The Freemasons are a worldwide fraternity with a history of members that include many of our American Forefathers such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere. The philosophy of the Freemason fraternity is similar to the core principles of the American Constitution and include beliefs such as personal study, self-improvement and the liberty of the individual.
The ideals of the right to worship freely along with an emphasis in public education and a tradition of philanthropy partner well with the mainstay of America's core convictions, which is why Freemasonry has thrived for centuries.
Though I am still seeking the evidence, I believe at least four of my ancestors were Freemasons, but uncovering their membership list can be challenging. Like the majority of fraternities, the inner workings of Freemasonry is draped in secrecy, but to the delight of genealogists many Masonic lodges are opening their vaults to researchers.
The George Washington Masonic Memorial has begun digital archives. They are inviting Masonic grand lodges to add their records to the Memorial's searchable database. Currently, grand lodges of Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia are within the Memorial's collection.
Another good source to help with your search is through the Masonic Library and Museum Association. On this site, you can access links to many of the Masonic libraries in several states and Canada along with easy contact to their librarians.
I found details of my ancestor on his Masonic lodge list within Goodspeed's History of Northwest Arkansas, a publication within the local genealogical library. Many small county genealogical libraries are a good source for the archived records of the counties' local Masonic lodges.
If you have never considered your ancestor's membership within the Freemasonry then you should. The fraternity was especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and though the records will consist mostly of membership lists, it will provide additional sources and documentation of an ancestor during gaps in the US Census records.
So turn up another leaf and scourer another corner. Seek out your ancestor's Freemasonry membership lists, adding a sweet detail to the history of your ancestor and their story.
Keep searching for answers,
(Source: Masonic Service Association)