Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares her tips on using Masonic Records to locate more information about your ancestors!
Jimmy in Arkansas asks: “I have ancestors that were Masons and I would love to try to find records about their membership or the lodge where they were members. Can you give me some tips on how to find this information in the archives?”
Jimmy asks a great question about one of the most interesting records collections for genealogists. I get more requests in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives for Masonic Records than I do for most other records. The Masonic Lodge has been a staple organization in many local communities and many genealogists seek out these types of records just like Jimmy is trying to do.
Masonic records are normally donated by individuals or sometimes by the Masonic Lodge themselves. These collections can contain just about anything including documents, letters, photographs, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings and lodge publications just to name a few. They are a great resource for the genealogist trying to find information about the ancestors who were members of these groups.
Trying to locate these records can be a challenge depending on the area and the lodge in question. The Masonic Lodge has been notorious for their secrecy and for not being too open with their records. In recent years, however, more and more individuals have been finding these kinds of records in their family records and donating them to archives. This is great news because our archives can then offer these records openly to the public for viewing and research.
These records could be held locally at a county archive, historical/genealogical societies and libraries. Most of the time they are archived by the name of the lodge, for example New Port Lodge #208 Records Collection. They can also be held at the state level at a state archive or a state historical/genealogical society. The Masonic organizations themselves have websites and archives of their very own that could hold records.
These records will be located in the Manuscript Collections of an archive. When a specific collection of interest is found, be sure and ask to see the Finding Aid. The finding aid will have great information about what is in the collection at the folder level. Not every piece of paper will be cataloged but you should be able to get an idea of what is in the collection and then the folders of interest can be requested.
Another great resource to find Masonic records is the local newspaper. Searching the local newspaper could yield information about meeting announcements, member recognition and events held by the lodge. Like any other membership group, they loved getting their name in the paper and showing the community what their members were doing to help those in the local community.
If you have never searched for your ancestors using Masonic Records like Jimmy, now might be a good time to seek them out!
Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides by Melissa Barker
It’s Not All Online: Researching in Libraries and Archives: Contains useful information including how to find an archive and prepare for a visit, a list of record types and tips on research strategy, tips on making records requests, and more. http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1234
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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