Masonic Genealogy Questions
If any of the information on this webpage is not correct or if anyone knows of additional information that should be included please send me email by clicking on my name: Paul M. Bessel.
Many people, Masons and non-Masons, ask questions about Masonic genealogy. They are often similar to:
“My great grandfather was a 32nd degree Mason in Kentucky. He died in 1875. Can you tell me about him?”
“I am researching John Doe, who was a famous doctor in New York in the early 1800s. I don’t know if he was a Mason. Can you tell me if he was?”
Or sometimes the questions are about living individuals, such as asking if a particular sports or political figure is a Mason.
The answers to all these questions are the same:
1. Just about all Freemasons belong to a lodge which is chartered by a Grand Lodge. In the United States, there are 51 Grand Lodges (one in each State) that are sometimes called “mainstream.” They are mainly made up of Caucasian men, although all men are welcome to apply to become members. There are also 45 “Prince Hall” Grand Lodges in the U.S. and elsewhere, whose membership consists mainly of African American men. Each of these Grand Lodges also charters individual lodges in its state or country. In addition, in the U.S. and the rest of the world, there are other Grand Lodges, each one of which also charters additional lodges. A fairly complete list of all Grand Lodges in the world is at http://bessel.org/gls.htm Each Grand Lodge recognizes some other Grand Lodges, just as a country gives diplomatic recognition to certain other countries, but not all Grand Lodges “recognize” all others that call themselves Masonic Grand Lodges. (The reasons for all this are mainly historical, and many books have been written to try to describe this situation. You can find these books in some of the Masonic libraries mentioned below.)
2. Each Grand Lodge or lodge is the only place to seek information about Masons who belong to lodges chartered by that Grand Lodge. There is no central location to find all information about all Masons, now or in the past. In fact some Grand Lodges consider those who are members of lodges under certain other Grand Lodges not to be “real Masons.”
3. If anyone wants to find information about, for example, someone who lived in Illinois or any other state or country, you can look for some publications of that Grand Lodge that might have information about who belonged or belongs to it. For example, most Grand Lodges publish annual “Proceedings.” In these Proceedings they include information about what was done in that Grand Lodge during each year, and who were the officials who held office in that Grand Lodge that year. Sometimes they also include information about who were the officers, and sometimes who were the members, of each lodge chartered by that Grand Lodge that year. Sometimes they also include obituaries of some of their officials who passed away that year. This type of information can often be very useful for genealogy researchers, but to find it you have to go through the Proceedings of each Grand Lodge that might be of interest for a particular search. In addition, some Grand Lodges have published histories, and some of these books include details about officials of that Grand Lodge in the past and present. “Proceedings” and histories of Grand Lodges can often be found in Masonic libraries. You can find lists of Masonic libraries at http://bessel.org/maslibs.htm
4. Another possible way to try to find Masonic genealogy information is to contact the Grand Lodge or Grand Lodges in a state or country where someone about whom you are seeking information might have been a member of a Masonic lodge. Some Grand Lodges have the information and facilities to help you with this, but others do not. Please understand this when you contact any Grand Lodge. You can find a fairly complete list of all Masonic Grand Lodges in the world, and some contact information such as addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and website addresses, and some links to some individual Grand Lodge websites at http://bessel.org/gls.htm or http://bessel.org/usgls.htm or http://bessel.org/glspha.htm
5. There are some websites that list those who are thought to have been, or to still be, famous people who are also Freemasons. You can find links to a number of these websites listing “Famous Freemasons” at http://bessel.org/famemas.htm
6. Some Freemasons choose to join certain organizations where membership is only open to Freemasons. Some of the more famous of these are the Scottish Rite and the Shrine. The Scottish Rite, which is known for some of its members becoming 32nd or 33rd degree Masons, is ruled by Supreme Councils. In the United States, there is a Scottish Rite Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction (which generally includes all states south of the Ohio River and also those west of the Mississippi River, including many states that might be thought of as being “northern”), and a Scottish Rite Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. All Shrines in North America are controlled by the Imperial Shrine, which is located in Florida. I do not know if the Scottish Rite Supreme Councils or the Shrine have information about genealogy concerning their members, but their websites where questions can be asked are included on the webpage at http://bessel.org/append.htm
I hope this information is helpful to those seeking information about Masonic genealogy, such as the questions listed above. Please be aware that neither I nor any other individual Freemason can help you if you send an email message asking if a particular person was a Freemason, or if we can provide you with details about a particular person. All we can do is suggest that you check the sources of Masonic genealogy shown above.