Friday, February 14, 2014

Researching Quakers


In 1654, the Quaker faith (Religious Society of Friends) began in Ireland. Its roots can be found among English soldiers, farmers, and merchants who arrived in Ireland after the English Civil War (1641-1651). These immigrants converted to the new religion from a variety of other nonconforming protestant faiths.
By 1750, there were 150 Quaker meetings across Ireland within the provinces of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster.

Around 1655 Quakers began keeping records of their meetings. Quakers held both weekly and monthly meetings. Records were not kept by parish but rather by 'monthly meetings.' Each monthly meeting attempted to create a record of its actions. Minute books were kept for both the men’s and women’s meetings, with most church matters appearing in the men’s meeting minutes. 
Quaker Monthly Meetings
Births, marriages and deaths were recorded at monthly meetings. Records extend from the late 1600s to the present, with the earliest record from Cork in 1675. Today records exist for 16 Quaker monthly meetings.
In 1860, the Friends agreed to abstract their birth, marriage and death records from each monthly meeting. These 'monthly meeting registers' were created from the earliest records to 1859. An index, called the “Jones Index,” was later created. It lists birth, marriage and death records for about 2,250 Quaker surnames by monthly meeting. Those surnames are listed in Goodbody (1967) and the Jones Index is on film in the Family History Library (film 1559454 item 10).
Birth Records Since the Quaker faith does not believe in baptism, birth records are collected. Monthly meeting birth registers contain records up to 1859. They include the name of the child, date of birth, place of birth, name of parents, parents abode, and the book and page of the original record. One must take care when transcribing the date of the birth, since the Quaker registers record the date as year, month, and day. A collection of Quaker birth records throughout Ireland from 1859 to 1949 is also available.
Marriage Records Marriages were recorded by monthly meetings, with these events occasionally being recorded in the Provincial or Quarterly Meeting minutes. Monthly meeting marriage registers contain records up to 1859. They include the name, residence, description (occupation), name of parents, parents abode, to whom married, and date of marriage. The book and page of the original record is provided and the date is recorded as year, month, and day. A collection of Quaker marriage records throughout Ireland from 1859 to 1949 is also available.
Each monthly meeting also maintains a collection of marriage certificates. The certificate documents that the ceremony occurred in a public meeting place and describe what efforts were made to publicize the couple’s intention to marry. Quaker marriage certificates also contain a list of witnesses which were present at the ceremony.
Death Records
Death records are collected in the Quaker faith. Monthly meeting death registers contain records up to 1859. They include the name, date of death, parents, age, residence, description (son or daughter of father and mother), date of burial, and the place of burial. The book and page of the original record is provided and dates are recorded as year, month, and day. A collection of Quaker death records throughout Ireland from 1859 to 1949 is also available.
Quaker Wills Like other Quaker records, wills were kept separate and apart from those required by the State, and avoided being destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922.  Quaker wills were recorded by the monthly meeting. Eustace & Good body (1957) contains abstracts of 224 Quaker wills, while Goodbody (1967) contains an additional 50 wills. However, the number of records from Ulster is limited.
Quaker Biographies and Pedigrees In 1997, Harrison authored A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Quakers. In 2008, he produced a significantly expanded second edition which includes short sketches of about 650 Irish Quakers from the founding of the faith up to current times.
Some monthly meetings and some province or quarterly meetings collect ‘family lists’. In 1927, Thomas Henry Webb donated a collection of Irish Quaker pedigrees to the Dublin Friends Historical Library. The 232 surnames are listed in Ryan (2001). The Webb Collection provides detailed family records, but includes only about 10 percent of the Quaker surnames listed in the Jones Index.

Other Quaker Records

National or Half-Yearly Meeting
Records of the Quaker National or Half-Yearly Meeting date from 1671. There are also, early lists of sufferings and testimonies against tithes.
Province or Quarterly Meeting
Records of the provincial or quarterly meetings extend back to 1670 for Leinster, 1674 for Ulster, and 1694 for Munster. Marriages were sometimes recorded within the province or quarterly minute books.
Certificates of Removal
A unique type of Quaker record is the “Certificate of Removal”. Many monthly meetings organized these certificates in a separate register. They served a traveling Quaker much like a passport, and would be presented upon arriving at a new meeting. The certificate noted that the holder was debt free, his or her marital status, and that they were a member in good standing at that monthly meeting. When not organized separately, these certificates were recorded as a part of monthly meeting minutes.
Quaker Suffering Records 
Throughout its early history, the Quaker faith has been forced to endure a number of injustices. These included imprisonment, corporal punishment, the paying of fines, and the collection of goods for not tithing to the Church of Ireland. As a result, Quakers began to records the types and severity of these injustices by monthly meetings. Later these were printed in a series of suffering books.
Although difficult to locate, these texts can provide a wealth of information about a Quaker’s location (by parish or townland), occupation, and their relative income (wealth) based on the size of their tithe. A majority of sufferings records were for failing to tithe.


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