In my last post I mentioned a little collection I built of Quaker Monthly Meeting Records on Hathi Trust. Useful as I hope it is, it pales in comparison to what you will find on Family Search. I’ll tell you where to find them and how to access them in a minute, but first you need to know about the a little bit about the records, the repositories, and their organization.
Swarthmore College – Friends Historical Library
Swarthmore College, was founded in 1864 near Philadelphia, PA as an institution of higher learning for the Society of Friends. It has since then evolved to a general liberal arts college serving all denominations but maintaining the values and vision of its founders.
Because of its Quaker heritage, it has the Friends Historical Library, which is an “official depository of the records of the many North American yearly meetings of the Society of Friends.” They have 3,700 feet (2,500 reels of microfilm) of original records. Wow.
About Church and Record Organization
The Quakers organize their church, meetings, and records using a calendar structure. There are yearly meetings, quarterly meetings, and, of course, monthly meetings. And as you might suspect the yearly meetings reflect the largest organizational unit and the largest geographic area. The quarterly and monthly meetings are correspondingly smaller and subordinate. For example, you will find yearly meetings in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Ohio and Indiana. Each of these represent the largest geographic area. Then the quarterly and monthly meetings within these areas loosely report to the location of the yearly meeting. Darby, Pennsylvania monthly meeting will report to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting because of its near proximity to Philadelphia. Any monthly meetings in Ohio would report to the Ohio Yearly Meeting, and so on.
This is important because the records are organized in the exact same manner. You will find the records for the Concord, Ohio Monthly Meeting organized under the Ohio Yearly Meeting….most of the time. As you might imagine the creation of meetings and the organization of the Church were constantly in flux because of the natural migration and settlement patterns. You might find Ohio records under the Pennsylvania Yearly Meetings, until the state / community was large enough to have a yearly meeting on its own.
Did You Know About the Schism?
In 1827/1828 the Society of Friends suffered a schism. The community broke into two factions – the Orthodox and the more liberal Hicksite. It’s important to be aware of this division. Even a small town may have two Quaker Churches – one of each faction. So you need to be alert to look in both monthly meeting records for your ancestor. Further, if your ancestor’s life transcended the schism, you may find him in multiple church factions.
On to the Records!
You can go to Swarthmore College and access most of the records just like you would any archive. Most of the records as mentioned earlier are on microfilm. However, if you are not able to visit the Philadelphia area, they do not make their collection accessible by inter-library loan. Perfectly understandable as most archives don’t let their collections out the door. However!!! You can obtain many of the same rolls of microfilm through the Family History Library and the www.familysearch.org website.
To access the records at the Family Search website, simply go to www.familysearch.org, and click on the CATALOG. (You don’t want Books or the general databases.) Then simply search by place (It defaults to a place search.) just like you might with any other library catalog by entering the name of the town, county, and/or state of interest. I will say that recently they have updated their search box so it gives you options, just like Google, when you put in your location name. The search engine will return a list of record groups (military, census, tax, history, church) for your location. To find the Quaker Monthly Meeting records, click on “church.” From there you can click on the specific record for more information and then order it for $7.50 to be delivered to your nearby archive or Family History Center.
So What if I Don’t Know the Monthly Meeting Location?
There you have the trick to finding Quaker Monthly Meeting records. It’s really all about knowing where your ancestor lived, and where the nearest meeting would be. As for the former point, you’ll want to use conventional genealogy research methods and tools (census, cemetery tax, probate, etc) records to locate your ancestor. As for the latter point, I can offer a couple finding aids.
Swarthmore College – Family History Library Finding Aids – The Library has created and put online extensive finding aids and descriptions of many yearly and monthly meeting records. By clicking on the Yearly Meeting, you will get a list of all of the monthly meetings supporting it. And with each of them an extensive finding aid describing the records and the years reflected. You can find the directory here, but I put a short cut here for you, too.
QuakerMeetings.com Finding Aid – Thomas C. Hill has compiled a database of more than 2,100 Quaker Monthly Meetings – not the archives – just the meetings. In it you can learn the former name, parent meeting, the date of inception and closure (if closed), location, what records are known to exist, and the record storage location. You can find his online database here.
Finally, Swarthmore College and the Family History Library (and www.familysearch.org) are impressive archives. But even they are not comprehensive. There are universities and archives with Quaker records across the country and across the ocean. I mentioned this book previously, but it is worth noting again Our Quaker Ancestors by Ellen T. Berry and David Allen Berry has an exceptional bibliography including a comprehensive list of Quaker Archives!
With this I hope you’re on your way to finding your Quaker ancestors!