The Religious Society of Friends, whose members are known as Friends or Quakers, was founded in 1647 by Englishman, George Fox. “Quakers believe that there is something of God in everybody. They do not have clergy or rituals, and their meetings for worship are often held in silence.” (Source: www.bbc.co.uk – see below.) Their views did not come from a strict reading of the Bible, a book they considered a guideline but not binding. They are known today for their dedication to social reform. For a further discussion of the Society of Friends beliefs as understood by the British, go to the BBC website, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/quakers_1.shtmlQuakers were persecuted for their faith for many years, until the Act of Toleration of 1689 gave some relief. “For example, they were often fined, imprisoned or even transported for refusing to take oaths, serve in the armed forces, attend Anglican church services, or pay tithes to their parish clergyman.” (Source: Herber, p. 255.) The group had a large following despite the troubles, especially in Northwest England. In 1682, William Penn led 23,000 Friends to the new world, founding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Practices and Beliefs that Affected Record KeepingFriends used numbers for days and months to avoid using words derived from the names of pagan gods. The "first day" of a week was Sunday, the "second day" was Monday and so on. Prior to the calendar change in 1752, the first day of second month of 1730 was known to the Friends’ Anglican neighbors as 1 April 1730 because the year started on Lady Day, March 25. After 1752, January first began the New Year and the second month became February. This threw off the names of the last four months of the year. Before 1752, September might be abbreviated 7ber, and October as 8ber, etc. Not anymore.
Friends understood the need for good record keeping and have reliable records from 1668 forward. Since there were no baptisms, they kept records of births. Marriages needed the permission of the society which was recorded, and all present at the ceremony often signed the certificate. It wasn’t uncommon to have fifty witnesses, both Quakers and non-member guests. During the years of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act between 1754 and 1837, only Anglican marriages and those of Quakers and Jews were considered valid. Burials were recorded as well. Quakers did not want to be buried in consecrated ground and provided for their own cemeteries.Accessing the Records
As mentioned in a previous blog post, after civil registration in 1837, there was a call for religious groups to deposit their registers. The National Archives received over 1500 from the Firends and summaries called digests were made. A copy was sent to the local meeting and the Friends House Library in London. The CRO might now have the local copy. The records show 250,000 births, 40,000 marriages and 300,000 burials.The library is at Friends’ House, 173-177 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ. Besides the digests, they hold the names of representatives to “Yearly Meeting” from 1668 and minutes from meetings. The library catalog is online at www.quaker.org.uk. While some restrictions apply to records not yet fifty years old, the library is open for public use Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Public Record Office holds the originals in Record Group 6 and 8 (RG 6 and RG 8). The LDS has the originals and the indexes on microfilm. Online at www.familysearch.org. scroll down on the home page to “Browse by Location” and click “United Kingdom and Ireland.” From the next list pick “England and Wales, Non-Conformist Records Index (RG 4 – 8)” No images are available free. You are directed to www.thegenealogist.co.ukAncestry.com has two records groups that show up when you do a keyword search for ”Quaker records England”. One is ‘Liverpool, England Quaker Records 1635 -1958’ with 39,000 entries. The other is Non-Conformist records for London, England with about 120,000 entries.
Sources: Christensen, Dr. Penelope. Researching English Non-Anglican Records. Toronto, Canada: Heritage Productions 2003.Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company 2006.
©2012, Susan Lewis Well