September 23, 2014

Masonic Records And Genealogical Research

When you think you have examined all of the genealogical resources, you might want to consider one more: Masonic Records

If, during your treks to the cemetery to find where your ancestors were buried, you might have run across a gravestone with a Masonic insignia on it. Although there are many associated with the organization, it is likely most people are familiar with the one above.

You may be able to contact a Lodge that your family member might have joined to see if they have any records for them. Remember one thing: These organizations get hundreds of requests for family information. They are not in the genealogical research business. Keeping that in mind, here is what the records could tell you.

1. The member’s name. You may only find the initials of the man because in past history it was fashionable to use those rather than the full name. Not good news to a genealogist.

2. The Lodge name. This may be Biblical, philosophical or historical in nature.

3. Lodge number. The Lodges were numbered in order of which they were chartered, the older Lodges having smaller numbers.

4. Location. The city or town in which the Lodge is located. Keep in mind that there have been times when Lodges “moved” when a town ceased to exist. Also, it wasn’t uncommon for a Lodge to “merge” with another when the membership of one declined. The Masonic Lodge has had times of peaks and valleys in its membership. During, and just after wars their memberships have increased. But, during the depression of the 1930’s membership fell off dramatically.

5. Initiated, Passed, Raised. This refers to the three degrees or phases of membership in the Lodge. A date will be given after these terms to denote the day the man received the Masonic degrees. Some may show the date the man’s petition was voted on by the Lodge, in which case it may show the term “Elected”.

6. Affiliated. If a man has been a member of a Lodge in another location, he may move his membership. Affiliated date means the day he was accepted into the new Lodge. (Also see Dimitted).

7. Reinstated. If the member has been dropped from the rosters (this could happen for a myriad of reasons) this is the date that he renewed his membership.

8. Dimitted. This is the date when the member withdrew his membership in the Lodge. In earlier times, the man dimitted to move his membership. He might have been given a letter of demit to take with him to his new location. This would allow him to affiliate, or join, a different Lodge in another town. What it tells a genealogist is when he moved and where he might have settled again.

9. Died. When a Lodge member dies, the date is noted of the record. If he had demitted or removed his membership in any way, the Lodge would not have kept any further record of him.

10. Suspended. U.M.C. Un-Masonic Conduct. This is the date the man was dropped from membership because he violated a “minor” Masonic law or code of conduct. This could have been for using profane language, or gambling. He probably would have been allowed to renew his membership.

11. Suspended. NPD (non-payment of dues). The date the man was dropped from membership because he failed to pay his dues. This was not uncommon during The Great Depression of the 1930’s, and I have found in my own family Masonic records that Lodge members who were elderly were oftentimes unable to pay also. [When it is a well-respected and long time member, the Lodge may elect to pay the dues for this member.]

12. Expelled. This is the date the man was dropped from the membership because he had violated a “major” Masonic law or code of conduct. Contrary to the Suspended UMC, this member would not be allowed to renew his membership. The expulsion sometimes involved a Masonic Trial because the accused had been charged with a criminal act.

13. Official Record. It may not be on all records, but this information would have listed his elected or appointed offices in the Lodge.

14. From, Lodge Number. The Lodge in which he had previously been a member.

Reminders

Please remember the following when you are making an inquiry about a member’s records.

  • Enclose a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope).
  • Do not send family group sheets. They have no bearing on the end result and are a waste of your time and money.
  • Do not give a long detailed life history of yourself or your ancestor. Just write clearly and keep to the point.
  • A man may petition for membership when he is 21, but it was more likely the average age might be nearer 35. If your ancestor moved about often, determine his location when he was 35 years of age or so. This location will be the one most likely to contain his Masonic membership.
  • Sending money along with your request will not “speed up” the process. If you care to make a contribution, do so after receiving a response.

*Note* The Grand Masonic Lodge of California lost all of its records in the Great San Francisco fire of 1906. *Note* The Grand Masonic Lodge of Arkansas lost all of its records during a fire in 1918.

Reference: Researching Masonic Records by John S. Yates – 1997
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