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I've been increasingly interested in freemasonry, and I'm curious if one of my great grandfathers was a member.

Is there any way to determine this? I'm relatively sure if I have any, it dates back to the 1800s.

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    Since it can be assumed that your great grandfather was born before 1915 I think it would be helpful to have his name, date of birth and where he lived included in your question. This Q&A may be worth reviewing: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/4210/… – PolyGeo Dec 26 '14 at 5:12
  • The truth is, I'm wanting something a bit broad, as I have several that ideally I would like to know. I'm not even quite sure of whom I would want to look up this information, depending on how accessible it is... – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 26 '14 at 12:19
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A lot of what I have been able to determine can be eloborated on this page.

Note: I will add the caveat that I personally am not a Mason, but several generations of my ancestors, including living, are known to be Masons but my interaction with the organization so far has been limited.

What seems like another good general resource on US Mason, but not for genealogy information is this site and this one.

The answer is not straight forward, but my summation is the following:

  1. Their record keeping may only refer to a someone as Brother X or A.B. X and likely not contain full details one might be looking to obtain.
  2. Their was and still is some degree of stigma to being a Mason at different times in history and so their records may have been vague, inconsistent, not formally kept, and not centralized until more recently.
  3. To find out if someone 'participated' at a lodge in the past you need to contact the local lodge you believe they participated with a timeframe and they will approve or deny your request to research it further, and then still even not very much.
  4. They are not in the business of doing genealogical research and the information they collect is likely not of high degree of genealogical value, partially due to vagueness of the records they keep and how they organize records.
  5. I've heard this myself where people go "he is a xx degree", well in most cases 'degree' does not convey rank or authority but can be confusing requiring conversion charts depending on which variant as well as levels of participation and commitment to the lodge, freemason values, and the community.

So summary: Yes, but you need to know a lot more detail to pursue a local lodge, if still active their numbers are half they were 100 years ago and it will be a lot of effort. If you have family memorabilia I'd look for those. Especially pictures where members are wearing rings and Masonic Family Bibles (which may also denote who was) , which I know many of my family have and or appear with.

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As a follow-up to your question, I did a quick search to see what I could discover about my own grandfather's Freemason affiliation. Previously I found a report within the Internet Archive where he was listed as a lodge member. This is in fact where I first learned of his affiliation.

In addition to the Internet Archive, there are some Lodge bulletins or other publications that have been reprinted on Google Books. These may contain the name of your ancestors.

And I searched on an Ancestry.com message board which is local to where many of my ancestors are from. In this case I searched on the Cook County message board. There was a message from someone who responded with the dates that The Grand Lodge of Illinois has card files on members, mid to late 1920's early 1930's, and Annual Reports on most of their lodges starting at 1871 depending on when the lodge chartered.

I responded to an old message from Cook County IL. I did not know if I would receive a response and learned something lodges in IL. In fact I received a reply with a brief note and a copy of his card. I knew about one lodge affiliation from the Internet Archive material. There were a few snippets of genealogical information on the card or in the note including that he had been a member at different times of two lodges, and that he was suspended for non-payment of dues in 1930 which was around the time he filed for bankruptcy as a result of the depression.

Further research on specific lodge membership may yield member lists or community and service activities.

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    The Grand Lodge of Scotland has an extensive help page that describes what happens when a person makes a genealogical request for their relatives' records. See the links in my answer here. Good job finding the histories and publications on Google Books / Internet Archive! And -- a belated welcome to G&FH.SE! – Jan Murphy Dec 27 '14 at 1:43

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