While doing research on my family, I came across this information on the Ancestry.com website. I thought it might be helpful for anyone researching their Quaker ancestors. The following text is copied verbatim from Ancestry.
This database contains Quaker monthly meeting records which are archived at the following Quaker colleges: Earlham (Indiana), Guilford (North Carolina), Haverford and Swarthmore (Pennsylvania). Quakers recorded a variety of details in their monthly meeting minutes which can be searched by name, location, and event date; or browsed by state, county, meeting, and record type. The format of meeting records varied from meeting to meeting and sometimes changed over time.
This collection marks the first time a major collection of Quaker meeting records has been made available online with a comprehensive index. Although the Quakers conducted meetings on four levels, the monthly meeting records hold the details of the most genealogical value for researchers. In order to best use this collection, you will want to understand the records and what you can expect to find in them.
Who are the Quakers?
Quakers are members of a religious group that began in England in the 1640s. The formal name is the ‘Religious Society of Friends’. Quakers did not separate religious life and secular life. They felt that all could live together in peace if they followed the Holy Spirit. Quakers, or Friends have been known for the religious testimonies against war and slavery, and in support of simplicity and social justice. Many early leaders of the anti-slavery, anti-war and woman’s rights movements have been Quakers.
What Can I Expect to Find in Quaker Records?
There are generally two types of monthly meeting records, minutes taken during the business meeting, and separate registers of births, marriages and burials. Later in the 19th century many meetings began to keep membership registers which incorporated more comprehensive information. Each meeting kept records for individuals and families as long as they remained faithful members of the meeting and within its geographical boundaries. When a family moved from one meeting to another, a letter (certificate of removal) was sent to the new monthly meeting they would be attending. Notice of the transfer was written into the minutes of the original meeting, and was also noted as received in the new meeting.
Meeting minutes contain a recording of all business conducted in the meeting. These include approvals of marriage intentions, records of discipline, disownment, requests for burial in the meeting burial grounds, and removal. Monthly meeting minutes rarely include information about births and deaths.
The Religious Society of Friends suffered a major schism in 1827, when the Society split into “Orthodox” and “Hicksite” branches. In many cases, two meetings then existed where there had originally been one, each using the same meeting name and each keeping records, as required. You may find your ancestor in either set of records, depending on where he and his family stood in the conflict at the time, so it is best to check both sets. The Hicksite-Orthodox separation, which lasted until 1955, was the largest of the splits, but was followed by a number of smaller and more regional splits. By the end of the 19th century, most American Friends were either Hicksite or Orthodox but there were also Wilburite, Conservative, Progressive, Primitive, Otisite, Kingite and other divisions for short periods of time. Records for these splinter groups did not survive in most cases.
Why does my ancestor’s name appear on an image, but is not part of the index?
It is possible that names of members which appear in various documents were not indexed. This occurs primarily when members were named to committees or attended weddings. Quaker marriage certificates were signed by all witnesses present at the time of the marriage. These names were only recorded in the minutes in the early years, and were not indexed. Non-Quakers were permitted to attend weddings and signed the marriage certificate, as a result some of the witnesses at a Quaker wedding were not members of the Society of Friends.
It is possible that during the time they attended a specific meeting, if a family or individual: did not serve on any committees, did not have children, was not married, did not move from, and was not buried, their names will not appear in the minutes.
Dates in many of the entries are recorded according to the Quakers’ system. Quakers found the use of traditional names for months and days against their Christian values since the names of the days of the weeks and most of the names of the months derived from “pagan” deities. So they devised a numerical system; First Day was Sunday, Second Day was Monday, Third Day for Tuesday, etc. First month, Second Month, Third Month substituted for the names of months.
Please keep in mind that before England changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the year officially began in March. Thus First month, 1751 is March, not January. Since the English and English colonists in America were aware that many nations by this time used January 1st for the beginning of the new year, dates in January and February were often written as 1740/1741, meaning if one assumed the year began in January, the year was 1741, but if one was using the official English system, the year did not begin until March, so the year was still 1740. Be careful in transcribing the dates you see. We have made every effort to provide both the Quaker terms and the traditional dates in the hopes of being clear on what was recorded at the time. The majority of the records should contain a Quaker date and a translated date.