George Fox began The Society of Friends–the formal name of the Quaker religion– in mid-17th century England as part of the revolt against the Church of England. They rebelled against the rigid hierarchy and government control prevalent in the Anglican church, and began meeting in homes or buildings without steeples, waiting upon God silently to make His presence felt and inwardly heard. Any person could be called by God to rise and preach upon any occasion of worship. They were, and are, very family oriented.
Quakers were much persecuted in England before finding refuge in the American colonies.
They began immigrating to North America in the late 1600's to escape persecution. However, when they arrived, they met opposition from the Puritan groups that were already in the New World. Quakers found refuge from religious persecution in the colonies set up by William Penn, who had become a convert. Penn convinced the King of England to repay royal debts with land grants in North America, and so established Pennsylvania and Delaware. In addition to these two states, the Quakers eventually had significant settlements in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Ohio, and Georgia.
Today, Quakerism, although limited in numbers by comparison to mainline and evangelical Protestants, is alive and growing, both in the USA and in Africa and South America and other nations overseas. There are basically three varieties of Quakers in the USA–Friends General
Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends Alliance (EFA).
FGC Meetings worship in the traditional unprogrammed "silent" format. FUM Meetings are semi programmed, having a pastor who speaks from the silence each Sunday, although other Friends can and frequently do also preach. And the EFA affiliated meetings, as their name suggests, are focused on recruiting new members.
All three varieties of Quakers have in common the belief that there is that of God in everyone, that God reveals Himself to ordinary people directly in individual and corporate worship, and that no hierarchy or ritual or formal creed or ordination is necessary to accept the redeeming love and forgiveness of God. From these beliefs come the testimonies that mark Quakers: refusing to go to war; speaking truth at all times, and therefore declining to swear oaths; living a simple lifestyle, working in the cause of social justice; working to reform prisons and abolishing the death penalty; and relieving the suffering of victims of war, poverty, political oppression and crime.
To begin, genealogists should read Howard Brinton's Friends for 300 Years, a comprehensive history of the Society. Afterwards, the following libraries offer extensive collections:
The Friends Collection at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, is one of the four or five largest in the world, with more than 12,000 books and nearly as many pamphlets, some going back to the 17th Century. In addition, there are extensive Quaker genealogical materials, including diaries, letters, and detailed records of monthly and yearly meetings (Web site: http://www.earlham.edu/ ).
The Friends Historical Collection, housed in the Hege Library at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the center for the study of Quaker history in the Southeast. The collection includes the written records of Carolina Friends, printed and microfilmed copies of other Friends records, personal and family papers, printed materials by and about Friends worldwide, and sources for the study of Quaker family history (Web site: http://www.guilford.edu/library/fhc ).
The Quaker Collection of Haverford College, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, provides genealogists up to 30 minutes of research time and a report free of charge. Researchers should include specific prioritized questions complete with known dates and places. Genealogical requests should be directed to Ann W. Upton, Haverford College (TEL 610/896 1161; FAX: 610/896 1102 ).
The Hinshaw Index to Quaker Meeting Records, an unpublished card index at the
Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, contains the largest collection in the world of Quaker meeting archives and is the official repository for Philadelphia and Baltimore Yearly Meetings (Regional administration units of the Society) (TEL (610) 328 8496; Web site: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/friends/ ).
Lastly, check out these sources for Quaker genealogy records:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania - 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.
TEL (215) 732 6200
Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania - 1305 Locust Street, 3rd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107. TEL (215) 545 0391
The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1740 1930 - on CD from Broderbund Software.