Moving from place to place created entries in Quaker minutes which can help you find your ancestors. Learn how to use this great resource in a few easy steps.
First the ‘Why’
When a family or individual wished to move to a locality that was within the boundaries of another meeting, regardless of the distance, they were required by the Book of Discipline to request and receive a “certificate of removal” in order to transfer their membership. This could be considered a letter of reference from the original meeting. The normal procedure involved a review by a few members of the Committee of Overseers, who were appointed to determine if there were any unmet financial obligations or other serious issues. After the review, a certificate was prepared, indicating that the individuals or families were members in good standing and no “obstruction” was found. The purpose of this document was to assure the new meeting that the persons arriving were of sound stature and had fulfilled their obligations. If an obstruction was found, the certificate was withheld until the obstruction was cleared up.
When you consider the circumstances of traveling over long distances and sometimes even oceans, with no means of knowing whether or not the arriving people were trustworthy, it is not difficult to understand the need of such a document. With this letter or certificate, the new individual or family was welcomed to the meeting.
The certificate was for the adults and their minor children and usually listed them by name. The older children were listed on their own certificates, though there was no hard rule about it. In some instances, as in the case of mass migration, several families were included on one certificate.
Where to Find Them
Details from the certificate were written into the minutes of the former meeting, and when the certificate holders reached their destination, the details were written into the minutes of the new meeting. One can often track Quaker families through their migrations using their certificates of removal. Sometimes it’s fun trying to gauge how long it took them to travel to their new homes by tracking the time, starting with the month a certificate was read into the former meeting minutes and ending with the month a certificate was read into the new meeting minutes.
On occasion, you may find a record of a certificate granted in the former meeting’s minutes and then not find a record of it in the minutes of the intended meeting. There could have been several reasons for this: perhaps the certificate was lost; perhaps the travelers changed their plans; or, perhaps their plans were changed for them, through loss of life or finances, while traveling to their new location. In that case, research collateral lines to determine where other family members lived and look in the minutes of the Quaker meeting closest to that area. They may have moved closer to family or, if there were no Quaker meetings in the area, they may have joined another church.
Removal registers, separate books that traced the removal requests and approvals, were kept by many meetings. In other meetings, the requests and approvals are found only in the minutes. Use the Browse function on Ancestry.com in the U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681–1994, or the England and Wales, Quaker Birth, Marriage, and Death Registers, 1578–1837 to locate the meeting where your ancestor lived and to view a list of the records for that meeting appearing on Ancestry.com. If there is no book entitled “Certificates of Removal” as in the example here, then check the meeting minutes directly for entries about certificates being requested and granted.
To learn more about certificates, order my new book: Thee & Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records. Available on Amazon.com. Purchase as an eBook or in printed format. The printed book has dozens of illustrations and images, including a bonus chapter with a case study demonstrating step-by-step how to perform a successful search using the Quaker Collections on Ancestry.com.