Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Learning About a Quaker Community


Discovering a new twist in the family faith—in this case, the Quakers—was so unexpected to me that I had to dig further to learn about this religion and how to research its adherents. Elizabeth Plummer, my mother-in-law's sixth great-grandmother, was apparently raised in the Quaker community of West River in Maryland, as we discovered last week

Naturally, I wanted to read up on what was known about that colonial settlement, since I now know it was linked to our family. Elizabeth's father—so far, identified either as Thomas Ploummer or Plummer—and his wife Elizabeth (yes, another Elizabeth!) were members of that community, according to Harry Wright Newman's book, Anne Arundel Gentry.

Checking for additional information online on that community, the first discovery I found was a timeline labeled as the history of the "burial ground," but it included a much broader view of the community in general, an informative read for someone who has never researched Quaker ancestors in the past. From there, I headed to the FamilySearch wiki for further guidance on how to proceed with research. There, the wiki article on the Society of Friends led me through a brief history, plus an overview of available resources. 

For those just beginning their discovery of Quaker ancestors, the wiki recommended a book, Our Quaker Ancestors, written by Ellen Thomas Berry and David Allen Berry, which happens to be searchable through Google Books. Since I wanted to go for the gusto, I also spotted the wiki's recommendation to check out the website, where I did find an entry for the history of that particular community over the centuries.

It was fortunate to find that website, for it provided dates to help track the morphing identity of the community. Even so, I'm still confused, as some other articles seem to indicate differently.

For instance, indicated that what was once West River was later known as the Sandy Spring meeting place. Yet, when I check a website showing the history of the Sandy Spring community itself, it claims the location to be "one of the oldest" Quaker meeting places, but its records date to only 1753, long after Elizabeth Plummer's parents were there. To add to the confusion, another community—the Third Haven Meeting House in nearby Talbot County, Maryland—identifies as the oldest surviving Friends meeting house. At least that meeting house dates to 1684.

It helped to find a timeline for the Sandy Spring meeting house. Apparently, that was attributed as an outgrowth of the West River meeting house. It might be useful to trace the genealogy of the later location's families, for the timeline mentions intermarriages between families of the two meeting locations, a reasonable outgrowth of a growing religious movement of that time period. According to one FamilySearch wiki article, Quakerism had grown to become the third largest religion represented in the British colonies, a significant and widespread movement. No wonder, once my family tree reached back that far in time, I had run into Quaker ancestors. It might be far more surprising to not have discovered such a connection in the early 1700s.

Seeking sources for genealogically significant records becomes my next task, and yet, finding records combining Quaker meetings with the right meeting house location—in Anne Arundel County in my particular case—may also be a challenge. One six-volume resource, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, seems to contain records of meeting house proceedings in every state but Maryland.

A FamilySearch blog post from 2016 pointed me to another source for Quaker records. No surprise, it's, but the story of how Ancestry obtained the records made for an interesting read. I love stumbling upon the history of a history resource. Indeed, turning to the Ancestry card catalog and entering the keyword "Quaker" brought up seventy resources. And I wouldn't be surprised to find even more.

All this means, of course, is that I have my work cut out for me, if I plan on finding anything more on Elizabeth Plummer's parents in Quaker records. Unlike the established church, Friends did not practice any sacrament of baptism, so I won't likely find any such verification of births in the family. But the meeting records may contain so many more details that it would be worth the effort to gain this small peek at life among the Friends in early eighteenth century Maryland.

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