the Carolinas to Georgia, you will see names like Radnor, Con­cord, Salem, New Garden, Goshen, Cedar Creek, and others which combine Biblical and geographical origins. These names are a part of one of the most interesting facets of early Amer­ican history. They indicate that, at least at one time, the area was populated by The Religious Society of Friends. The Quak­ers were once an influential part of their communities. They moved from their early settlements in the original eastern colo­nies and called their new homes by familiar names, much as they had done when they arrived from England and Wales. In some of these towns, you might find a rectangular building, usu­ally stretching east to west and facing south, which might still be used as a meetinghouse. In all probability, it will have the same name as the village or town.

If you were to visit any of these meetinghouses today, you might find a record of almost every event which took place at that location from the time of its establishment. These records include information on births, marriages, and deaths, but they also note the names of residents moving to and from the area and their places of origin, as well as committee actions on a wide variety of topics, including requests to individuals to leave the meeting and the reasons for the request. In addition, there would be records of announced intentions of marriage, fol­lowed by the actual wedding record naming not only the bride and groom but all of those present, among whom may be found the parents, brothers, sisters, and perhaps other relations of the newlyweds. If the old records are not at the meetinghouse itself, it is possible to determine where they have been sent and where the original records or microfilm copies can be used by the general public. In other words, you will find a genealogist’s dream. There is an amazing number of these records in exis­tence. You only need to know where they are and how to use them. This is the focus of [our] book.

The Religious Society of Friends began in the same religious turmoil of 17th-century England that produced the Puritans. The Quakers also immigrated to America to escape severe religious persecution. Although Quakers first saw American shores during the 1650s, it was not until 1682 that large num­bers started to emigrate from the British Isles and smaller numbers from continental Europe. It was in this year that William Penn landed just south of what is now Philadelphia to exercise his proprietorship of the present states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Because of their stubbornness or strong-mindedness (depending upon how you view it), the Quakers’ influence far exceeded their numbers. They were a study in contradictions. Although they espoused religious freedom, they required their own members to worship in a specified manner. No organiza­tion had more rules regarding removal from approved status than the Quakers. By today’s standards, these rules seem trivial and even arrogant. It now seems ironic that it was precisely this dictatorial image that the Society wanted to avoid at all costs. They were truly “plain people,” but at the same time they were shrewd merchants. Their honesty in personal and business deal­ings was renowned. Their treatment of the Indians is a classic study in how other white Americans should have conducted themselves. However, even in this area they were not com­pletely faultless. They abhorred slavery, but some families owned slaves. They were against war of any kind, but still some fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

The Quakers were a more mobile society than most religious groups that came to early America. Whether their travels through the South to the Midwest were prompted by religious fervor, the clash of political and religious beliefs (e.g. slavery), or simply the desire for land and opportunities is now a moot point. The fact is they did move in large numbers, and in doing so they left a trail of records unsurpassed by any other religious organization.

There is another side to this story. The same doctrine that required record-keeping also forbade religious rituals and any form of self-aggrandizement. In the early years even grave markers were prohibited, as were personal histories (although some histories do exist, particularly of people prominent in the movement). Therefore, it is often difficult for a genealogist to place an ancestor in the proper historical perspective. However, the voluminous records more than make up for these deficiencies. It is always safe to say that anyone interested in tracing ancestors is indeed fortunate if a connection can be made with Quakers, for it means there is a good chance that comprehensive primary records can be found.

To read more, please reference Ellen and David Berry’s book, Our Quaker Ancestors.

Image credit: The Quaker “Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660,” By unknown 19th century artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.