Processing the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Records

Posted on June 12, 2017

While working as the Philadelphia Meeting Records Intern in the Quaker and Special Collections in Magill Library, I have learned more about it how Quakerism works on an organizational level and also practiced the valuable skills of attention to detail and organization. I have found myself handling records up to 350 years old, able to read the swirling scrawls of those who have come before me. Creating new call numbers for these records and updating the online finding aid using a management tool called ArchivesSpace has allowed me to play an integral part in making sure these records are open to the world in an easy, accessible way.


    While weekly Quaker worship - where people speak out of silence for worship - is more widely known, Quaker meetings also encompass administrative purposes. Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meetings represent congregations, each falling under the umbrella of the next with yearly meetings being the largest gathering. Quaker meetings keep many records, ranging from the dates of the births and deaths of members to simply minutes of the meeting for business. In these first few weeks working as the Philadelphia Meeting Records Intern, I have been going through meeting records from Pennsylvania and New Jersey slowly but surely, making sure all is up to date online. There are a total of around 120 meetings, but around half of them were updated during the school year, leaving about 60 for me to do over the summer. So far I I worked on around seventeen meetings. When updating each meeting, I have to cross reference the information on ArchivesSpace and an inventory spreadsheet to make sure everything matches, and when there are discrepancies I go down to the vault and look at the physical records themselves. Doing this requires an observant eye, with one mistake being able to throw off an entire meeting’s worth of online organization.

    While going through the records, I happened on those for the Princeton Meetings. As someone who is from just outside the town and went to Princeton High School, it was interesting for me to look at their records. I was able to see the archives of the historic Quaker families of Princeton whose ancestors I most likely know, and some of the records were even in a Princeton University binder and high school Physics binder! I found it especially fascinating to see the inner workings of the Quakers in Princeton since I have a connection to the town, and this is just a snapshot of the intriguing things I have discovered while working on the Quaker meeting records.


    All in all, although I am still in the early weeks of my internship, I have learned so much about Quakerism. There is something about holding the dusty, tea-colored pages full of the mahogany pen strokes of people who lived long ago that is an experience like none other. I look forward to growing in my organizational skills and exploring my curiosities about Quakerism as the summer goes on and I get further into my work.