Some excellent resources for research into Masonic history

Started by Ben M. Angel on Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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3/29/2011 at 9:29 AM

Gary Dryfoos, apparently still of MIT in Cambridge, MA, who has been collecting and disseminating information for about as long as there has been a World Wide Web:

http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masons/

Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon has been keeping excellent material on the organization for almost as long as Gary has:

http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/textfiles/history.html

Overview of the history of Freemasonry by the United Grand Lodge of England (sometimes described as the "mother" of all "regular" grand lodges):

http://www.ugle.org.uk/what-is-masonry/history-of-freemasonry/

The Quatuor Coronati Research Lodge, regarded as the leading resource in the world for Masonic information.

http://quatuorcoronati.com/

Philalethes Masonic Research Society (almost could be described as the North American version of the Quartuor Coronati Research Lodge):

https://freemasonry.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogs...
(For some reason, it comes up as a "dangerous page" on my browser, but this is the actual site.)

More or less reinventing the wheel here... may as well just give you Gary Dryfoos' research links page:

http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/www/Masonry/Pointers/pubs-libs.html

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And a note on collaboration with your local lodge:

For a group that describes itself as a "society with secrets" (as opposed to a "secret society"), you'll find that Masonic lodges are very open about their history. They cannot really talk about the rituals and current business that go on inside a tiled lodge (the rituals are quite benign, that much I'll say), but they are often very interested in working with researchers (providing information, etc.) who are not lodge members, even on topics as controversial as the "Morgan Affair". If you are lucky enough to be in Boston, you have an excellent resource in the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts building on Tremont and Boylston (T-Station on the Green Line: Boylston). But most Grand Lodges (especially New York) have research organizations that are trying to uncover their own histories and would welcome the help from those who have ancestors who were Masons.

The list I've given is pretty much made up of either people who are Masons, or Masonic organizations. Most anti-Mason sites seem to be pushing either a political or religious agenda, and I've yet to find one that is particularly helpful on actual history. In a way that's kind of sad, as the Anti-Masonic Party of the early 1800s did, for better or worse, contribute a lot to the shape of politics in the United States, almost (but not quite) as much as Masonry contributed to politics before the Morgan Affair. But most Masonic researchers, other than with regard to rituals and current business, are generally very open and driven at getting to the reality on historical matters, even on the very few matters that aren't as flattering to the organization.

Excellent project selection, by the way. -Ben.

3/29/2011 at 9:38 AM

Ben, thanks for all your input! Those links will be very helpful for collaborators. I come from very long lines of Masons/OES on all sides and completely agree that they are, in fact, quite open and happy to share information.

I plan to create additional projects for Masons in other countries once this one gets off the ground; Canada is up next. What I'd particularly like to see are lots of profiles added for "low-level" Masons, since that's pretty much all of them and small local lodges are always the most interesting ones, at least in my experience. I suspect that the vast majority of Geni users, especially those of us from New England, have Masons in our genealogy, whether people (want to) know it or not. :)

Thanks again!

3/29/2011 at 10:05 AM

"Low level Masons" generally prefer to be called "Blue Lodge Masons"... and they typically regard the third degree to be the highest degree... the degrees in the concordant bodies aren't considered to be any "higher", other than perhaps the 33rd degree in Scottish Rite, which is conferred as an honor for what could be described as a lifetime of good works.

You'll probably want to define the field also with respect to Prince Hall Masonry. I think most of the "George Washington Lodges" (as the Prince Halls like to describe the UGLE-backed Regular grand lodges) are more and more regarding these as Regular. And they have excellent researchers as well.

You might also want to provide a list of concordant bodies that family members may have been a part of, both male and female (OES, Job's Daughter, Amaranth, come to mind for women), and perhaps also a list of non-Regular bodies that you would want not included in the project (I believe there are quite a number of Irregular grand lodges in the Northeast that break from the UGLE-backed grand lodges on one or more of the landmarks). Perhaps if there is a critical mass among these other irregular bodies, they can create their own projects.

Seems to me that other Fraternal organizations would also have critical mass (Moose, Elks, Eagles, IOOF, etc.), but this is a good start. Again, good selection.

3/29/2011 at 6:01 PM

"Low-level" was in no way meant as an insult, which is partially why I put it in quotation marks. :) My assumption is that the vast, vast majority of Geni users are not going to be as familiar with the intricacies of Freemasonry as you are, so I'm trying to keep things as simplified as possible. For most people working on their genealogy, all they know (if they know anything) is that Grandpa was in a Lodge. I think if we want to get more technically-oriented and start breaking things down into individual bodies and degrees, that might be a good time to have "sub-projects" created separately.

For now, I would like to avoid concordant bodies because I think that can get messy, but I'm curious to know what others might have to say. I think for the women's concordant bodies, that might be hard to do since there aren't many historical lists of their members, but it would be interesting to see if we can get to that point.

3/29/2011 at 7:22 PM

Masonry is actually something I've been trying to investigate a bit since I found out someone on my husband's side (though I can't remember who right now) was a Mason. I didn't even know there were female groups until about a month ago. So I am quite excited about this group. It's a side of genealogy I've wanted to investigate and just haven't had a chance yet. This project may help spark that!!

3/30/2011 at 10:02 AM

Glad you're interested, Brittany!

Groups like the Order of the Eastern Star, Job's Daughter, the Order of the Amaranth, etc. exist in order to support Masonic principles and efforts, but their members aren't automatically official "Masons" (Regular Masons) as they are commonly understood. Only non-mainstream Freemasonry groups admit women as members. It's a bit of a complicated issue, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry_and_women does a decent job of breaking it down.

In my experience, the wives of Masons are very often members of OES or another similar group; that's certainly true in my family. If you find a male ancestor who was a Mason, definitely check with the local OES or similar group to see if his wife was a member.

Private User
3/30/2011 at 11:28 AM

I believe my grandfather was Mason here in NY, as was my great grandfather in Spain. In fact, the tomb of one my any ancestors from the 17th century may have masonic symbolatry on it.

How would I go about finding any information on my grandfather supposed connection to the masons?

3/30/2011 at 11:54 AM

Hi Ashley:

Didn't figure "low level" to be an insult. My response was mostly a clarification on a common misconception, that being a 32nd degree member of the Scottish Rite meant that you were something more than a Master Mason... most members would be quick to correct that.

I suppose I can see your point on the concordant bodies getting messy. Was just thinking of the fact that the Regular lodges are male only, and the Masonic community, or at least the ones I've been exposed to, does regard the female members in the concrodant bodies (and junior male members with respect to Demolay, etc.) as part of their community. Also, their work on self-improvement to me seemed equally as admirable, and worthy of attention.

Hi Victar:

If you knew of the name of the lodge in New York, that would make getting the information so much easier. Most lodges have an online presence and the Lodge Secretary would in the vast majority of cases be keen on helping.

Grand Lodge of Spain may be a bit more secretive, given that it is located in a Catholic country. (There is a long-standing Papal Bull against Catholics being members, though for the most part the church looks the other way. I don't think there have been any excommunications over membership in at least the last century.) Also, apparently from the time of the Pre-WWII Spanish Civil War to the end of the Franco regime, Masonry was banned in the country, and would naturally be cautious. But again, if you knew which lodge he was in, the Grand Lodge might be of some use.

Grand Lodge of New York (F&AM)
http://www.nymasons.org/

Gran Logia de Espana:
http://www.gle2.org/

Private User
3/30/2011 at 1:00 PM

Ashley, Thanks.
My history
DeMolay 1954
Mason 1962
Demolay Advisor and Chapter Dad 1978 1988
Associate Bethel Guardian
Rainbow Dad
OES

Anyone else who wants info, I'll be glad to help.

4/18/2011 at 11:03 AM

I am a member of the Mason's through the Rainbow Girls - which is like the Job's Daughters but were considered more "elite". We were considered the young women participation (age 12 to 18) of the Mason's and our meetings were always over seen by the Masonic elders - Free Masons and Eastern Star, and the boys were the Demolays.

As with Eldon, I can be helpful with info. There are a lot of misunderstandings about the Order - and the relationship about the OES and Masonsic Order, etc., from being involved my entire life - the Orders are of the same - just separate by are, gender and rank.

4/22/2011 at 2:32 PM

My ancestor Lt. Gen. Solomon Place (War of 1812) was a Mason, said to have been inducted by George Washington. How would I go about researching the story?

Dad was 32nd Degree, and a Shriner, and very proud of his Masonic lineage. Me, I never got past DeMolay. Never enough time for lodge meetings, but I'm thankful for a certain local GM who stops by the store regularly to snap up the rare and out-of-print Masonic books.

Private User
4/22/2011 at 4:05 PM

Justin, George Washington was Entered, Passed and Raised in what is now known as Alexandria-Washington Lodge of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was Master in 1788. I would start here.
http://www.grandlodgeofvirginia.org/
Alexandria- Washington Lodge is here. http://aw22.org/ and the person who would have the records is the secretary
Good hunting :-)

Private User
4/22/2011 at 4:13 PM

Justin there are other possibilities if it was done in wartime, but that search would be more complicated. Do you which lodge Solomon was a member of?

4/22/2011 at 7:25 PM

Hi Justin:

Would concur with Eldon's sources on starting points for his Masonic career. But was having trouble identifying his military career. Does he have a profile on the tree yet?

4/22/2011 at 8:58 PM

I of course live within sight of the Alexandria Masonic Temple :)

4/22/2011 at 11:34 PM

Thanks for the tips, everyone. This is one of those instances where I'm hoping to find an interesting story behind a tradition that looks like it might be distorted.

Solomon Place lived in New York, and the tradition assumes he became a Mason in a military connection, which makes sense. But, Washington died in 1799 when Solomon was still a young man (29), and not yet an officer, so if there's a connection between them it will be something out of the ordinary.

My working theory (wild speculation) is that maybe Solomon took his Masonic oath on Washington's bible, which is in NYC -- or something like that. My dad had some papers relating Solomon and the Masons, but they went missing following his death. I went through them when I was a teenager, but don't remember much after all these years.

I need to pull out more of my notes, but I have a superficial profile for Solomon at:

Lt. General Solomon Place

Private User
4/23/2011 at 9:14 AM

Justin, start with the secretary of Alexandria- Washington Lodge. If there is a record of his membership there, the secretary will have it. Be sure to tell him why you are looking. Most secretary's are well versed in stories like this and could have the answer and would document it for you.

4/23/2011 at 11:08 AM

It sounds like what you are looking for is a Military Lodge record. That might be a bit more difficult to track.

Washington's Bible of course is kept by St. John's Lodge in New York City, which was taken from that lodge for use in the first inauguration. Interesting footnote that it almost fell victim to the 9/11 attack, having been on display only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center on that day:

http://www.masonicinfo.com/washington_bible.htm

Not sure how Erica would feel about a visit to the Grand Lodge of New York, but I understand they have an excellent library there. Probably the approach would be quite similar to that advised by Eldon. If it appears that he did enter through St. John's Lodge, then an approach to the secretary there may be of great use. If it was through a military lodge, the lodge may no longer exist, and in such a case the masonic library would then be your best bet.

Tagging:
Private User

Private User
4/23/2011 at 12:59 PM

Another possibility if it was a military occasion is this, I don't know how yould track it in that case.
http://www.masonicdictionary.com/sight.html

4/23/2011 at 5:05 PM

Hi Eldon:

Scary thought for anyone tracking. Probably the only resource for something like that are the records at whatever Grand Lodge he was under.

Private User
4/23/2011 at 9:00 PM

Hi Ben, yes it would be hard. I have heard stories of this happening in WW II but don't know about the time frame Justin is concerned with. He might have to go to all of the possible grand lodges. At least they are all online.

Private User
4/24/2011 at 4:03 AM

Eldon

re: http://www.masonicinfo.com/washington_bible.htm

I really enjoyed this page, thank you for posting it. On the TV show "The West Wing," there was a running joke negotiating getting the Masons to accompany the Washington Bible for a Presidential inauguration. It cost too much money to put 3 archivists, air conditioning in January, Acela train fare (the Bible needed its own dedicated seat) and Ramada Inn rates so they progressed to another old Bible idea ... which turned out to be much too large to be practical (6 feet by 3 feet or something). So they sent someone around the corner for a beautiful "any old" Bible from the Senate Library and were entirely satisfied, as it was the ideas and poetry of expression that mattered.

Justin

Which is my roundabout way of saying - can we research what Bible was "most likely" to have been used by Gen Washington in 1799? I'm guessing that Eldon is correct and that's something the lodge GW was a grand master *of* would have lists of oath takers ...

http://aw22.org/

I should plan some field trips to local resources this summer! The Huguenot Society of America library is here also (as well as many other archives & libraries I've never been to).

4/24/2011 at 5:39 AM

Thanks for all the help, everyone. This has been a long-term project. I've seen Washington's bible a time or two when I lived in NYC. One of the highlights of my life. That's what gave me the idea that it would be a logical answer to the question of Solomon's connection with George Washington.

I've been writing letters to local lodges for years, slowly confirming the Masonic memberships of different ancestors on this line. Sometimes I find something, sometimes not. The old records seem to be very spotty. I might find a record that a man belonged to a certain lodge, and that he came from this other lodge, then no record of him in his original lodge. My "grandfather" (George Washington Place) is supposed to have been a Mason, but so far no record of him in Michigan or Illinois. Because my dad had material about Solomon Place, I never thought to look for confirmation of his membership. I think that needs to be my next step.

Every lodge secretary I've written to has been excited to help. A few have even phoned to tell me what they found and offer advice on where else to look. It's as though they've just been sitting there daydreaming that someday someone will be interested enough to ask ;) And, they always want to know: Are you a Mason? How did you know where to write? Often followed by an invitation to visit next time I'm in the area.

Eldon - I appreciate the link to Making a Mason at Sight. I knew about Occasional Lodges, but I'd never heard of this. Very interesting stuff.

6/17/2011 at 6:25 AM

I just want to clarify that before we add a profile to this project, you want documented sourcing from either an accredited site listed above or from a local lodge. Documents that normally would be considered source items (obits, gravestones, newspaper articles, documents within a personal collection) are not sufficient?

6/17/2011 at 6:28 AM

Also...I am not seeing a project for the Eastern Star. Wouldn't that go hand in hand with the Mason's?

Private User
6/17/2011 at 8:02 AM

Anita, I think there should be sub projects for all the concordant bodies. I was going to do one on The Order of DeMolay but haven't done so yet. I was more or less waiting for Ashley to flesh out the project and then got started on entering profiles of Agee's. The Agee Register has over 600 pages and I am not a typist :-(

Private User
6/17/2011 at 8:55 AM

Order of DeMolay started!

6/17/2011 at 9:25 AM

The Shriners are a suborder, too, aren't they?

6/17/2011 at 9:25 AM

Anita, obits, gravestones, etc. would all be perfectly sufficient. It's things like random listings of people who "might" be Masons that we want to avoid.

I agree with Eldon -- this project is just for Masons, but we do need sub-projects for the concordant bodies. I might start an OES one unless someone else wants to grab it.

6/17/2011 at 9:28 AM

Also, to clarify, since there's some conflicting information above...

Being a member of a concordant body like the OES, Job's Daughters, etc. does *not* automatically make you a Mason. This is especially true for women. Being Mason-affiliated doesn't equal being a Mason. We need to be cautious that the profiles in this project are indeed bona fide Masons. Having sub-projects will help a lot with that.

Great to have you involved, Anita!

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