- Quaker Births and Burials normally will not appear in the Anglican Parish Registers. [There was a period around the turn of the 17th/18th centuries when vicars were supposed to record all births and deaths of dissenters in their parish, and some did so].
- Quaker marriages will not appear in Anglican parish register even after 1754 (unlike other nonconformists). Nor will they appear in modern indexes/transcripts produced from Parish Registers.
- Exemption from marrying in church only applied if both parties were Quaker. If a Quaker wished to marry a non-Quaker they would normally marry in the parish church. This would lead to disownment by the Quakers.
- In order to marry in church both parties needed to be baptised. That would often happen the same day as the wedding for someone who had been a Quaker .
Quaker Meeting Hierarchy
simplified and bottom up
Local, Peculiar or Preparative meeting (PM)
- Met as required, often weekly but at least before a Monthly Meeting
- One responsibility was to inform Monthly Meeting of register updates.
Monthly Meeting (MM)
- Representatives of the constituent Preparative Meetings met approximately monthly.
- One responsibility was the maintenance of their birth, marriage and burial registers with updates from the local meetings. and informing Quarterly Meeting of these updates
- If a burial was for someone from another Monthly Meeting a note would be sent to them.
- If an intended marriage involved someone from another Monthly Meeting there would be an exchange of notes about the clearness of that person to be married.
- Besides registers, Monthly Meeting kept other records including Minute Books. These are an extremely rich source for Family Historians but are not yet online. – see more Quaker Records
Quarterly Meeting (QM)
- Representatives from the constituent Monthly Meetings met four times a year
- One responsibility was creating two Digest copies of the registers held by their meetings and submitting the early registers to government.
- These surrendered registers (RG 6) are the easiest to search online.
- Representatives appointed by Quarterly Meetings along with representatives from other countries attended this once a year meeting usually in London.
For fuller details See ‘My Ancestors were Quakers’ by Edward H. Milligan and Malcolm Thomas – Society of Genealogists – 1997
Old Quaker Organisation and their Registers (up to 1837)
Quakers started keeping birth, marriage and burial records from their earliest days and more formally by the end of 1650s when Monthly Meetings were established by grouping together two or more local meetings. Meetings were more formally organised by George Fox in 1667/8 and this structure, despite many changes of detail, remains fundamentally unaltered.
Registers were compiled from records of the constituent local or preparative meetings which sometimes kept their copy. Some of these lists had entries for pre-Quaker dates remembered by the early members. There is evidence that not all the early registers contained all the births, marriages and burials they should have.
The original scheme of 1667/8 generally had several Monthly Meetings (MM)and one Quarterly Meeting (QM) for each county, although there were a number of exceptions. During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the number of Quakers in Britain declined steadily from its peak at the end of the 17th century, and as a result there were many mergers both of Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, so that some of the simplicity of the original scheme was lost.
1837 – Quakers Surrender Registers
When, after 1837, the government required Quaker registers to be handed over Yearly Meeting called in all the registers so that they could be surrendered en bloc – they were held at Devonshire House (the predecessor of Friends House) from about 1838 until surrendered in 1841. They were numbered in sequence while they were there – these are the “Book numbers” used in the Digests. The Digests were prepared by a team of clerks under the direction of James Bowden (and ultimate supervision of William Manley, the Recording Clerk of London YM) while they were there. [It is Manley who signed the surrender forms which are photographed with the first of each QM’s registers (see for example at the beginning of RG6/626 for the registers relating to Durham QM and RG6/1472 for those relating to Newcastle MM).]
YM made two copies of each QM digest. One was retained in Devonshire House and is now in the Library – this is the set that one sees on microfilm there. The other was sent to the QM concerned. Many of the latter were handed over to County Archive Hubs which have evolved in part from Record Offices. Some of these Digests have been digitised and appear on online searches as well as the transcriptions and digitised images of the original (RG 6) records. They are easily distinguished by their content. Some registers were rejected, missed or lost, and a few of these can be found in County Archives.
A further group of 121 registers subsequently came to light and were surrendered to the Registrar General in 1857. Digest supplements were made of these.
It was the Quarterly Meeting which held the registers that handed them over at this time. As we have said, there had already been a number of changes and mergers of meetings so it is worth checking who held your required Meeting registers at that time.
The registers handed over were both those of the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings and sometimes even the local Meeting ones. It is worth checking all for the same person , as additional or slightly variant information may be given.
The National Archive Discovery website holds useful information on RG 6 records held by them. You can search on what Quaker Records (RG 6) are available for a Meeting . It will tell you the dates covered and reference. Each entry will also tell you which commercial companies have the digitised records available online or you can view the digital records from free at the archives at Kew. The reference is useful when searching on the commercial sites. Go to Discovery here and search by entering the name of the Meeting.
Although Quakers are credited with excellent record keeping some of the very early lists are just that and in sometimes faded handwriting, hard to decipher and written on time-worn and damaged registers. Only from 1776, following a decision by the Yearly Meeting of 1774, were standardised forms used.
Some original birth and burial notes and marriage certificates are found included in the surrendered registers.
See our society magazines QC68 and QC69 for the text ‘Unsurrendered Registers’, a talk given by Chris Pitt Lewis (past Chair and Secretary) at the QFHS AGM on 9 July 2016.
If you suspect there might be Quakers in your family the easiest way to get some idea is an online search of the digitised RG 6 surrendered records. A simple initial search on surname is free but you usually have to pay commercial companies to see the detailed transcriptions and images of the original documents. The images are well worth studying as they give more detail than the transcriptions.
Besides name, and date of birth and parents later birth notes recorded :
- place of birth (locality, parish and county)
- parents’ names (often giving the father’s occupation)
- those present at the birth, often an older female relative and a male midwife
- may be marked ‘parents not in unity’ or NM (non-member). Being disowned was not necessarily a permanent condition as persons ‘not in unity’ were not barred from attending meeting except Meetings for Business and could be restored to full membership.
- Meeting registrar’s signature noting it as a true copy
These birth details were reported to the Monthly Meeting.
Example Birth Notes
Quaker marriages gained more formal legal recognition through Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 which came into force on 25 March 1754. They were exempted from having to marry in the Church of England in part because of their excellent record keeping which was driven by a desire for parliamentary recognition of their marriage procedure under statute law. The detailed marriage certificates often with details of place of abode and parental details, especially after 1677, and include also lists of witnesses. Entries in Quarterly Meeting registers were an abstract of the certificate on printed forms. From 1776 until 1795 the Monthly Meeting registers had a full transcription including all witnesses (some in columns marked as relatives) but later abstracts were kept by both QM and MM Meetings.
The marriage abstracts give
- date of the marriage
- groom’s name, occupation and where they lived
- groom’s parents
- groom’s father’s occupation
- bride’s name
- bride’s parents
- bride’s father’s occupation
- Meeting where the ceremony was held
- signature of some witnesses
- signature of the clerk to the Meeting on the Register
Example Marriage Certificate
Whilst there are many elaborate later Quaker marriage certificates, the one shown here is more typical of what you will find pre 1837. It is for Patrick Hardy and Mary Waddington, of Hull and Brighouse Monthly Meeting. Marrued at the Meeting House in Leeds, on the 15 Feb 1827. The certificate is reproduced here by kind permission of Bill Fox (QFHS member) and his family.
From very early days Quakers maintained their own burial grounds which often preceded the building of a Meeting House. Local Meetings recorded burials which invariably gave date of death as well. These details were sent to the Monthly Meeting.
From 1776 a Burial Notes records
- the person responsible for getting the grave made (Gravemaker, but others may have done the physical work).
- date by which the grave is needed
- burial place
- details of the deceased (name, where they last lived, age and date of death). The person may be marked as ‘NM’ (Non-Member).
- actual date of burial
- Gravemaker mark or signature of completion of work
It is worth remembering that a surprising number of non-members were buried in Quaker Burial Grounds. These were probably birthright Quakers who had been disowned for one reason or another but may have continued to attend Meeting or at the request of Quaker family members.