Category Archives: Records

Early court records

You can use vital records to find your ancestors, but it is in the court records that the past comes alive. That is where you find out who menaced their neighbors with a gun at midnight, who repeated slanderous gossip, who misbehaved sexually, who shot their neighbor’s pig and hid the bacon in the out house. 1 You hear the voices of the people speaking in their own words, calling the jury sworn rogues or telling exactly what Nicholas Randall did to the wife of his master John Swift. 2 You follow the coroner and his men as they track the footprints of a distinctive boot to the swamp where they found 14 stolen deer skins hidden in a hollow tree. When they measured the shoe-print and compared it to John Martin’s shoe, it was found to be the same. John Martin was startled when they took off his shoe to measure it, but could not deny his guilt. 3

The most famous case in early Pennsylvania was not tried in a court, but in the Council, acting as a court on 12th mo 1683. Before William Penn, the Council, and a grand jury, Margaret Mattson, a Swede and the wife of Neels Mattson, was accused of being a witch. Henry Drystreet testified that he had been told she was a witch and could bewitch cows. Charles Ashcom testified that Mattson’s daughter saw a vision or dream of an old woman and a great light. Annakey Coolin and her husband boiled the heart of a calf that they thought to have died of witchcraft; Margaret saw them and said “unseemly expressions”. None of this convinced the jury, who ruled that she was not guilty of being a witch, only of “having the common fame” of one. 4

The record of the courts of Chester County and Bucks County have been preserved. The records of Philadelphia County court are unfortunately lost, except for a few early cases. We also have the record of the Upland Court, the precursor to Chester County court, from 1676 to 1681, and of Burlington Court, across the river in West Jersey. These hundreds of pages tell many stories.

Where to find the early court records

CourtOn Ancestry?Other sources:
Bucks County 1684-1700"Record of the courts of Quarter Sessions and Common Pleas of Bucks County 1684-1700"A published version by Heritage Books in 2013
Burlington County 1680-1709"The Burlington Court Book: a record of Quaker jurisprudence in West New Jersey 1680-1709Snippet view only on Google Books
Chester County 1681-1699"Record of the courts of Chester County, volume 1"Available on Internet Archive, full view including pdf download
New CastleNot availableAvailable on Internet Archive as "Record of the court of New Castle on Delaware"; volume 1 is 1676-1681; volume 2 is 1681-1699
Upland"The Record of the court at Upland, in Pennsylvania : 1676 to 1681."Publications of the HSP, volume 4, 1860, full view on Google Books
The Provincial CouncilNot availableMinutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, volume 1, full view on Google Books
  1.  Owen Magdaniel and two cronies fired a pistol late at night at John Calvert’s window “to his and his wifes great afrightment”. Chester County Court 7th month 1692. Find the case of the stolen pig in Chester County Court on March 1682. Presumably when Anderson hid the stolen bacon in an out house, the reference was to an out-building, not necessarily what we would call an outhouse.
  2. Nicholas Randall laid with his head on Frances Swift’s lap, then took her into the barn at midnight, where “his mustard pot would work”. He called John Swift a cuckoldy rogue. Bucks County Court record, 4th month 1688.
  3. Chester County Court record, 4th month 1690. On the same day the court heard the case of Susannah Willard, convicted of fornication and bastardy with her step-father Ralph Dracott. Coincidentally Susannah’s sister Elizabeth later married Nicholas Randall.
  4. Minutes of the Provincial Council, volume 1, pages 95-96. About this time Neels Mattson sold his farm and moved to Gloucester County, West Jersey, according to Peter S. Craig, The 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware, pages 69-70.

Finding the early vital records: Chester and Delaware Counties

There were four early Quaker meetings within the bounds of present-day Delaware County, plus one in Chester County. In the early years all this area was part of Chester County. 1 The records of Radnor Monthly Meeting are included in Delaware County, along with Concord and Darby. The records of Chester Monthly Meeting are split on Ancestry, between Chester County and Delaware County.

The earliest vital records of the meetings are found on Ancestry, just like the vital records of the early meetings in Bucks and Philadelphia Counties. If you have a subscription you can view the images there.

There are four sources of vital records for Chester Monthly Meeting, one each for births, burials and marriages, plus an early record book with a mix of births, burials, subscriptions for collections, and other material. With its original handwriting it is an evocative glimpse into the life of the meeting. The records of births and burials are later copies, probably around 1884, since the records stop there.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
ChesterBirths"Births 1677" (later copy, index in back)
ChesterBurials"Burials 1682" (later copy, no index)
ChesterMarriages"Certificates of marriage, record" (full certificates with witnesses, no index)
Chester (under Delaware County)Births, burials, marriages"Register Book 1681" (a mix of records, original handwriting)

The vital records of Concord are incomplete for the early years. The records of births and marriages start around 1693, with a few earlier births in another place, and there are no apparently no early deaths.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
ConcordMarriages, starting about 1693"Births and marriages 1693-1808" (certificates with witnesses)
ConcordBirths, early"Minutes 1680-1701" (actually births, early handwritten);
also "Minutes 1685-1931" (late copy, incomplete record)

Darby Monthly Meeting handled its early marriage certificates in a distinctive way. Instead of being copied into a register of their own, they are written in with the minutes in the proper chronological sequence. Once in a while the recorder left a blank space for the certificate, but it was never brought in to be copied. The record of births and burials starts early.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
DarbyMarriages, starting 1684"A few certificates and marriages 1684-1763" (marriages mixed with minutes, starting on Image 24)
DarbyMarriages, certificates"Marriage certificates 1694-1848" (later copy, index in back)
DarbyBurials"Births and burials 1682-1835" (handwritten original)
DarbyBirths"Births and burials 1682-1835" (handwritten original)

The Radnor vital records come in two forms: early handwriting and the neat transcript made by Gilbert Cope in the 1800s. In comparison to Concord meeting, Radnor has good coverage of the early years.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
RadnorBirths"Births 1682-1806" (handwritten original, with an index);
also "Births, deaths, marriages and certificates of removal (received) 1683-1730" (copy typed by Gilbert Cope, records mixed together in rough chronological order);
also in "Marriages, births and burial certificates 1684-1729" (original handwritten)
RadnorBurials"Marriages, births and burial certificates 1684-1729" (original handwritten);
also in the Cope transcript
RadnorMarriages"Marriages, births and burial certificates 1684-1729" (original handwritten);
also in the Cope transcript

Newark/Kennett meeting was originally called New Ark, later changed to Kennett. Don’t confuse it with the meeting in nearby Newark, Delaware. Ancestry lists its records for Kennett under Chester County, as they should be.

MeetingVital RecordAncestry file
Newark/KennettBirthsKennett Monthly Meeting: "Births and deaths 1686-1739"
Newark/KennettDeaths(same as above)
  1. The Welsh refused to acknowledge the existence of Chester County. They were angry when the boundary line was drawn between Philadelphia and Chester Counties, because it split their tract and diluted their political influence. They boycotted the court in Chester and insisted on attending Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting instead of Chester Monthly Meeting.

Finding the early Quaker vital records: Bucks and Philadelphia Counties

There are many sources for early Quaker vital records, sometimes overlapping, and some with more detail than others. Fortunately many of the best sources are available on Ancestry. This post will cover vital records to about 1700, but the principles will be the same even if you are searching for later records.

The vital records come in three varieties: images of pages, usually handwritten; manuscripts, and published books. There are arguments for using all of these.  It is much easier to read the typed or published copies. Someone else has already deciphered the early handwriting for you. But sometimes you want the scrawled originals —to see your ancestor’s signature or to get a more immediate feel for the event or because information there was not included in later copies.

In particular, for Quaker marriages you probably want to see the original certificate or a good abstract of it, because you want the list of people who witnessed the ceremony and signed the certificate.  The first witnesses to sign a marriage certificate were close family members, followed by friends and guests, so the list of witnesses can provide clues to family relationships. 1 The list also shows many of the members of the meeting at the time. 2

The images of many records are now available on Ancestry if you have a subscription, in the collection called Quaker Meeting Records 1681-1935. In that collection they are organized by state, county, and meeting. Sometimes the Ancestry files are placed under the wrong county or meeting. If you can’t find a file by browsing, and you suspect it should exist, use a technique of searching instead. Choose someone that should be in a record, preferably with an uncommon name, and use the search boxes on the opening page of the Quaker Records. This will give you a list of hits. View the image and see whether you spot any misfiled files. For example for Falls Monthly Meeting, one early file is under Philadelphia County, Arch Street Meeting and another one is under Berks County, Exeter Meeting.

Where to find the vital records on Ancestry for Bucks and Philadelphia Counties

Falls Meeting had three early documents: one of intermingled births and burials, one of marriage certificates (with witnesses), and one of births recorded by the Quarterly Meeting. These are scattered around on Ancestry, along with a 1898 copy that included later records. The 1898 copy is easiest to read.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
Falls Monthly MtgBirths & burials, 1699-1788"Record of births and burials" (under Phila Arch St Meeting);
also in "Marriages, births and deaths 1699-1788" (under Berks County: Exeter Meeting)
Falls Monthly MtgMarriage certificates 1699-1759"Marriages, births and deaths 1699-1788", (Berks County: Exeter Mtg);
also in "Falls Copy Births Deaths Marriages" (under Bucks County: Falls) (the 1898 copy)
Falls Monthly MtgBirths 1680 on, recorded by Bucks Quarterly Meeting"Falls Copy Births Deaths Marriages" (Bucks County: Falls) (the 1898 copy)

Middletown Meeting had one early document, a collection of minutes, marriages, births and burials. There are two copies on Ancestry, differing mainly in the births and burials. The “Record of Commery” has the births in different order, and only a few burials. The mysterious “Commery” is someone’s error in reading the title page; it should actually be “Records commencing 1683”. 3

At first the responsibility of recording births and burials fell to the Bucks Quarterly Meeting. Their records can be found on Ancestry, listed under Philadelphia County, Arch Street Meeting. This is the only Ancestry file to show the early deaths. It is a mix of Falls and Middletown people, since in the earliest few years Middletown had not yet been split off as a monthly meeting. For example, the first birth is Mary, daughter of Lyonell and Elizabeth Britton of Falls; one of the first deaths is Thomas Walmsley, who owned land in Middletown.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
MiddletownMarriages 1684-1699"Minutes, marriages, certificates of removal, condemnations, births and burials" (also in "Records of Commery 1683")
MiddletownBirths, beginning in 1677Same as above, except that the order is different, and "Record of Commery" may have fewer.
MiddletownBurials, starting about 1726.Same as above. "Record of Commery" is missing most of the burials.
MiddletownBirths & burials recorded by Bucks Quarterly meeting, starting 1677Phila County: Arch Street Meeting: "Record of certificates of removal"

Philadelphia Monthly Meeting has two original documents, one for marriages and one for births and burials, plus a transcription of the births and burials made in 1876 by Gilbert Cope. The 1876 copy has an index and the records have been changed from chronological order to alphabetical. There is an identical copy of the 1876 transcript filed under Philadelphia Meeting Arch Street.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
Philadelphia Monthly MtgBirths and burials, roughly chronological"Births and burials, 1686-1807"
Philadelphia Monthly MeetingBirths and burials, A-Z order"Births deaths and burials, 1688-1826" (later copy with index)
Philadelphia Monthly MeetingList of marriages 1682-1769"Marriage certificates, 1682-1769" (a list, not certificates, taken from minutes)
Philadelphia Monthly MeetingMarriage certificates starting in 1672"Marriages, 1672-1759" (roughly chronological order) (certificates with witnesses)

There are two early documents for Abington Monthly Meeting, one of marriages and one of births and deaths. They are handwritten copies made in the 1700’s, so the signatures on the marriage certificates are not original. Ancestry places records of Abington Meeting under Montgomery County, which split off from Philadelphia County in 1784.

MeetingVital recordAncestry file
AbingtonBirths and deaths starting in 1682"Births and deaths, 1682-1809 vol. 1" (with an index, rough chronological order)
AbingtonMarriages starting in 1685"Marriages, 1685-1721" (copy of the certificates with witnesses)


  1. See Stewart Baldwin’s post on the Quaker-Roots Mailing List on Rootsweb, May 14, 2014.
  2. Non-Friends were allowed to attend marriage ceremonies and to sign the certificate as witnesses, although this was uncommon.
  3. Look carefully at Image 7 in the file.

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.

Using early church records: Quakers

Church records are valuable for two reasons. They include vital records like births, marriages, and deaths, and they also tell stories about people’s membership in a community. In particular, affiliation with a Quaker meeting had consequences for one’s behavior and the behavior of one’s family. The code of discipline required strict adherence to the rules of conduct, especially for marriage. The meeting expected its members to attend meetings and to subscribe to collections.  In return it provided a social network and a safety net for the needy. To know that someone was a Friend tells a lot about them. 1

Every Friend was a member of a meeting for worship and was expected to attend the closest meeting to his or her home. 2 Two more meetings for worship formed a monthly meeting. Monthly meetings were organized into quarterly meetings, and the yearly meeting presided over all of them. The monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings all kept records. The records of most interest to genealogists and historians are the monthly meetings, with births, marriages, deaths, discipline, arrivals and departures of members.

Friends had a tradition of birthright membership. A child born to Quaker parents was presumably raised as a Friend and had automatic membership in the Society. 3  It was therefore important for meetings to record marriages and births of children. They were less concerned with deaths and burials, but often noted those as part of the larger record-keeping process. In addition they kept minutes of the meeting business, showing the members appointed to the many committees for visiting wayward friends, attending marriages, settling disputes or handling subscriptions. Although they did not keep membership lists at this early period, most members were probably included in some type of record. However absence from the records does not rule out membership if someone was not active in the meeting and did not appear in the record of life events. 4

When the shiploads of Quaker emigrants flooded into the province in 1682 and 1683 most were strangers to each other. In order to accept each other into their communities, they used a system of certificates, letters from their home meeting in England testifying to their good behavior, “good conversation” as it was often called. It would certify that they were in good standing for behavior, that they had not left outstanding debts, and in the case of unmarried persons that they were free of engagements or promises to others. These certificates were often, though not always, recorded by the meeting they joined in Pennsylvania. Most Quakers probably came with such a certificate of clearance. In a few cases the minutes of the meeting specifically say that someone arrived without one and a request had to be sent back to England or the information gathered in other ways. 5

The early records are incomplete. Some people did not bring a record of their children’s births to the meeting clerk. Some early marriages were not recorded, for example those at Germantown meeting. The very earliest minutes have not survived for many meetings. For example the first men’s minutes from Falls Monthly Meeting begin in 3rd month 1683, almost a year after the first large wave of settlement. The early records may have been written in loose sheets, and some of those lost. Typically the meeting would gather these and keep them more systematically in later years. For example in 1717 Abington hired George Boone to transcribe the early records into a book.

Friends considered women to be spiritual equals to men, but did not treat them equally in the sphere of meeting management. The women had their own monthly meeting, with special responsibility for approving the request of young people to marry. They kept their own minutes, and went to the men’s meeting to present candidates for marriage. However they did not have the power of the men’s monthly meeting over raising subscriptions for the poor, building new meeting houses, or sending representatives to the quarterly meeting. 6

For identifying the people of Holme’s map the record of eight monthly meetings are the most relevant: Philadelphia, Abington, Falls, Middletown, Chester, Concord, Radnor, and Darby (plus a few from Newark or Kennett Meeting, and a few from Burlington). These are the earliest meetings within the bounds of the map. This is where we will look for vital records and stories.

  1. The proper name for the Quakers was the Society of Friends. They referred to each other as Friends. The term Quakers was originally given to them in ridicule. However they themselves occasionally used it, often in the form of “the people called Quakers”.
  2.  Occasionally this caused friction. When Middletown Monthly Meeting dealt with the wealthy landowner Joseph Growden over his lawsuit with John Gray, he tried to weasel out of it by declaring that he belonged to another meeting and refusing to give an account of his actions. (Men’s Minutes, 5th month 1687 through 4th month 1688). In 7th month 1699 the same meeting complained about the “slackness of the friends about the ferry that they never yet frequent this meeting”. A committee was sent to tell them that “they belong to this meeting and ought not make their appearance elsewhere”. In 10th month 1686 it was considered disorderly that Walter Forrest published his marriage intentions in another meeting, even though he followed the proper procedure in other ways.
  3. Non-Quakers could request to join the Society. The meeting would appoint a committee to investigate their good behavior and report to the meeting. Such requests were usually granted. Frequently a man asked to join, was approved, and some months later announced his intention to marry a woman of the meeting.
  4. To study appearance in the records, I counted members of Falls and Middletown monthly meetings to about 1688. There were 66 people who appeared in the meeting records but had no certificate of arrival. Another 42 had a certificate of arrival, and all but three of them appeared in other records as well. In other words it is likely that known members appear in the records, but some appear in only one place.
  5. For example, when Seamercy Adams and Mary Brett wanted to marry in 1687, she did not have a certificate and the Philadelphia Meeting asked her to bring some Friends who knew her in England to testify to her clearness for marriage. Minutes of Phila Mo Mtg, 7th mo 1687
  6. Of course women had little legal power in the larger sphere as well. They could not serve on juries, in political bodies, or in local offices. A married woman owned no property of her own; any property she had on the marriage became her husband’s. It was unusual for a married woman to make a will, until her husband died and she regained ownership of some of his property.