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Researching Your Quaker Ancestors

For those with Quaker, or Society of Friends, ancestors, much information exists on the Internet to help you learn how to research this religious group along with records to aid your research.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 830 (approx.)
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History of the Quaker Church (Society of Friends)

George Fox founded The Quakers, or the Society of Friends, in 17th century England. Fox, like many of his time, did not like the policies or practices of the Church of England. He wanted a more spiritual religion that believed in God making His will known to men and women without the interference of priests or ministers. Quakers were persecuted for the refusal to attend Church of England meetings and to pay church tithes. Quakers did not suffer persecution just in England. Massachusetts Puritans, between 1659 and 1661 hung three Quakers who insisted on joining their colony.

By the time William Penn helped establish the colony of New Jersey and later Pennsylvania, there were approximately 50,000 Quakers in America. The Quakers ruled Pennsylvania as a "Holy Experiment" until 1756 when the military policies associated with the French-Indian War made it difficult if not impossible for the peace loving Quakers to continue to govern.

Beliefs

As with many religious groups it's hard to provide information about Quaker beliefs in a few sentences. In the United States, there are four branches of Friends and their beliefs differ along several lines including the way they worship, theological emphasis, evangelism and what organizations they align themselves with. Overall, the Friends believe in a "direct, unmediated, communion with the Divine and a commitment to living lives that outwardly attest to this experience." For more information about the beliefs of the Quakers, consult the Quaker Information Center at http://www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/beliefs.html.

Quaker Genealogy

A good online primer for Quaker research is found at http://www.mlcook.lib.oh.us/Ohioana/friendly_researchan_intro.htm. This guide explains that Quakers did not maintain a centralized archive of membership records. The Monthly Meeting they attended holds records for Quakers, including vital records. For a list of Quaker Archives, see the web site Quaker Information Center at http://www.quakerinfo.org/resources/genealogy.html.

The Quaker Corner at Quaker Corner, The, provides researchers with lists of Quaker surnames, links to online Quaker records, and is the archive for the Quaker roots e-mail list archive.

Just like any group, Quaker research can be a little different than non-Quaker ancestors you have traced. One example of this is their calendar system. For an explanation on this, see a reprint of a section of Berry's Our Quaker Ancestors at http://www.illuminatrix.com/andria/quaker.html. For a glossary on uniquely Quaker terms, consult the Quaker glossary at http://www.quaker.org/fwcc/gloss/index.html. This web site is in English and French.

The American Friend Obituary Index available on the Earlham College Libraries web site at http://www.earlham.edu/library/content/friends/obituaries/index.html, is an index of obituaries found in the periodical the American Friend which was published from 1894 to 1960. The majority of obituaries are Friends belonging to the Five Years Meeting. This index is alphabetical by surname and includes the deceased name, death date, place of death, age or year of birth. This index does not contain the actual text of the obituary. If you would like the actual page you can request a photocopy from Earlham College for $5.00 per obituary.

An important book on Quaker Genealogy is Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. A guide to using this reference work is available online through Guilford College web site at http://www.guilford.edu/library/index.cfm?ID=110000980.

This one-page guide not only explains how to use the Encyclopedia but also what the abbreviations used throughout the work, stand for. The Encyclopedia is available through Genealogical Publishing Company or may be available at a public or university library near you. An online version can be found through Ancestry.com. To search the Encyclopedia through Ancestry, click on the "Search" tab, then click on "Search Resources," which is the card catalog for Ancestry.com resources. On the search page, type the word "Quaker" in the keyword search box. Ancestry has over 48 different Quaker records available for searching.

Another book that can help with your research is Genealogical Publishing Company's 1996 book, Our Quaker Ancestors: Finding them in Quaker Records authored by Ellen Thomas and David Berry. A keyword search for "Quaker" on Genealogical Publishing Company's web site, Genealogical Publishing Company, shows 73 hits that include research how-to books, record transcriptions and histories.

A subject search through the Family History Library Catalog (www.familysearch.org), for the term "Quaker" brings up various resources, including histories and records. Resources include Quakers in the United States as well as England, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and Wales.

Repositories

The Quaker Information Center, http://www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/libraries.html, includes a listing of Quaker archives and libraries. One such facility is the Earlham College Libraries Friends Collection at http://www.earlham.edu/library/content/friends/index.html. This library includes a manuscript collection that is indexed online by surname. It also has the American Friend Obituary Index mentioned above. I would also recommend its Quaker Genealogy link, http://www.earlham.edu/library/documents/genealogy.pdf, which includes some information about Quaker research as well as what materials are available for research.

Other libraries and archives listed on the Quaker Information Center site include, the Henry J. Cadbury Library, Swarthmore College, Haverford College, Guilford College, Malone College, the University of Michigan, Wilmington College, Whittier College, and the Friends University Library in Kansas. Two libraries in Great Britain are also listed.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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