We just released 11.5 million new records documenting one of the most prominent groups in American history, the “Religious Society of Friends,” more commonly known as Quakers. Spanning over 300 years (late 1600s – late 1900s), the collection includes birth, marriage, death, disownment, and memorial records, sourced from the Quaker’s monthly meeting minutes. About The Quakers
- Played a key role in American history and society since the country’s earliest days.
- Estimated that in the 1700s, 50 percent of all people living in the Mid-Atlantic States were Quaker.
- Currently more than 85,000 Quakers living in the United States and 350,000 worldwide.
- Quakers are the Unsung Leaders of Equality and Peace.
- Quakers tracked the activities of their members through their monthly business meetings. Detailed meeting minutes can provide important information for those researching their family history, including names, dates, and relationships to fellow “Friends.” Monthly meetings also kept track of where members came from and their destinations when they chose to move to another colony, state or province — a real boon for those tracing their ancestors’ footsteps.
- Many Americans have ancestors with Quaker roots. Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Zooey Deschanel, Kevin Bacon and Dave Matthews, and companies like Barclays Bank, Cadbury Chocolate and Sony, all have Quaker origins.
The Quaker Influence In 1681, after nearly 20 years of persecution for defying the existing religious institutions of their time, William Penn was given land in the new colonies to settle a debt owed by the king to his father. Penn ensured the land became a place where Quakers could live and worship freely, and it was later named Pennsylvania in his honor.
Penn enacted a self-limiting government among these early Quaker settlers in the colony, which later inspired legal practices that were eventually incorporated into the U.S. Constitution, alongside the Quaker beliefs of peace and equality. The beliefs of the Quakers were quite radical for their time and mirror many of the forward-thinking beliefs found in today’s society. They believed in equality among all people in God’s sight, the equal opportunity for education despite race or income level, the empowerment of women, the eradication of slavery, and the senselessness of war. They played an integral role in the abolition of slavery in the United States and are often credited with helping to facilitate the Underground Railroad. When a slave was freed, Quakers often took the freed slave in and their presence would be noted in the meeting minutes from Quaker congregations.
Ancestry.com has collaborated with a variety of institutions to compile a robust online documentation of the Quakers’ history. With the help of American Quaker colleges Earlham, Haverford, Swarthmore and Guilford, and The National Archives in England, Ancestry.com estimates that it now has more than 75 percent of all the American Quaker records in existence.
Lisa Parry Arnold, a professional genealogist, author and lecturer at Ancestry.com: “I was raised in the Quaker religion, attended Quaker schools, and was married in a Quaker wedding ceremony. I feel a deep commitment to spreading awareness of their culture, beliefs and powerful influence in history. These new collections will help people who are researching their family history discover or learn more about their own Quaker heritage.”
In conjunction with the Ancestry.com Quaker record launch, Arnold, a 10th generation Quaker and descendant of the William Penn family, is also publishing Thee and Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records, a companion guide designed to help those exploring their family history understand and use Quaker records. To learn more about Arnold’s book, for more information on the collection, or to learn more about your own Quaker heritage visit www.ancestry.com/Quakers.