Finding the early Quaker meeting minutes

In April 2014 it became much easier to find records of Quaker meetings. Before then, most minutes and vital records were accessible on microfilm at libraries such as Haverford and Swarthmore. When Ancestry posted its Quaker Collection, it made it possible to retrieve millions of records of meetings from 1681 to 1935.

Although the records on Ancestry are convenient, they can be difficult to use. It is possible to search for a name, but for the early records you cannot specify the date, so there are far too many hits. For example, Thomas Williams appears in the minutes of Burlington and Falls meetings around 1686 when he proposed to marry the widow Rebecca Bennett. If you search for Thomas Williams in the Quaker Collection, you get 19,471 hits, even if you specify an event in 1686. Needless to say, few if any of those are relevant. It is sometimes necessary to browse the minutes page by page to find events and stories.

To browse the records you need to find them. This can be hard because of the cryptic titles of records in the collection.  For example, for Middletown Monthly Meeting in Bucks County, one of the files is called “Meeting Minutes”. This is actually certificates. For Concord Monthly Meeting in Delaware County, “Minutes 1680-1701” is actually birth records.

There were nine monthly meetings established in Pennsylvania before 1700. The table shows the filenames that Ancestry uses for the early minutes of these meetings. To get to these (with a subscription to Ancestry), search the Card Catalog with keyword Quaker. The Quaker Meeting Records will be the first result. Use the boxes on the right to choose a state (Pennsylvania), county and monthly meeting. (Note that Abington is listed under Montgomery County, and Radnor, Darby and Concord are listed under Delaware County. Newark/Kennett is listed under Chester County.) 1

Monthly MeetingMen's minutes"Women's minutes
Falls"Minutes 1683 to 1730""Women's minutes 1683-1774" (Under Phila Arch Street Meeting)
Middletown"Minutes 1664-1807"; also "Record of Commery 1683" for the earliest minutes."Minutes 1683-1892"
Philadelphia"Minutes 1682-1705""Women's minutes 1686-1728" (under Phila Arch St)
Abington"Men's minutes 1682-1746"(Nothing known before 1773)
Radnor"Men's minutes 1684-86"; "...1693-99""Minutes 1685-1711"
Chester"Men's Minutes 1681-1721""Women's minutes 1695-1733"
Concord"Minutes 1683-1756"(Nothing known before 1715)
Darby"A few certificates and marriages, 1684-1763""Women's minutes 1684-1796"
Newark/Kennett"Births and deaths 1686-1739", minutes start at Image 37."Women's minutes 1690-1789"

To find what records exist for each meeting, and what years they cover, the ultimate source is the online catalog of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College.

There are published abstracts of the minutes for seven of the earliest meetings, all except Abington. These do not include all of the minutes, focusing on genealogical events such as marriages. They are indexed, which makes them useful for seeing whether someone is named in the minutes. But they do not include most of the business of the meeting, and do not show who the leaders were.

MeetingPublished abstracts
PhiladelphiaWatring, Early Quaker Records of Philadelphia, vol. 1
RadnorLauney, Early Church Records of Delaware County, vol. 3
ChesterLauney & Wright, Early Church Records of Delaware County, vol. 1
ConcordPeden & Launey, Early Church Records of Delaware County, vol. 2
DarbyLauney, Early Church Records of Delaware County, vol. 3
Falls and MiddletownWatring & Wright, Bucks County Church Records..., vol. 2
Newark/KennettOn USGenWeb Archive under New Castle County, to 1693

Transcripts of early minutes can save much time because they are easier to read than original handwriting, and sometimes include an index. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, has a collection of church records, originally held by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania — the “green books”. These include transcripts of some of the early minutes, especially the men’s minutes.

MeetingCall number (HSP)Notes
PhiladelphiaPh 1F:7Early men's minutes, typed
AbingtonMo 1F:2Early men's minutes, neatly handwritten
FallsBu 7F:5Photostat of men's minutes, with an index at Bu 7F:5a
MiddletownBu 9F:4Men's minutes, neatly handwritten, with an index
DarbyDe 13F:2Women's minutes, handwritten with an index
RadnorDE 21F and De 15F:3Men's minutes, 1684-86 and 1693-1704
ChesterDe 2F:3 and De 2F:6Men's minutes, women's minutes
ConcordDe 9F:3Men's and women's minutes, with index
Newark/KennettCh 9F:3 and Ch 9F:6Men's minutes, women's minutes
  1. This meeting was originally called New Ark, later called Kennett. It was located in Chester County, near Kennett Square, and had no connection to a meeting later set up in Newark, Delaware.

3 thoughts on “Finding the early Quaker meeting minutes”

  1. I found over 450 Monthly Meetings in Pennsylvania have been indexed incorrectly for Ancestry. The transcriber(s) in many cases ignored the first images of the document where correct names of Meetings, correct locations, and/or correct types of information had been included when the documents were photographed. By the way, Abington MM abstracts are described in the Bryn Mawr index.

    Ancestry has multiple early Quaker Meetings incorrectly indexed for every state in the East and Midwest. Unfortunately, family researchers would still have to go to the few libraries with copies of the originals to trace their migrations.

    1. Thank you for clarifying that point. It’s a shame that Ancestry made so many mistakes with this. It makes their records harder to use. My favorite example is some vital records for Falls Monthly Meeting 1699-1788 filed under Exeter Meeting in Berks County. I struggle to remember that every time I want to check the records.

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