What do James Dean, Daniel Boone, Richard Nixon, Dave Matthews, Betsy Ross, Joan Baez, and James Michener have in common? They either had family members who were Quakers, were raised in a Quaker home, or counted themselves among the Quaker faithful.
Having Quakers in your family tree, even if they werenâ€™t famous, can be like a genealogical parting of the Red Sea opening up a promised land flowing with ancestors.
The Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, traces its origins to George Fox. In mid-seventeenth century England, Fox was disillusioned with the current religious practices and sought a more enlightened form of worship. When he was nineteen, Fox believed he received a revelation from God. This revelation, based on the concept of â€œInner Light,â€ fueled a movement that snowballed into a full-blown religion across England.
Eventually, Quakers made their way across the Atlantic, but the welcome mat wasnâ€™t always out. Two Quaker women, suspected of being witches, were promptly deported from Boston in 1656. Undeterred, more and more Quakers immigrated to North America and before long the religion had a strong presence in the Colonies.
Family history researchers relish having Quaker roots because the Quakers were diligent note-takers. These notes, or minutes, recorded at their monthly meeting for business, hold bundles of clues about our Quaker ancestors. For example, the minutes noted marriages. The industrious clerk recorded the marriage vows that my ancestor Manoah Chiles repeated when he married his second wife in the Virginia Cedar Creek Monthly Meeting in 1742. He also threw in some valuable genealogical scoops: â€œManoah Chiles, son of Henry, deceased of the county of Hanover, and Anne Cheadle, daughter of John Cheadle of the county of Caroline.â€ The minutes often recorded births and deaths of members, as well.
Additionally, Quaker minutes frequently noted the comings and goings of its members. You might find a record stating that a member transferred to a different meeting. You will also learn about members who were disowned. Many were dismissed from the group for engaging in military service. My ancestor, Peter Hubbard, involved in a contentious land dispute with his brother, was disowned â€œwhilst he remains in that un-Christian spirit.â€
How likely is it that some of your ancestors were Quakers? If your ancestors lived in the eastern third of the country before the middle of the nineteenth century, the chances are good that youâ€™ve got a Quaker in your background. Quakers were widespread throughout the colonies in the eighteenth century with strong populations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and North Carolina. In the next century, large populations of Quakers lived in Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio.
Start your search for Quaker ancestors with the works of William Hinshaw. His six-volume Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy abstracts more than 500,000 details of Quaker happenings. Digital images of all six volumes are on Ancestry. Search the Ancestry Card CatalogÂ for â€œQuakerâ€ and youâ€™ll find Hinshawâ€™s works as well as a number of other resources related to Quakers.
The book, Our Quaker Ancestors, by Ellen and David Berry provides a solid overview of the types of records available and where you might find them. This book is available in the Ancestry Store.
A number of early Quaker records are housed at college libraries. Check out the Friends Collection at Earlham College. Youâ€™ll find a large digital library of Quaker-related materials. Another substantial collection is at Swarthmore Collegeâ€™s Friends Historical Library.
Hundreds of websites are devoted to Quaker research. And, of course, Quakers are still quite active today. If you encounter an ancestor who joined the Society of Friends you may be in for some interesting discoveries.