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

Nature of Source

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.

Like other nonconformists, the Quakers were subjected to persecution and harassment such as the Quaker Act of 1662 which required the swearing of oaths of allegiance and supremacy. The Act was strengthened by the Conventicle Act of 1664 which forbade the religious assembly of more than five people outside the auspices of the Church of England. The restrictions were partially lifted with Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 which allowed for the issue of licences for dissenter meetings and preachers. In 1688 the Dutch William of Orange seized the Crown from the Catholic James II in the so called Glorious Revolution. One of the first acts of the new monarch, now William III of England, was to pass the Toleration Act in 1689. The Act, for the first time, guaranteed freedom of worship for the dissenting groups and granted these groups the right to establish their own licensed places of worship (attendance at Anglican church services was compulsory up until the Act). However, nonconformists were forced to accept the 39 Anglican articles of faith and remained barred from public office.

The following sources held at the Quaker Library contain numerous names of individuals:

Catalogue of Manuscripts
A vast card index of miscellaneous documents (mainly letters) concerning many aspects of Quaker life. The collection is arranged alphabetically by name, commencing from the mid 17th century. In addition to the name index, subjects and place names are also indexed.
Books of Sufferings, 1659-1857
The books document county by county the persecution and harassment endured by many Friends who suffered for their faith. They detail fines and sentences handed down to Quakers which were written into a book of sufferings. These sufferings were eventually recorded in the 'Great Book of Sufferings' held in London. The library holds a name index of those that suffered for their faith. The citations include a reference to the meeting minutes from which the index is compiled.
Annual Monitor, 1613-1920
The Annual Monitor also known as the 'Obituary of the Members of the Society of Friends' records deaths of Quakers during the year. A separate book exists for each year and the entry might consist of a simple record of death or a detailed biography. The entries contain useful genealogical information such as name, age, 'time of decease' (date of death), place and situation e.g. wife of. An index to the names has been compiled.
Yearly Meeting Proceedings, 1681-onwards
The proceedings consist of an account of the work undertaken by the Friends and include obituaries of prominent Friends. The minutes of the local meetings are held at local Friends Houses and at County Record Offices.
Testimonies Concerning Deceased Ministers, 1837-1867
Although the Quakers reject the notion of formal services and ministers, some people were gifted in their ability to preach. Their biographies are recorded in the testimonies. An earlier book entitled 'A Collection of Testimonies Concerning Several Ministers of the Gospel' published in 1760 includes biographies of prominent Friends.
Minute Books
The proceedings consist of an account of the work undertaken by the Friends dealing with issues such as education, apprenticeships, wills and disownment.
Dictionary of Quaker Biography
The origin of this ongoing collection is not known and the collection is open for anyone to insert a reference to an individual. The reference might be a short or lengthy biography or a birth, marriage or death announcement.
Press Cuttings
The volumes contain more recent press articles mentioning Quakers, arranged county by county. The press cuttings contain valuable background information on people and places. Press articles relating to Quaker owned or once owned businesses are also featured in the volumes.
Index to the 'Journal of the Friends Historical Society'
This annual publication has been indexed and divided into persons, places and subjects.
Catalogue of Printed Books and Pamphlets
This consists of a large card index of individual Quakers who have had his or her work published. In addition to the name index, many subjects relating to the faith are found in the index. The library has developed an electronic version of the index covering books and pamphlets published since 1988 plus a few earlier works.

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.

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.

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

Where Found

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)
Local Friends Houses (Local minute books)
County Record Offices (Minutes of Quarterly and Monthly meetings; Quarter Session records for those punished for not worshiping at an Anglican church or for refusing to take Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy)
Society of Genealogists (Copies of nonconformist registers and other nonconformist material)

Period Covered

1650 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, addresses, dates of birth, marriage and death, occupations.

Further References

Besse, Joseph. Sufferings of Early Quakers. East Anglia and East Midlands: 1649 to 1690: Sessions Book Trust, 2007 (1753) (With new introduction and newly compiled index of people and places by Michael Gandy)


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) (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) ( Research Guide to Finding Your Quaker Ancestors)
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) (Christians Together: Presbyterianism - Scottish style: Brief History of the Presbyterian Christian Church in Scotland)
(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

BMD Registers (Society of Friends' Registers, Notes and Certificates of Births, Marriages and Burials ranging from 1578-1841) (The Quaker Collection: England & Wales, Quaker Birth, Marriage, and Death Registers, 1578-1837; Quaker Meeting Records; Hinshaw Indexes including details extracted from Quaker Meeting minutes; Obituaries, Memorials, and Burials; Periodicals, yearbooks and published genealogies) (British Library Newspaper Catalogue: Whereabouts of nonconformist journals and newspapers) (Leeds University Library Special Collections Quaker Archives database: Names of individual Quaker men and women who are recorded in surviving minute books and associated documents of Knaresborough, Settle, and Brighouse Monthly Meetings of the Society of Friends from the late 17th to the early 20th century) (Yorkshire Quaker Heritage Project: Online databases: Location Register for the whereabouts of records and a Name Index extracted from Monthly Meeting minute books, records of sufferings and membership records) (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)