Tag Archives: Records

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.

Identifying the people on Holme’s map

To understand the people you need to know who they are, identifying each one specifically.  It is not useful to generalize.  Once we know who they are, we can ask questions. Did they emigrate or were they absentee landowners? Were they largely Quakers? How did they make their living? Where were they from? This study is similar to other research that studied individual people, such as ship passengers (Marion Balderston), passengers on the Welcome (George McCracken), early residents of Philadelphia (Hannah Benner Roach), the Swedes along the Delaware (Peter Stebbins Craig), participants in early courts (Jack Marietta), the lawmakers of Pennsylvania (edited by Craig Horle and Marianne Wokeck). 1 Much of their work has been helpful in the process of identifying the people on Holme’s map.

Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn published a list of the people in the third volume of the Papers of William Penn. They were missing a few such as Thomas Dungan, Edward Jones, and Joseph Milner. Otherwise their list was very thorough, including a location key for each name. 2

The first step in identifying the people was to match the names as spelled on the map with people or families known at the time. In most cases this was straightforward. Many of the names on the map were spelled like their modern equivalents, exactly or with minor changes such as Sweeft to Swift or Kerk to Kirk. Other names could be recognized with more substantial change, such as Banbrig to Bainbridge or Brainton to Brinton. These had to be verified with records to make sure that they were spelling variants instead of distinct names. In some cases apparent variants were actually different families. Hort is not the same as Hart. Blunston is not the same as Blinston.

The early population was not a large one, but in many cases two apparently unrelated people shared the same last name, for example Samuel Allen and Nathaniel Allen, William Bennet and Edmund Bennet, the various Colletts. 3 Sometimes only the last name was placed on the map, but the fact that they are placed in a particular location provides a powerful clue to which person was meant. Families usually emigrated together, settled near each other, and sometimes associated in land dealings. An interesting exception was the two men named Thomas Cross, settled in different counties. Their relationship is clear since the son (a carpenter of Chester County) died first and the father (a wheelwright of Philadelphia County) administered his estate. 4

Some names on the map needed to be deciphered. The English engraver probably introduced some errors when reading Holme’s manuscript: for example “Woolinne” for Woolman, “Braber Eli”, for Elizabeth Barber, “Sardarlan” for Sandelands, “Jo Nowell” for John Worrall, “Bowger” for “Bowyer”, “Darte” for “Darke”. In other cases the odd spelling reflects how the name was pronounced: Haukis for Hawkins, Brumadgam for Birmingham,  Hurst for Hayhurst and Frist for Forest. Philip Theodore Lehnmann, Penn’s private secretary, wrote his name as “Philip Th Lehnman”. The middle Th was often misread and his name appears on the map as Thlehnman and Taluman. There are a few errors that were probably Holme’s such as “Mouns Toker” for Mouns Stake, the Swede. 5.

The process of identifying the names was a lengthy one, requiring a search of many types of records. As more records were found the biography of each person sharpened and became more detailed. The goal was to find the key facts of origin, emigration, occupation, religion, and death. This meant finding one or more records of the person’s activity: typically emigration, marriage, death, land transaction, church membership, or court appearance. The sources included published records such as Quaker meeting minutes, land deeds, tax records, probate and more. Some genealogical research was also used, published or available online. This varies in quality, ranging from Gilbert Cope’s professional work to web pages with no evidence cited. These sources were not used unless there was evidence of careful research, typically by citing sources, preferably primary records.

Next: Using church records


  1. See Walter Sheppard, Passengers and Ships prior to 1684; George McCracken, The Welcome Claimants; Hannah B. Roach, Early Philadelphians; Peter Stebbins Craig, 1671 Census of the Delaware and 1693 Census of Swedes on the Delaware; Jack Marietta & G. S. Rowe, Troubled Experiment; Craig Horle and Marianne Wokeck, editors, Lawmaking and Legislators, especially volume 1.
  2. One name that should not have been on their list was that of “N Von” in Kingsessing. This was a misreading of the last name of the Swede Jonas Nelson.
  3. Other family names with unrelated branches include Atkinson, Bailey, Baker, Barnes, Bond, Brown, Buckley, Carter, Chamberlain, Clayton, Cook, Cox, Ellet, Ellis, Gibbons, Hall, Harding, Harrison, Hastings, Howell, Hudson, Johnson, Jones, King, Lloyd, Marsh, Martin, Mason, Moore, Noble, Palmer, Pickering, Potter, Powell, Richards, Roberts, Robinson, Simcock, Smith, Sneed, Swift, Taylor, Turner, Wheeler, Wood, Worrall.
  4. Perhaps as carpenters they did not wish to compete with each other.
  5. As will be discussed later, a few names were not identified and may represent errors by either Holme or the engraver