As researchers we are always happy to find that we have ancestors among localities, regions or groups that kept excellent records. For those with Quaker ancestry, you fall into the category of the fortunate. Quaker records are an excellent source. However, finding them and knowing what you are reading does require a little education.
The system of record keeping that the Quakers have used, and continue to use, was originally created by George Fox in 1675. I suspect he had no idea how valuable genealogists would find his records centuries later.
Quaker records are an excellent source, though finding and understanding them can require some additional work.
A Bit About the Inventories
Fortunately for us, these inventories were published and many of them are available on file and fiche through your local Family History Center. Some of the resources that the Family History Library has are of actual records, whereas others are of the inventories.
To find what is available, look in the Family History Library Catalog in the fiche version. You will want to look in the Author/Title section for Works Project Administration and also under United States - Works Project Administration.
An Understanding of the Records
There is a definite language that researchers of Quaker ancestry must become familiar with. You will need to understand the difference between a yearly meeting and a monthly meeting. And it is important to understand the types of business that were handled at each level of gathering.
The reference to "meetings" refers to the gathering of the Quakers at a given time in a given locality. A Quaker living in Schuylkill, PA would have attended the Schuylkill Monthly Meeting, the Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
One of the benefits of the Quaker records is the listing in the quarterly meetings of the newly created preparative and monthly meetings. By reading this information, you will be able to track the migration of your ancestors from one meeting to another. This migration may be from one state to another or it may be just from one meeting to another as the number of Quakers in the area grew enough to warrant the setting up or setting off of a new monthly or preparative meeting.
For genealogists, the records of the monthly meetings are by far the most useful in terms of vital information. It is in the monthly meetings that you will find references to marriages, births, removals (the moving of a Quaker from one meeting to another) and other important information.
There are some published works of the various monthly meetings. Anyone who begins to research Quaker ancestry will quickly learn of William Wade Hinshaw. His works have been reprinted in book form and recently were released on CD as Genealogical Records: The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1740-1930. There are other published records though. Those researching the Quakers of Pennsylvania will want to access the genealogies by Gilbert Cope.
While the published records do abound, it is an extremely good idea to access the original meeting records. There are extensive collections at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA, including some unpublished records of William Wade Hinshaw, which you are welcome to research at the library. And there is a large collection of microfilmed Quaker records available from the Family History Library through your local Family History Center.
An excellent primer to get started in researching your Quaker ancestors is "Our Quaker Ancestors, Finding Them in Quaker Records" by Ellen Thomas Berry and David Allen Berry. In its third printing, this small book is packed full of useful information to aid you in your research. It is available from Genealogical Publishing Company
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.