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Quaker Digests (The Religious Society of Friends) (Nonconformists)

Nature of Source

Quaker records of birth (Quakers did not believe in baptism at all), marriage and death. The Quakers, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends, was founded by George Fox (1624-1691) in 1647. The Friends rejected any form of organised structure to worship or any hierarchy of ministers and are renowned for their systematic and thorough record keeping.

Most registers survive after 1780 when the authorities decreed that nonconformist congregations should keep registers. Most complied with the ruling and these registers form the bulk of those handed in to the Registrar General in 1837 following the introduction of civil registration.

Collectively these registers are known as the Non-Parochial Registers and are held at The National Archives with copies available at various record offices. The Quakers initially failed to hand in their registers to the Registrar General, however the Friends later fully complied with the order. Not only did they comply, they also embarked on a project to transcribe all known registers which they completed in a few years. The Digests effectively act as an index to the registers held by The National Archives which hold additional information. Obituaries can be found in the Yearly Monitor and the Minute Books.

The digest is arranged alphabetically by surname and then by date. The Quakers refuse to use the pagan names given for the months of the year and days of the week and therefore assign each month a number from one to twelve, so January is referred to as the First Month and Sunday as the First Day.

Quakers along with Jews were exempt from Hardwicke's marriage Act of 1754 which stipulated that marriage must take place in a licensed Anglican parish church in the bride or bridegroom's own parish in the presence of two witnesses and only after the publication of banns. 

The local congregation is known as a Particular Meeting which is managed by the Preparative Meeting. Representatives from the Preparative Meeting meet at district level as a body known as the Monthly Meeting. Delegates from the Monthly Meeting attended the county wide Quarterly Meeting. From this meeting delegates attend the London Yearly Meeting which acts as the executive arm of the movement. The Monthly Meetings dealt with a variety of issues such as poor relief, education, apprenticeships and marriage. Marriages between Quakers were sanctioned at the Monthly Meetings and contain the results of an investigation into the suitability of both parties before granting permission to marry.

Also see
Association Oath Rolls (Oath of Allegiance)
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Quaker Records
Sacrament Certificates

Where Found

The National Archives (Original registers, RG 6. Electronic images of these records can be searched online at BMD Registers. See below for details)
Friends House Library (Library's collections include digests, indexes to the Books of Sufferings, books, periodicals, manuscripts and pictures, as well as the archives of the central organisation of Quakers in Britain, known as Britain Yearly Meeting. The online catalogue of Archive and Library collections at the Library of the Society of Friends holds the archives of Britain Yearly Meeting committees, archives of the former London and Middlesex General Meeting, archives of some Quaker organisations, Friends Ambulance Unit and Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union and over 1,000 manuscript collections and personal papers of Quakers and Quaker families, such as the diaries of Elizabeth Fry)
County Record Offices (Local digests)
Society of Genealogists (Copies of nonconformist registers and other nonconformist material)
National Records of Scotland (The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Glasgow City Archives/The Mitchell Library

Period Covered

1650 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Birth Digests
Child’s name, date and place of birth; names of parents, parent’s address, father's occupation
The ‘place of birth’ column is rarely completed, however in places there are unbroken runs of completed entries. Occasionally, under the ‘names of parents’ column only the father is cited. The completion of the ‘occupation’ column is patchy.
Marriage Digests
The ‘description’ column describes the occupation for the men and for women states if she was a spinster. The ‘to whom married’ column provides the name and residence. As part of the marriage record, Quakers recorded every person who witnessed the ceremony, The digest does not include these people.
Names of bride and groom and their addresses, groom's occupation and whether bride a spinster, names and addresses of parents and date and place of marriage
Death Digests
Name, age, date of death, address and date and place of burial of the deceased. The description column provides the parentage of the deceased
The coverage of the age column is patchy. Under the ‘Description’ column the following terms are used: daughter of, servant of, son of and wife of.

Further References

Cooksey, Pamela. Joseph Wood 1750-1821 A Yorkshire Quaker: An Introduction to His Life, Ministry and Writings: Quacks Books, 2010


Cooksey, Pamela. Joseph Wood 1750-182 A Yorkshire Quaker: People and Places Noted in the Large and Small Notebooks 1773-1821: Quacks Books, 2012


Furtado, Peter. Quakers: Shire Publications, 2013


General Register Office. List of Non Parochial Registers, vol 42: List and Index Society, 1969 (Society of Friends series)


Milligan, Edward & Thomas, Malcolm. My Ancestors Were Quakers: How Can I Find Out More About Them? 2nd ed: Society of Genealogists, 1999


Ruston, Alan. Obituaries of Dissenting Ministers in the Gentleman's Magazine 1801-1837, Dr Williams's Trust and Library, 2008


Websites (Quaker Family History Society) (Library and Quaker Centre) (Subject Guides including Genealogy) (Quaker Library newsletter) ( Reference material, information and articles relating to the Religious Society of Friends)
( Research Guide to Finding Your Quaker Ancestors) (Leeds University Library Special Collections: Quaker Archives. The library houses two substantial collections known respectively as the Carlton Hill collection, which broadly covers the Leeds, Bradford, Settle and Knaresborough areas and the Clifford Street collection, which covers mainly the York and Thirsk areas but also includes records for Yorkshire as a whole. The records include lists of members, minute books and other business records. Apart from the two collections other Quaker-related material can be found such as Quaker marriage certificates, letters and diaries, and silhouette portraits) (Yorkshire Quaker Heritage Project) (Researching Yorkshire Quaker history: A guide to sources)
Digital Dictionary of Quaker Biography (Approximately 20,000 biographical entries on prominent British and American Friends from the 17th to the 20th centuries) (History of Quaker persecution)
(Yahoo Voices: Quakerism: Its History and Beliefs, by Krystal Weeden)
(The Chapels Society: The Society seeks to foster public interest in the architectural and historical importance of all nonconformist places of worship including churches, chapels and meeting houses throughout the United Kingdom)
Non-Anglican Register Transcripts (Lists of nonconformists registers held in the London Metropolitan Archives) (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet No. 3: Records of nonconformists in London including contents of nonconformist registers) (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Non Anglican Religious Bodies including records of non-conformist and foreign protestant congregations in the City of London)
(Nonconformist Denominations in Northamptonshire) (Church of Scotland and some other churches: Brief History) (TravelScotland: The Great Disruption of 1843) (Scottish History Online: The Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA])
BMD Registers (Society of Friends' Registers, Notes and Certificates of Births, Marriages and Burials ranging from 1578-1841)
(England & Wales, Society Of Friends [Quaker] Births 1578-1841; Marriages 1578-1841; Burials 1578-1841. The Quakers started to keep register books from the late 1650s. Further registers were kept at the Monthly Meeting with details compiled from the independent records of the individual meetings. In 1776 they overhauled the whole registration system and introduced a more systematic procedure)
(England, Pollbooks and Directories 1830-1837. Online access to various pollbooks and directories covering a number of counties. The collection includes access to The Quaker Annual Monitor which lists all the British Quakers who died within the last twelve months and can include obituaries with short biographies)
(Norfolk Non-Conformist Records 1613-1901 Image Browse. This collection comprises registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials as well as membership lists and meeting minutes covering Methodist, Quaker, Baptist and Congregational congregations) (England & Wales, Quaker Birth, Marriage, and Death Registers, 1578-1837. This collection includes the registers and certificates that took place prior to 30 June 1837 that were surrendered to the Registrar General following the Non-Parochial Register Act of 1840. Other Quaker records include: Liverpool, Quaker Registers, 1635-1958; Wiltshire, Quaker Births, 1636-1837; Wiltshire, Quaker Deaths, 1542-1897; A Collection of Quaker Testimonies) (Non Conformist Registers, 1694-1921: Baptism, marriage, and burial registers for many Non-Conformist churches in the greater London area digitised in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts) (Parish Records: West Yorkshire, Nonconformist Records, 1646-1985. This database contains a compilation of records from Nonconformist congregations in the West Yorkshire area of England including Methodist, Baptist, Society of Friends [Quaker], Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and other congregations)
(Wiltshire Marriages, 1538-1837 transcribed and indexed from a variety of sources including Quaker marriages) (Manchester, Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths and Burials, 1758-1987. This database contains birth records from Nonconformist congregations in the Manchester area. These include Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, URC, Congregationalist, Baptist, Unitarian, and Jewish congregations) (Historical Record Collections: Transcripts of baptisms, marriages and deaths extracted from non-parochial/nonconformist registers. The site incorporates the data formerly known as the International Genealogical Index and also data formerly sold on CD as the British Isles Vital Records Index. The former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File can be found under the heading of 'Family Trees') (Parish Records Collection 1538-2005: Includes data from member societies of the Federation of Family History Societies) (The Cheshire Collection: Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic Records 1671-1910. The original records are held by the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) (The Shropshire Collection, 1538-1900. The collection includes searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of Non-Conformist Shropshire registers)
(Durham Records Online: Transcripts from Quaker registers and burial grounds covering County Durham and Northumberland)
Gloucestershire Archives' Genealogical Database (Non-conformist baptisms for some Gloucestershire chapels)
British Library Newspaper Catalogue (Whereabouts of nonconformist journals and newspapers) (Mundus Database: Catalogue of British Missionary Society records. The catalogue contains summary description of collections relating to missionary material held at various institutions and British missionary societies. The material includes missionary archives, personal papers, printed matter, maps and photographs)

CD Roms (Old Non-Parochial Registers of Dudley, 1899)
Gloucestershire Family History Society (Gloucestershire & Wiltshire Quaker Registers consisting of Birth Registers, 1642-1837; Burial Registers, 1655-1908; Marriage Registers, 1656-1908)
Parish Register Transcription Society
(The Sussex NonConformist Registers)