Freemasonry Records for Genealogy

Because Freemasonry is one of the oldest fraternal organizations still in existence, odds are good that you'll come across someone in your family who was a Freemason. The next question that immediately comes to mind for someone who is a genealogist is what kinds of records do Freemasons keep of their members, and can I access them?

Records of membership, if they were kept at all, were recorded in the person's home lodge. What the lodge chose to do with those records is as wide and varied as the interests of the individuals in the lodge. There may be scrapbooks, journals, ledgers, histories--or there may be nothing at all. Depending upon how recently the person was a participating member in the lodge will also determine what you find.

The challenge then, is two-fold: finding the person's lodge, and figuring out what sort of records were kept at the time he was a member there. Sometimes lodges are reorganized as their numbers fluctuate, so the people who currently attend the lodge may not be able to tell you where the records of an older lodge are kept. Finding anything in detail about a Freemason ancestor is mostly a question of luck and persistence.

So now that I share the mother-load of all Freemasonry hauls, know that I simply got lucky.

Where to Begin? Finding the Proceedings

Freemasons publish a set of records for their local lodges every year. The lodges submit a summary of their leadership to their Grand Lodge, who then publishes them in a sort of annual almanac. Their "Return" includes the officers, the past Master Masons who attended that lodge, and some basic information about when the lodge was formed and when it met. If your ancestor was an officer or a Master Mason, their names will appear on these Returns for each year they actively attended their lodge.

These books of records from the Grand Lodges throughout the world can often be found in various libraries. You can use to locate them. They can also be available online in places like Google Books, which is where I found the ones I used. They're usually titled Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Nova Scotia, or whatever the location may be. Determining the jurisdiction/Grand Lodge which would have serviced your ancestor, therefore, is important--especially since it doesn't always follow obvious geography. For example, the Grand Lodge over east Tennessee for quite some time was actually based in North Carolina.

The Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Nova Scotia (1897), p. 123; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 5 Jan 2015).

Not that I gave that any thought when I found these records. It was the pure power of the search engine which pointed me to Charles Pinheiro on these lists. Simply inputting his name with combinations of Union Lodge, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Masons produced several results of interest on Google Books.

In 1897, Charles Henry Pinheiro was a Senior Deacon in the Union Lodge. Note that officers were elected for annual terms, and it could be common for the lower-ranking officers to shuffle around quite a bit, especially in a lodge that wasn't stable. You can gain a lot of insight into the lodges your ancestor belonged to by reading the information recorded in these books.

You can also find other family members, since being a Freemason was often a family tradition. Note that on the 1897 list, one of the Past Masters is William T. Bailey, Charles' brother-in-law.

Learning something about the officers and their responsibilities will reveal how they spent their time in the Lodge, and who their friends were.

Upon winning an election for a position, a symbolic jewel was given to the officer to set them apart from other members. The Senior Deacon's jewel was the square and compass, with a Sun in the middle. His responsibilities included being a messenger for the Worshipful Master, escorting new initiates and visitors, and playing several different roles in Masonic ceremonies. The exact details of some rituals may not be available because as part of their membership, Freemasons vow not to reveal certain details of what they do.

The Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Nova Scotia (1898), p. 129; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 5 Jan 2015).
As long as Charles continues to be re-elected, I will have a record of his presence in the Lodge, and by extension his location in time. Understanding the circumstances and climate of the Lodge can be valuable, because it can reveal the nature of some of the changes you see from year to year. The purpose of this book was to let other Freemasons in the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia know how each local lodge was doing. They have brief descriptions about the challenges and successes that each lodge faces. Some limited detail was also given about lodges from around the world, so it may be valuable to look at a book from a similar time period as your ancestor, even if it's published from a different Grand Lodge than your ancestor's lodge.

Get Familiar with the Lodge's Past

One particular challenge for the Union Lodge revealed in the text was a lack of stability in attendance, even among the leadership. The attendance dropped off so heavily among the more seasoned members that the lodge didn't have enough people to perform the rituals and essential functions. Such was the case in 1896 when William T. Bailey was Worshipful Master. Attendance was so low, they did not appoint a Junior Steward.

This difficulty continued throughout the next several years, until of Union Lodge, no. 18 it was said in Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Canada, 1903, page lvii:

"This Lodge (which you all know is composed entirely of colored brethren), has been for a long time in a most deplorable condition, many of its older and better informed members having either retired or absented themselves from the Lodge, leaving its management under the control of members nearly all of of whom are quite incapable of conducting its affairs in a satisfactory manner, hence its gradual decadence, until it is now unable to get a sufficient number to attend to open Lodge."

One of the reasons for this (rather abrupt) assessment stemmed from the financial burden for men who could not pay their dues. Those who did not pay their dues could not be officers, and likely did not want to be reminded of the fact. From Judith Fingard's "From Sea to Rail: Black Transportation Workers and Their Families in Halifax c. 1870-1916," we can confirm that finances were at the root of the Union Lodge's struggles.

"In March 1898, for example, a major controversy occurred over the employment policies of the Intercolonial Railway. The perceived redundancy of sleeping car porters on the Maritime express, operating between Halifax and Montreal during the slack season, resulted in the dismissal or demotion of seven black porters, six of whom, including James Daniels, were domiciled in Halifax. Their duties were added to those of the white conductors. Two other Halifax men, employed as assistant cooks, one of whom was Charles Pinheiro, were also affected. All eight Halifax men were freemasons." (emphasis added)

The Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Nova Scotia (1907), p. 155; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 5 Jan 2015).
The gap in the books available to me right now means I have no insight into the Union Lodge between 1898 to 1905. Google Books has copies of the 1905 Proceedings, but Charles does not appear. He was likely unemployed or underemployed throughout this entire period.

He reappears in the Proceedings of 1907 and 1911, where Charles Pinheiro is listed as Senior Steward and Junior Steward, respectively. Those positions were appointed, not elected. He was primarily responsible for assisting the Wardens and overseeing the kitchen. Seeing as Charles was employed as a cook several times throughout his life, he must have been a good one to be given such an appointment.

It also makes me wonder if they appointed him because they decided they would rather have him there without his dues than to have him stay away. Seeing as he went from Senior Steward to Junior Steward, I could see that being the case.

As a Steward, he would have born one of the matching Stewards Jewels. The cornucopia, or "horn of plenty" has an obvious connection to the preparation and enjoyment of food. Although it could have been seen as a lowly position, unlike other leadership his efforts would have been more sincerely received (and praised) for a job well-done. The need for, and appreciation of, good food transcends any kind of social status.

I learned from the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia's website that Union Lodge, no. 18 no longer exists. Knowing that I can never see the fruit of Charles Pinheiro's labors, a modern continuation of what he tried to build, is disheartening. But because of that, I feel even more fortunate that his name was remembered in these books. Without them, I would never have known what role freemasonry played in his life.

There are literally dozens of Proceedings from various states, countries, and time periods on Google Books. If you are looking to discover something about your ancestors and their links to freemasonry, it is an excellent place to start.