Find your British Quaker ancestors in the records of the Society of Friends. Discover birth records dating back to 1578 and up to 1841 and find out your ancestor’s name as well as when they were born and who their parents were. The Society of Friends were considered non-conformist as their religion fell outside the established Church of England. Discover more about this fascinating group as you add to your family tree.
These records are from The National Archives at Kew, RG6 series, General Register Office: Society of Friends' registers, notes and certificates of births, marriages and burials. Each record contains both a transcript and an image of the original documents. The amount of information can vary but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Date of birth
Names of parents
Names of witnesses
Quakers have always had a reputation for keeping meticulous records. It was this that led to them being exempted from the Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753 which mandated the keeping of banns registers and ruled that all marriages must be conducted in a Church of England parish.
The Quakers started to keep register books from the late 1650s. Further registers were kept at the Monthly Meeting with details compiled from the independent records of the individual meetings. In 1776 they overhauled the whole registration system and introduced a more systematic procedure. Post 1776 birth records contain the date of birth, place of birth including the locality, parish and county, the parents’ names, often including the occupation of the father, the child’s name and the names of witnesses.
It’s worth remembering that Quaker records used the Julian calendar before 1752 when most switched to the Gregorian calendar. Under the Julian calendar the year ran from Lady Day to Lady Day, in other words from March 25th until March 25th. Quakers also objected to using the names of months derived from heathen gods and goddesses so months will be referred to by their numeric value and not necessarily by their name so you will find the form “the third month so-called March”.
The Quaker movement arose in England in the mid 17th century, among the dissenting protestant groups who broke from the Church of England. They believe in a doctrine of priesthood of all believers and actively avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. They were well known historically for their pacifism, teetotalism and refusal to swear oaths as well as their opposition to slavery, their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement and various social justice movements including workers’ rights and prison reform.
Quakers meet weekly for worship which will be either programmed (led by a pastor with pre-agreed hymns, readings and sermons) or silent unprogrammed worship, more usual in England and Wales, in which the meeting is held in contemplative silence and people only speak if inspired to do so.
Monthly meetings are generally known in England as Preparative meetings. Local groups will come together to discuss matters that concern them all. Births, marriages and deaths would be recorded at both local and monthly level so you may find two separate records of the same event for your ancestor.
Quarterly meetings are held in local preparation for the Yearly meeting. These Yearly Meetings are an opportunity to discuss matters of importance to the wider community of Friends and are when votes will be taken to change matters like the registration of births, marriages and deaths.
Many Quakers became prominent members of the business community. In these birth records you can find many members of the Cadbury family, who started the chocolate empire. In fact, many of the famous British confectionery companies have their roots in the Quaker community – you will also find Rowntrees and Frys in the birth records here.
Richard Tapper Cadbury, a draper from Exeter, moved to Birmingham to set up business. It was in this city that Richard’s son, John, whose birth record is one of that family's records found in this collection, would start a tea and coffee business which would grow into the confectionery empire.
John Cadbury soon found that the small selection of cocoa and chocolate became his biggest selling item. In 1831 he began making his own cocoa and chocolate, then in 1847 his brother Benjamin joined the firm and in 1853 the Cadbury brothers received a royal warrant as official confectioners for Queen Victoria. Cadbury was devoted to workers' rights. He paid his workers well and established work councils so they could air their grievances and kept a physician on staff to provide for workers' health care. He also campaigned to end child labour and was one of the founding members of the Animal Friends Society which would later become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
His son George continued the family business and with his brother Richard continued their father’s commitment to workers’ rights. When the company moved out to a new site in the country they decided to build a factory town, which became known as Bourneville. The houses were never privately owned and were designed to always offer affordable accommodation – not simply for the Cadburys’ workers.