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Genealogists often become curious about Freemasonry because of a mention in a relative's obituary or from finding a Masonic emblem on a gravestone. Sometimes a family knows of the Masonic connection but for others, it's a bit of a surprise.
Finding a Masonic member in the family tree will often stimulate the genealogical inquirer to ask questions:
From a genealogy perspective, we'll attempt to answer both questions:
Freemasonry is the world's oldest and largest fraternity. It has existed in its current form since 1717 and men of good character throughout the past 300 years have been attracted to it. Freemasonry does not solicit membership: your relative formed a positive opinion of the organization and petitioned for membership. He was investigated as to his morals and character and found at the time of his petition to be living a life consistent with the high purposes and aims of the organization. Hopefully he maintained that standard throughout the balance of his life.
Masonic records contain some information but little is helpful to genealogical research. Date and sometimes place of birth will appear on the application for membership and in most cases, the records of the local lodge (and perhaps of the Grand Lodge of that jurisdiction) will have a notation of date of death. If a person had been particularly active, their name might appear in lodge minutes but most likely, such reference would be of little interest in genealogical research unless one were writing a biography of the person. That a man was the Chairman of a Dinner-Dance committee or led a fund drive for the local Masonic Home is not the type of information that any but the most detailed genealogical researcher could appreciate.
Usually we get inquiries asking if we can provide information about a particular individual's lodge membership. This website is the work of one individual as a 'hobby'. It is not an official site nor do we have any way of searching for any information kept by any of the hundreds of Grand Lodges throughout the world. Because each Grand Lodge is sovereign, there is no 'master repository' of data.
Further, Masonic records are not necessarily a primary source. In the 1700s and 1800s, individual lodges did not provide full membership information to the Grand Lodges of their respective states (for the US) or jurisdictions. Further, Grand Lodges are not staffed to handle the many inquiries that they receive. Usually, it is preferable to inquire with the particular lodge in which the member was affiliated but here again, the inquiry would go to a Lodge Secretary who is an unpaid volunteer, sometimes elderly but sometimes young with lots of family responsibilities (and in either case, rarely a genealogist), with little time or means for extensive research. As a result, such inquiries don't always receive a prompt response. Sometimes too, older records may be secured in a bank vault or they may have been destroyed by fire, water damage, or some other catastrophe. Because of this, information from Masonic sources will likely be slow in arriving and may be totally unavailable.
Inquiry made to the Grand Lodge in which the ancestor was a member may produce the name and address of the appropriate Lodge Secretary when such contact is being made from outside the area. If you're nearby the lodge in question, the Secretary's name can often be found on the lodge door or nearby.
You can find a list of many Grand Lodges worldwide along with links to their home pages on our website here. These addresses and phone numbers may help BUT
What's very important to remember is that neither Masonic Lodges nor their Grand Lodges are in 'the business of' genealogical research. Such data as would be useful to genealogical researchers (marriage dates, maiden name of spouse, etc) are not types of data kept as a matter of course. As an example: my Masonic lodge has no 'official knowledge' that my Grandfather was a Mason even though many members knew it when I joined. Now, as time has passed, so has that bit of information - unless I happen to mention it for some odd reason during a meeting when the Secretary might (but likely wouldn't) add that to the minutes of the meeting. (For example, it might say "Bro. King spoke on the state of the building when his Grandfather was a member in the next town and proposed that we start a building renovation committee." but more likely it would be "It was proposed that we start a building renovation committee.") If the Lodge (or Grand Lodge) was willing to share the information on my petition, you could determine when and (usually) where I was born, my occupation and residence at the time, and - sometimes - a few other bits of innocuous information (how long I'd lived in the jurisdiction, for example, and the names of those who'd sponsored me). While there is always the possibility of some 'little gem' emerging from such items (such as the name of another family member as a sponsor thereby indicating HIS membership in that lodge at that time - although not necessarily his residence there since once a person becomes a member, they may well move elsewhere), the search will generally be far more trouble in the long run than it's worth. From our own knowledge of genealogical work in tracing multiple genealogical lines to our well-documented Mayflower lineage - the time and energy might be better spent pursuing other avenues. We don't want to sound too pessimistic here because we've learned from experience that some 'brick walls' can be broken down from information found in the most unexpected places but we think that information that might be within the Masonic institution would likely be much more readily available elsewhere. (And being a descendant of Stephen Hopkins creates a great many problems once you try to track back beyond that leaky ship he got here on as a paying passenger, not a Pilgrim!)
We'd also mention that we sometimes get inquiries from those whose ancestor is reportedly a "33rd Degree Mason" or a "Grand Master". These are very rare and distinct honors within the fraternity and generally, the person was, in fact, a member of the Scottish Rite bodies having attained the 32nd Degree (more information about this here) or a Master of their local lodge. These things were both important to the person and their becoming Master of a lodge shows that their brethren had great faith in their leadership and management abilities.
In short, Freemasonry does not compile genealogies in any way nor does it encourage such activity as does, for example, the Mormon Church.
We hope that this brief summary is helpful. If there's anything you think we should add, do drop a note....
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This site and its contents are © (copyright) 1998-2012 by Edward L. King (Ed King). All rights reserved. All comments and opinions are mine personally.
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