England Additional Quaker Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Other Quaker Records[edit | edit source]

Friends House Library has a wealth of other Quaker records as well, and also maintains a list of material held elsewhere. These include the minute books of the Preparative (local), Monthly, Quarterly (county) and Yearly (national) Meetings, the Sufferings Books, and lists of members. The local records contain more of interest to the family historian. Much has been filmed, but some of these records may still be with the local congregation or at a local archives and may not yet be filmed.

Some indexed transcripts of Monthly Meeting Minutes have been made and are listed by Milligan and Thomas. A list of Quarterly Meetings as existing in 1840-2 is provided by Milligan and Thomas. Although copious other records were kept, Quakers did not keep membership records like other Nonconformists.

The Minutes of Quaker Monthly Meetings are probably the most useful source after the Registers have been read. They deal with:

  • ŸMembership and transference to and from other meetings. They issued certificates similar to parish settlement certificates for those moving out of their district. These confirmed that a person was of sober and orderly life and conversation, clear of debt and (if unmarried) of marriage engagements; for an example see Herber’s Ancestral Trails. Society of Genealogists. (2000). The former Meeting would support a family if they fell on hard times within three years of moving to a new Meeting.
  • Ÿ Disciplinary matters including disownments. The Quakers were a very caring community who persevered with persuasive discipline with those who—absented themselves from meetings.
    • were dishonest in business.
    • became bankrupt.
    • drank excessively.
    • condoned war by having arms, joining the army or hiring a substitute for the militia.
    • paid Anglican tithes.
    • married before a priest, or were present at such a marriage.
    • committed fornication.
    • had a bastard child or one conceived before wedlock.

This disorderly walking was cause for disownment, or not being in good standing; but the suitably penitent individual could attend meetings and eventually come back into good standing.

  • Ÿ Finance and property.
  • Ÿ Apprenticeship.
  • Ÿ Poor relief.
  • Ÿ Death testimonials.
  • Ÿ Clearness for marriage. This was of great import and the Meeting had to ensure that the parents approved, that neither party had promised themselves to another, and that the prospective partners were both Quakers in good standing. In fact some did marry in the Anglican Church, either to ensure legality of the union, or to a partner outside their faith. Herber has examples of Minutes regarding marriages.
  • Ÿ Persecution (sufferings), including any form of prosecution or distraint, were recorded by monthly, quarterly and yearly Meetings, from 1793 in standard printed books for thispurpose. Most were sent to the London Yearly Meetings and entered into the Great Book of Sufferings 1650-1856 in 44 volumes. Consult Besse on FHL film 0599671 for a compilation of interesting cases from 1650-1689, and Friends House Library for a check of the index prepared for volumes 1-29 (1650-1791) and other county summaries. Volumes 1 and 2 have been indexed by Audrey Sullivan (1991) but not filmed; use the Request for Photocopies form for appropriate pages. Gandy (Sufferings of Early Quakers. Facsimile of 1753 edition by Joseph Besse with an introduction and indexes to names and places. Sessions Book Trust, Ebor press, York, England, 2002) has edited a 1753 facsimile edition of Besse’s 4 volumes. Examples are shown below.

Chart: Colchester, Essex Sufferings of Quakers
FHL film 0812204

These are intermingled with the burial records.
                                      Those imprisoned in Colchester Castle
12th of 5th month 1655
James PARNELL sent prisoner thither by Dionisius Wakering, Thomas Cooke, Herbert Pelham and William Harlarkinde for speaking to Priest Willis in the steeplehouse at Great Coggeshall, where he remained a prisoner about tenne moneths suffering much abuse from the Jaylor’s wife and there didd an innocent suffer for ye testimony of Jesus.
20th [?] of 10th month 1657
John Sewell of Gestingthorpe being moved of the Lord to goe into the steeplehouse at Hedingham Castle stood silent till the priest had ended his service who having sprinkled a child with water the said John bid him prove that ever any Minister of Christ sprinkled water upon the face of any child and called it Baptisme, which he refused to doe but caused the said John to be had before him called Justice Eden whoe committed him to Colchester Castle where he suffered imprisonment on yt account 12 or 14 days.

1671 2 mo 4th day Distrained for not finding Armes
Jno Furly junior fined four pounds had taken from him by Henry Garland and Edwd Roritt [?]sergeants in Ralph Crefild’s Company three quarters of a hundred to thirteen pounds wth of kettles worth six pounds five shillings.
Thomas Cole for 40/- fine had taken from him by Sergeant Baker and J...... serjants and Wm Wiltshire constable a good feather bed and blanket valued of about three pounds.

Quakers appeared frequently in the Quarter Sessions records with other Nonconformists during times of persecution. Quakers refused to swear the standard oaths as they believed that one should tell the truth all the time. However, in 1696 it became possible for Quakers (and a few Strict Baptists), to make an affirmation rather than swearing an oath. Quakers also would not take off their hats before the magistrate as a sign of deference as they believed all were equal, so for these offences they were often committed for contempt of court. Several stayed in prison for many years without any conviction. The Anglican Church frequently took Quakers to court for refusing to pay tithes, and bailiffs were appointed to confiscate goods of a greater value than the tithes they refused to pay. Quakers were leaders in educational reform and established their own Meeting Schools from the 17th century, as well as Private Schools and public Committee Schools from the 18th century. Committee school admission books can be found, some of them published, but records of Meeting and Private Quaker schools are rare. Note that attendance at a Quaker school does not necessarily denote membership in the Society of Friends. Quaker teacher training institutes were set up from 1848 in the midlands and north of England. Further information on Quaker schools, and a large bibliography can be found at their website.

Portraits and Coats of Arms[edit | edit source]

Quakers disapproved of portraits since they might flatter and exalt an individual, thus most pictures purporting to be of pre-1850s Quakers would have been made much later and would not be true likenesses. They thought silhouettes and photographs to be truthful portrayals, so from the mid-19th century these are found abundantly. Beck (The Impact of Photography on Quaker Attitudes to Portraiture. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 27 #2, page 21-24) has a most interesting article on this topic. Quakers deemed everyone equal and thus did not approve of vanities such as coats of arms, any that were already entitled to them quietly stopped using them.

Records of Quaker Clergy[edit | edit source]

Quakers employed no paid ministers, and they were led by seasoned Friends at first called elders and overseers, and later termed ministers. An obituary and appreciation, known as a testimony, frequently appeared in the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting and these have been published, with an index for the years 1700-1843 being at Friends House Library. Many were also published in Piety Promoted and in the Annual Monitor.

Quaker References and Publications[edit | edit source]

  • The standard text to commence with is Milligan and Thomas’ My Ancestors Were Quakers.
  • Dictionary of Quaker Biography is a work in progress with about 25,000 entries and is kept at Friends House Library and well worth a lucky dip.
  • The Quaker Record (Green 1894 on FHL film 0908277) has 20,000 deaths 1813-1892 indexed from The Annual Monitor.
  • Piety Promoted in 11 volumes from 1701-1829 by Tomkins and Kendall contains some biographies as well as collections of ‘dying sayings’. Friends House Library has an alphabetical index.
  • The Annual Monitor 1813-1920 carried many death notices and is on 14 films starting at FHL film 0874080. Green has indexed these for 1813-1892 and this is on FHL film 0908277.
  • The magazine The Friend, started in 1843 and contains announcements of births from 1850, marriages and deaths from 1843 and obituaries since 1894.
  • The British Friend has some births, marriages and deaths from 1845 to 1913.
  • Friends Quarterly Examiner from 1867.
  • Journal of the Friends Historical Society from 1903 for which there is a typescript index at Friends House Library.
  • Bulletin of the Friends Historical Society of Philadelphia 1906-1923.
  • Bulletin of the Friends Historical Association 1924-1961.
  • Quaker History from 1962.
  • Quaker Connections published by the Quaker FHS, a group composed of those researching Quaker ancestors (but who are not Quakers themselves), is a useful forum for the researcher.
  • There is a useful article on the Archives of the Society of Friends by Mortimer, in Amateur Historian Vol 3 #2, 1956-7.
  • An excellent example of a history of Quakerism in parts of Yorkshire is that by Hoare.
  • A fascinating account of a genealogist’s search for Quakers is recounted by Southey.
  • The website has good discussions of genealogical sources, Quaker dates, and lists of Quaker schools etc.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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