Thursday, January 9, 2014

Masonic Research can help fill in "The Dash"

I have an 11” X 14” poster that has been in my possession for years. It is from the Arthur Allan Cunningham Class, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Valley of Toledo, 1944.  (My father was one of the members of the class.) I never looked at it as a genealogical resource until last year when I realized that is provides a name, a small photo, and a location for each of the lodge members. Sometimes this is all we need to begin the process of tearing down a brick wall.
As with most aspects of genealogy research, it is helpful to know something about a source of information so I did a little bit of research on the Masons. Well, my dad was a Mason, my husband was a Mason, as was almost every other male member of my family so it's not like I don't know anything about the Masonic Lodge. But when I tried to explain it, it got really complicated. I guess I didn't realize how far-reaching this organization was at one time.

The Masonic Lodge is a fraternal and secret organization that dates back to the early years of  American history. (And beyond that in Europe.) George Washington and Ben Franklin were both Masons. It is not a cult, not a conspiracy, as cable TV would lead us to believe. It is simply a mens' organization. Thirty years ago, forty years ago, 100 years ago, it was a very powerful and influential fraternal organization. Unfortunately in recent years, membership has declined considerably. Most of the younger members blame this on the fact that the lodge refuses to build a bridge to the 21st century. 

But that doesn't matter! What matters is the fact that at one time many of our male ancestors were affiliated with this lodge. And there are records! Some think that these records are of no use to genealogists. I say any record is useful. There is always something there. It might not mean anything today, but a couple of months or years down the road, it might be the solution to that brick wall. This is my mantra - as most of you know!

What you find depends on how active your ancestor was in the lodge. If you have ancestors who rose to the office of Worshipful Master, you will find their names. If you have ancestors who belonged to the Shrine, check your local newspapers for parades. Those red Jeeps with the annoying horns, those little bitty red cars, those hillbilly's riding on a float — those are Shriners, and they could be related to you.

Each state has a Grand Lodge and this is where you will find the “proceedings.” Those are the records you want to research. The Grand Lodge does not see itself as being a source of genealogical  information. You can try to contact them for information but don't expect miracles. You are pretty much on your own. The Grand Lodge of Ohio  will give you an online list of Past Grand Masters and Proceedings from 1808 to the present.There is no index. This is "old tyme" genealogy!

One thing to remember. If your father was a Mason, your grandfather was probably a Mason too; and possibly your brothers, uncles and cousins. But on the other hand, maybe not the brothers and cousins. Lodge night has been replaced by Man Caves and Tailgating. I can remember days when we would be walking down the street in downtown Toledo and my dad would stop and say a few words to another man. It would begin with 'Hi Noble" and then go on to a  few words about the East. Then there was a handshake and they were BFF's! 

It is debatable as to whether or not these records are a primary source. They could just be a clue. However, many times the information you find in the records of a Masonic Lodge  is a piece of the puzzle that fits in the “dash” of  your ancestor’s life.

The dash is the best part.
 (It's that little line between the birth date and the death date.)