Quaker Family History Society

for family historians with Quaker ancestors from the British Isles

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Researching Quakers

 The following is an introduction to the types of records that are available.
  1. Removals & Settlement
  2. Disownment & Reinstatement
  3. Sufferings & Tithes
  4. Births & Burials
  5. Marriages
  6. Ministry

Primary sources

  1. Minute Books
  2. Membership Lists
  3. Digests of Birth, Marriage & Burials
  4. Post 1837 Records of Birth, Marriage & Burials
  5. Finding Local Records

Quaker Organisation

Who are the Quakers

Types of records

  • Removals & Settlement

    On moving from one Monthly Meeting to another it was customary for Friends to take a certificate to the Monthly Meeting in the area to which they are moving . Although certificates had been in existence since the late 1650s it was not until the mid eighteenth century that the recording of these certificates became more commonplace.

    The conduct of the removing Friend was investigated by the issuing Monthly Meeting. If they were a 'minister' or an elder that was noted, as were a man's wife and any children under 16 years of age. Certificates were not to be issued to :

    • insolvents,
    • those in receipt of poor relief within the last three months or
    • anyone who had been dissolved.

    The certificate was signed by three Friends and the clerk. On receipt an acknowledgement was to be sent to the issuing Monthly Meeting and several Friends were appointed to visit them. Records of certificates issued and received are mostly recorded in the Monthly Meeting minute books. In many cases certificates were kept on file and not minuted. Certificates would be issued following reinstatement if the individual had moved since disownment.

  • Disownment & Reinstatement

    Disownable offences included:

    • habitually absenting oneself from meeting for worship
    • drinking to excess
    • commercial dishonesty, including bankruptcy
    • having an illegitimate child or child conceived out of wedlock
    • paying tithes
    • being concerned in war (i.e. having armed vessels, joining the army or hiring a substitute for the Militia)
    • marriage before a priest, or being present at such a marriage

    Usually the Preparative Meeting normally reported the matter to the Monthly Meeting. The procedure which was usually protracted, was to interview the 'offender', seek repentance and if not forthcoming, disown the individual. Continued attendance at meetings for worship was still possible and those who continued to attend were usually reinstated after a decent period.

    Reinstatement was to be undertaken by the Monthly Meeting responsible for disownment. If the individual had moved to a new area enquiries would need to be made of the new Monthly Meeting. In such cases a certificate of removal may be issued following reinstatement, the date of this certificate would not reflect the actual date of removal

  • Sufferings & Tithes

    Quakers refusal to pay tithes led to them being subject to fines, distraint and imprisonment. They were anxious to record these hardships and persecutions.

    Locally these were copied into books of sufferings, which were kept by Monthly Meetings or Quarterly Meetings. These would be forwarded to London Yearly Meeting and recorded in the "great book of sufferings". Friends House Library have a partial index up to 1791. The Meeting of Sufferings operated from London through a series of county correspondents, Friends House Library have a 'working index' to 1857.

    Primary Sources: local records of sufferings & distraints
    Meeting of Sufferings & Books of Suffering at Friends House Library
    See also: Joseph Besse's Collection of the Sufferings of the people called Quakers (1753);
    local records of the Quarter Sessions

  • Births & Burials

    Locally registers were kept from the late 1650s for births, marriages and burials. Responsibility rested with the Monthly Meeting who received 'birth notes' from the Preparative Meetings, once registered one copy was sent to the Quarterly Meeting. Following the 1776 Yearly Meeting printed books were provided.

    In some cases adult members recorded their own dates of birth, so that some registers contain retrospective entries.

    From very early days Quakers maintained there own burial grounds, these often preceded the building of a Meeting House. 'Burial notes' were sent from the Preparative Meeting to the Monthly Meeting where they were recorded in the registers. If they were resident in another Monthly Meeting a note would be sent. An order was also sent to the gravedigger. Again once registered the notes were to be sent to the Quarterly Meeting.

    Quaker births and burials will not appear in the (Anglican) Parish Registers or the modern indexes/transcripts produced from them.

    Primary Sources: Register Books (deposited at The National Archives, Kew)
    Digests of Births & Burial
    Post 1837 records of Birth, Marriage & Burial

  • Marriages

    In England & Wales between 1754 and 1837, Quakers and Jews were the only groups allowed to solemnise legally valid marriages outside the (Anglican) Parish Church. Unlike other nonconformists, therefore, the Quaker marriage registers continued throughout this period. Quaker marriages do not appear in Parish Registers (or in modern indexes/transcripts based upon them).

    It should be borne in mind that that this exemption applied only if both partners were Quakers. Those wishing to 'marry out' had only two choices:

    • to persuade their partner to convert, or;
    • to marry before a priest, which would lead to 'disownment'

    Following the 1753 Yearly Meeting, the procedure was standardised. Each party had to declare their intention to marry at their respective local meetings, parental consent to the marriage would be obtained, any prior engagements and financial circumstances would also be examined. Following approval at the Monthly Meeting(s) a date would be set for the parties to take one another before witnesses (usually the mid-week meeting for worship). The form of their particular declaration was laid down and all the witnesses signed the certificate. A full copy of the certificate (including witness names) was usually kept with the registers.

    Primary Sources: Register Books (deposited at The National Archives, Kew)
    Digests of Marriage
    Post 1837 records of Birth, Marriage & Burial

  • Ministry

    The Society of Friends has never supported a paid ministry, this has enabled it to form many small local Meetings. Vocal ministry may be given by any one of the worshipers present. However it was recognised that some were more moved to do so and these men and women became known as 'publick' Friends. Since the 18th century such individuals have recognised by the Monthly Meeting as 'acknowledged' or 'recorded' ministers. Following the Yearly Meeting of 1924 this practice was stopped.

    A Friend wishing to travel 'in the ministry' was required to seek a certificate of liberation from their own Monthly Meeting. If they wished to travel abroad the Quarterly Meeting and Yearly Meeting or Second Day Meeting. Such certificates should be recorded in the relevant Minute books

    Primary Sources: local Monthly & Quarterly Meeting Minute books

Primary Sources

  • Minute Books

    Each Quaker Meeting produced large volumes of writings in the form of minutes, decisions and queries. It should be remembered that these records are not infallible. Some books may no longer exist and of course the amount of detail they contain is reliant upon the clerk.

    The Minute books of the Monthly Meetings will be the most helpful, these will contain details of:

    • those appointed to attend the Quarterly Meeting
    • disownment procedure
    • marriage procedure
    • recording of sufferings
    • testimonies
  • Membership Lists

    Official lists of members are in general use from 1837, with the introduction of printed record books. Many Meetings started keeping regular lists after 1812. If extant they will be found with the Meeting records.


  • Registers of Birth, Marriage & Burials

    Registers of Births, Marriages and Burials were kept by Quaker Meetings from the late 1650s. Normally, they were also kept by the Monthly Meeting, but Registers kept by Preparative and Quarterly Meetings also exist.

    There is evidence that not all the early registers contained all the births, marriages and burials they should have. The registers finally ceased to be used on 30 June 1837, with the introduction of Civil Registration.

    Like other nonconformists, Quakers were required to surrender their pre 1837 registers to the Registrar General in 1840-42. These original registers - about 1445 of them - are now at The National Archives, Kew (Class RG 6).


  • Digests of Birth, Marriage & Burials

     The Society of Friends, however made Digests of the entries contained in the Registers. One Digest was made for all the Births, Marriages and Burials for each of the Quarterly Meetings (as they existed in 1842). They contain all the important information from the original registers (but not the names of witnesses to marriages) and are arranged alphabetically and chronologically according the initial letter of the surname. A further group of 121 registers that subsequently came to light were surrendered to the Registrar General in 1857. Supplemental Digests were made in the same way.

    The Digests are extremely easy to use, and it is advisable to search them before inspecting the original registers. Two copies of each Digest was made.

    • One copy was kept by London Yearly Meeting
    • The second copy was sent to the relevant Quarterly Meeting. This local copy is kept with the Meeting records, which have generally been deposited with the County Record Office concerned.

      For each of the 1840s Quarterly Meetings the Digests were microfilmed; for further details and availability click here.


  • Post 1837 Records of Birth, Marriage & Burials

    From 1 July 1837 the existing system of birth notes and burial notes was formalised to serve the same purpose as the original registers. The Marriage Registers continued. All these records will be found with the Meeting Records.

    In addition, a return was made to London Yearly Meeting, from which national Digests of Birth, Marriage & Deaths were compiled. These can only be seen at Friends House Library. Only the Marriage Digests continues, those for Births and Burials ceased in 1959 and 1961 respectively.


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