Now What? Online: Researching Ancestors Who Were Freemasons
12/12/2011
Here's how to track down records of ancestors who were Free and Accepted Masons.
Q. My grandfather was well-known among the Masons—in fact, one of the Masonic lodges in North Carolina is named for him. I've been trying to find information from while he was in the Masons. I can get to some web sites, but can’t find a way to contact anyone. I've done all sorts of searches and come up with noting. Do you have any ideas of where else I can search?

A. Members of Masonic lodges are known as “accepted” Masons, or officially, Free and Accepted Masons. Freemasonry generally has three major “degrees”: entered apprentice, fellow of the craft and master mason.

Freemasonry also encompasses various “rites”—for example, the York Rite includes the Royal Arch Masons and the Cryptic Masons (advanced degrees of Freemasonry).

A man could petition a lodge for membership after he turned 21, but most didn't until their 30s. (See a list of Masonic abbreviations that may be clues a relative was a member.)

Knowing how Freemasonry is organized will help your search: Each Masonic lodge belongs to a Grand Lodge; there’s a Grand Lodge in every US state. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina has a website (see its Archives page for historical information).

Most lodge records don't go back as far as Freemasonry's 18th-century origins. Many have been lost to fire—for instance, all of the California Grand Lodge's records burned after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the Arkansas lodge's records burned in 1918. If you discover the records no longer exist, check local libraries for published histories of the lodge.

If your grandfather's lodge still has records from his lifetime, you may be able to get his application and other records about his involvement. Keep in mind that prior to 1900, applications asked only for the name and age of the applicant, along with three references.
 
If you know the local lodge your grandfather belonged to, contact it first. Search for it online, or look in the yellow pages under Fraternal Orders (North Carolina lodges are listed on the Grand Lodge's website, with a separate page of links to websites for some). Supply your grandfather's full name and his membership dates.

If you can’t find information on the local lodge or don’t know which one he belonged to, contact the Grand Lodge (the North Carolina lodge has a contactform on its website). Provide your grandfather’s town and county of residence, the dates he lived there, and when you believe he became a Mason. Grand Lodges receive many requests from genealogists, which means you might have to pay for record searches and wait a long time to receive a reply.

 
To learn more about how to tackle tough research questions, see Family Tree Magazine's book 101 Brick Wall Busters: Solutions to Overcome Your Genealogical Challenges, the Family Tree Magazine webinar recording Brick Wall Strategies: Advice and Ideas for Getting Past Research Dead Ends, and the Family Tree Problem Solver, all available on ShopFamilyTree.com.
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