Quaker Family History Society                   for family historians with Quaker ancestors from the British Isles

Getting Started

– for the absolute beginner. The way to start your family history journey is the same for everyone, whether looking at a Quaker family or not, so please make sure you have worked through these steps.

What do you have already?

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Family history treasures

Were my ancestors Quakers? How would I know?

Some Basic Giveaways.

  • odd looking dates – Quaker dating practices
  • use of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in correspondence – plain speech
  • affirmation rather than swearing when proving wills
  • letters starting ‘Esteemed Friend’ or more recently ‘Dear Friend’ and ending ‘In Friendship’
  • I can’t find a baptism – – not necessarily Quakers
  • records mention ‘meeting house’ – not necessarily Quakers
  • my Ancestor was baptised the same day he was married at a church -may be a disowned or resigned Quaker who would need to be baptised before being married in the Church of England
  • The pre-1837 Quaker registers are the easy to look at as images and transcriptions are available on-line (but there is a charge for all but a basic search). A good resource to quickly see if your family may have been Quakers
  • Charles Pease’s PDFs is a good place to search some of the ‘dynastic’ Quaker families such as Lloyd, Barclay, Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree, Pease, &c.

Basic Starting Tips

  • write down what you and the wider family already know
  • don’t take anything as accurate until you have seen documents to verify what is said
  • organise your findings. You are encouraged to use digital methods from the start using proprietary programs. If you really must start on paper make use of downloadable Pedigree sheets and charts but be warned you will have to rework this to get it on line whereas all the main freestanding proprietary software allow digital transfer to each other or online genealogical sites using ‘Gedcom’. The main software currently available are:-
    • Family Historian – good for beginners
    • Family Tree Maker – 2017 version or later
    • Legacy
    • Rootsmagic
    • Family Tree Heritage
  • look at the gaps in your knowledge and decide what/who you want to find out about
  • work backwards from what you know
  • keep a note of the document reference for your source, and an indication of where it can be found (i.e. personal collection, [named], Record Office, The National Archives, online digitised record with URL or hyperlink)
  • online family trees should be assumed to be wrong unless you can yourself verify the data against original sources. (QFHS and all members should do all they can to discourage replication of bad data)
  • be cautious about entering data straight into an online tree. Instead we encourage you to keep free-standing databases in proprietary software already mentioned and only enter/upload to Internet sites after everything you have recorded is as accurate as possible
  • if and when you enter your findings onto an online family tree this will be compared with other submissions and possible hints will be suggested. Again assume these are incorrect until you have verified any such suggestions.

Evidence! – Looking for documents to support the information you have gathered.

Many resources available for non-Quakers are relevant for Quaker family research as well. Many are now available on line and to access these requires payment but there are free ones  and even the commercial companies occasionally offer free access to some records especially over times of public holidays. This includes overseas public holidays, especially those of the USA .

Let’s have a look at some websites to visit

( Basic – their Quaker Content will be discussed under Quaker Registers and Quaker Records)

  • British Newspaper Archive, which is amongst the best sites for family history and can be searched for free although there is a charge document details.
  • GENUKI – aims to serve as a virtual reference library of genealogical information  of particular relevance to the UK & Ireland. Primarily this is historical material. It is a non-commercial service, provided by volunteers . It has guidance for first time users.
    • GENUKI is organised by parishes within counties and gives  a great deal of local information you will find useful including a map of the area. Quaker Meeting houses and schools are noted often with a photograph.
  • FreeUKGenealogy is run by a charity of volunteers and offer free transcriptions at FreeBMD and Free Cen (as well as FreeReg for Parish Registers) but check what is covered as the work is on-going.https://www.freeukgenealogy.org.uk/ . Use these as no more than finding aids.
    • FreeBMD – covers births marriages and deaths
  • GRO – Civil registration birth, marriage and death certificates are available from the General Registry Office (GRO).
  • National Archives – have around 200 research guides to help with family history including ones on
    • the 1939 register
    • census records
    • wills
  • Family History Federation wiki – QFHS is a a member of the Federation of Family History Societies, a charity which promotes and fosters the study of Family History throughout England and Wales. It is a great support to member societies so do familiarise yourself with their website and read what they have to say on their wiki in their guides under ‘Everyone Has Roots’ and ‘It starts with You’.
    • FHF Really Useful Leaflet – the Federation also produce a really useful information leaflet yearly, now available online, full of  family history resources.

Other Links – Commercial companies & other sites

Many of the commercial companies and other sites have good getting started resources and courses, videos, tutorials and downloads.

Basic records to get you started

When you start looking for evidence some of the most useful are,

General Registration

– birth marriage and death (BMD) certificates.  (See GRO above). General registration in England started on the 1st July 1837 and included Quakers like everyone else. Marriage registration came from the registering Clerk of the Meeting.

Census data

– is held by the National Archives at Kew but many are available online.

The 1939 Register and Census  Records

Of the useful records available, census records stand out. Of those currently available in the UK (working backwards), we have the 1939 register then a census every 10 years 1911 back to 1841 with a few earlier ones available in some places. The 1921 census is expected to be released in 2022. The 1931 census was destroyed by fire and there was no 1941 census owing to the war (WWII). We have to wait until around 2052 for the 1951 census.

Wills

  • Post 1858 – see this National Archive guide
  • Pre 1858
    • PCC Wills – As for non-Quakers but Quakers did not swear so until the Quakers Act 1695 gave them the right to affirm ( they needed some intermediary). The Prerogative Court of Canterbury covered the south of England and Wales. The largest collection is for the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) for wills made between 1384 and 12 January 1858. These wills are available online but charges apply.
    • The Prerogative court of York covered York, Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Man. This Borthwich Institute for Archives University of York guide will help..
    • The impressive Durham wills project can be found at North East Inheritance database .

As you go further back non-Quaker research makes use of parish registers for BMD records. Very occasionally the parish priest made a note of Quaker births in parish registers. Quakers have their own similar (but generally more detailed and interesting) birth marriage and burial records. Burial replace death records but usually also mention date of death and where they were living.

Moving on to Quaker records

Friends House London

173-177 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BJ
Library email library@quaker.org.uk.

The headquarters of Quakers in the United Kingdom is Friends House, Euston Road, London. They have the main collection of Quaker archives ever since they decided to hold two copies of any document or book of any sort about Quakers. They do not hold the pre 1837 Quaker Registers which they had to surrendered to the Government but do hold the Quaker Digests of these records. See:

Although QFHS is not a Quaker organisation we are a recognised external body for the purposes of Britain Yearly Meeting (of the Society of Friends). As such we have good links with the Library at Friends House.

Although long out of print the Society of Genealogists booklet ‘My Ancestors were Quakers’  by Edward H. Milligan and Malcolm J Thomas is still a most useful guide.

Modern Quaker Registers (Post-1837)

So what about more modern Quaker records? All births marriage and death records from 1st July 1837 should be recorded by the GRO and so will be searchable on-line exactly like non-Quaker GRO records but will not give specific Quaker details. Quaker records are likely to give you more information. However, Quaker records under fifty years old, even held in county archives, are generally not available without special permission from the local Quaker Meeting involved. Meetings did not continue their birth and burial registers much after General Registration 1st July 1837.

Post-1837 Quaker Digests. Quakers continued to keep birth and burial notes and from 1860 once a year submitted details to Friends’ House, Euston Road, London. So the Library at Friends House is the best place to find them. These are known as the post 1837 digests and are not currently available online.  Many Quaker Meetings may well have their own copies of the notes and lists. Some especially older Meeting records may have been deposited at the local county Archive Hub. Quaker birth digests ceased after 1959 and burials after 1961.

Marriages registers continued longer but are not required now although many couples will produce, for their own satisfaction a traditional long certificate signed by all those present. Meetings have an appointed Registering Officer  who makes quarterly returns of the marriages to the Superintendent Registrar.

  • From 1837 until 1860, for the marriage to be legal both parties needed to be Quakers. In 1860 in England, Wales and Ireland only one needed to be a Quaker. In 1872 this was relaxed further and the couple needed just a certificate of permission to marry from the Quaker Registering Officer.
  • In 2009 Quakers decided to offer marriage on an equal basis to same sex couples.
  • In September 2012 the first Quaker civil partnership was performed at Friends House, London.
  • In 2014 same sex marriage was recognized in law in England, Scotland and Wales.

Modern Structure

Following a decision at Yearly Meeting 2005 there were structural organisational changes. The old Monthly Meetings were restructured into Area Meetings. The conversion at the time was explained in QC 44 page 20. The current list of Area Meetings and their constituent Local Meetings is on the Quaker website at https://www.quaker.org.uk/our-organisation/book-of-meetings/area-meetings

Old Quaker Registers

See The pre-1837 Quaker registers

Other Quaker Records

Besides registers there is a wealth of other useful Quaker records for family historians, many associated with the Monthly Meeting. These are really useful to Family Historians looking ‘to put flesh on the bones’ Let’s now take a look at Quaker Records.