November 4, 2022
When I was a beginning genealogist, I mentioned to a more seasoned researcher that I thought some of my husband’s New Jersey ancestors may have been Quakers. She responded, “You’re so lucky!” At the time I didn’t understand what she meant.
I later learned that my husband’s family had numerous Quakers; after all they lived in New Jersey only ten or so miles from Philadelphia. I also learned what that genealogist meant when she said I was lucky. Quakers are well-known for their records. With early and complete documentation of people’s lives, Quaker ancestors are a genealogical goldmine.
In recent years Quaker records have become easier than ever to access. Many of them have been digitized and can be found on the major genealogical websites. I have had great success in finding records for my husband’s Quaker ancestors on Ancestry.com.
A simple name search usually returns good results, particularly if the name is uncommon. I recently looked for my husband’s third great grandmother Tacy Lippincott on Ancestry. A general search gave me several records for her including censuses and death and burial records. However, I had reason to believe that Tacy was a Quaker, at least for part of her life.
The general search didn’t reveal any Quaker records, but I checked the Ancestry Card Catalog for “Quaker Records.” The list of records includes a huge database called “U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935.” Searching that database led to a record of Tacy’s disfellowship in 1810 for “accomplishing her marriage contrary to the rules of our discipline.” Further searching led to more records concerning Tacy’s marriage and eventual disfellowship.
I have had similar results when searching for other Quakers. It appears that searching in the actual Quaker database is a better way to get good results when you’re looking for Quakers. It’s worth the extra step that this entails since these records are full of personal details. They include records concerning everything from members being counseled about manumitting slaves (long before the Civil War) to records of family members’ births and deaths.
These records are especially useful for female ancestors who tend to be overlooked in other types of records. The Quakers were remarkably even-handed when it came to recording women’s lives.
Since the day that experienced genealogist told me I was lucky to have Quaker ancestors, I’ve found dozens and dozens of Quaker documents. I’ve also passed along the idea that you’re lucky if you’ve found Quakers in your family tree. If you have even the faintest hint that there are Quakers in your own family, the records are easy to access and search, and the potential rewards are worthwhile.