Q. My grandfather belonged to an organization called Woodmen of the World. I have a photograph of his group, but I can’t find any information about it. Please tell me how I can find out about this organization.
A. The Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization founded more than 100 years ago in Omaha, Neb., by Joseph Cullen Root. The society exists today and continues to uphold Root’s original mission “to minister to the afflicted, to relieve distress, to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living, to encourage broad charitable views.” The Woodmen’s focus was to provide its members and their families with life insurance. By 1900, the organization had $219 million of life insurance in force.
To find out about your grandfather’s involvement in Woodmen of the World, contact the lodge in the city where he lived. Visit <www.woodmen.com> and click on State Offices. You’ll go to a page with a map of the United States. Either click on your grandfather’s state of residence or enter the present-day ZIP code for the city in the appropriate field. The results page gives you contact information for the society’s state manager. To access information on a specific city chapter, click on Local Lodges. Next, enter the area managers section of the site for the branch’s phone number and address. If you’re unsure of the exact location of your ancestor’s local lodge, consult a city directory. Similar to phone books, these resources contain an alphabetical list of a city’s residents. (For more on using city directories, see page 40.)
For a close-up look at the organization, its history and its members, make a trip to the Woodmen Museum (1700 Farnam St., Omaha, NE 68102, 800-225-3108, <www.woodmen.com/abomus.cfm>). Bronze busts of past society presidents, photographs chronicling more than 100 years of the group’s history, hand-carved Woodmen officers’ chairs crafted in the late 19th century and other memorabilia are on display. Call in advance to make an appointment to visit the museum.
If you desire even more research fodder to add to your family history, you may want to visit your grandfather’s burial site. Prior to 1920, Woodmen of the World provided its members with elaborate gravestones. Some resemble a large tree stump, while others look like a stack of cut wood. Each gravestone varies in design and reflects the member’s personal tastes, as well as ritualistic symbols or the society’s tree-stump logo.
More information on the Woodmen of the World and other fraternal groups is available in Alan Axelrod’s book International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies & Fraternal Orders (Facts on File). Or go to Bart P. Snarf’s Fraternalism in America Web site <www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/fraternalism/fraternalism_in_america.htm> for a look at pins, charms, watch fobs and other fraternal organizations’ jewelry items.