Were your ancestors Quakers? Find out who they married, what the couple vowed and who witnessed the ceremony in the records of the Society of Friends between 1578 and 1841. The Quakers were known for their meticulous record keeping and you can find an extraordinary level of detail including the names of extended family and the words of their vows.
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 a transcript and an image of original material. The amount of information can vary but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Name of bride
Name of groom
Occupation of groom
Date of marriage
Residence of bride
Residence of groom
Father of bride
Occupation of father of bride
Father of groom
Occupation of father of groom
Occupation of witnesses
Please not that there is often a lot more information contained on the image than in the transcript. This can include the names of most of those present, with family members listed separately and the vows the couple took.
Quakers have always had a reputation for keeping meticulous records. It was these records that enabled them to gain exemption from the Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753 which made the keeping of banns registers mandatory and instructed that all marriages must take place in a Church of England parish.
The Quakers started to keep detailed records from the late 1650s. It was generally the responsibility of the Monthly Meeting to maintain these records and details would usually be provided from the independent records of the individual meetings. In 1776 an overhaul of the whole registration system introduced a more systematic procedure. Post 1776 marriage records include the names and often occupation of the father of both bride and groom as well as the signatures of all witnesses present – frequently quite a long list with family of the bride and groom listed separately. These later records will also sometimes record the form of words spoken by the bride and groom in their vows.
A Quaker marriage is somewhat different from other Christian ceremonies. They believe that the couple have already made their commitment before God and are simply declaring this commitment before their congregation of Friends. A thorough check is carried out on both bride and groom to check that there is no impediment to this commitment.
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 began in the mid 17th Century in England, as one of the dissenting protestant groups who broke from the Church of England. Their belief in a doctrine of priesthood of all believers and the fact that they actively avoid creeds and hierarchical structures meant that they could be viewed with suspicion. 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 excelled in business. In these records you can find confectioner John Cadbury, founder of the chocolate empire.
John’s father Richard Tapper Cadbury, a draper from Exeter, moved to Birmingham to set up business. His business was successful but it was when his son opened a tea and coffee business next door that the family fortunes really started to grow. John married Pricilla Ann Dymond in 1826 but was tragically widowed only two years later.
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 deeply committed to workers’ rights. He paid his workers well, 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 Bournville. The houses were never privately owned and were designed to always offer affordable accommodation – not simply for the Cadburys’ workers.