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From the Green Valley News, Friday 6 June 2008, page C5

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Finding Quaker Ancestry

Recently I discovered my third great grandmother Amy Irish, about whom I have known very little, was a Quaker. In fact, she was disowned because she married out of meeting, in other words, she married a man who was not a Quaker.

Officially known as the Religious Society of Friends, the denomination kept meticulous records of their members. The Quaker structure is characterized by its business meetings: Monthly or preparative meetings held locally; Quarterly meetings encompassing several monthly groups; Annual meetings covering a large area of a particular state or sometimes the entire state.

Weekly worship occurred under the auspices of a monthly meeting in an unadorned building or meeting house or sometimes in a memberís home, usually on First Day (Sunday) and on another day mid-week. Membership was not required to attend a worship meeting but non-members were seldom recorded in a monthly meeting even if they were regular attendees.

Quakers were generally members of the monthly meeting closest to where they lived. As the denominationís population increased or decreased in an area, monthly meetings were started or discontinued. Record keeping was done at the local level. To find ancestors in Quaker records you need to know the name of the monthly meeting in which they participated.

Member records were kept within the minutes of the monthly meetings and reported at the annual meeting. Since men and women met separately, if a family moved to a new meeting area, you might find the father and sons recorded transferring in or out in minutes of the menís meeting while the mother and daughtersí transfer is recorded in the womenís meeting.

Membership was attained in one of three ways: By choosing to become a member "received by request" as a "convinced Friend;" By transfer from another Quaker meeting via "certificate of removal;" By "birthright," i.e., both parents members in good standing when the birth occurred.

Removal was accomplished similarly. A member could remove/transfer to another Quaker meeting or leave due to death or by disownment. In the latter case, Elders or Overseers would counsel the errant member who had acted contrary to the order of Friends. The member could acknowledge the wrong and cease the behavior to prevent being disowned at the monthly meeting. Disownment did not involve shunning. Reinstatement was possible generally after several years passed during which time the former member could continue to attend worship meetings.

The Quakers did not believe in baptism because the Bible does not make it a requirement to get into Heaven, but each Monthly Meeting was mandated to record membersí births, marriages and deaths. Other information recorded includes entry into membership, transfers in and out of an area meeting, complaints against members for conduct contrary to their Discipline, and reinstatements after a disownment.

A number of indexes to Quaker records are available in libraries, on microfilm and some on the Internet to aid in finding Quaker ancestors. For instance, the James E. Hazard Index of New York Yearly Meetings is online at

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