The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library staff is willing to assist you in genealogical and historical research regarding Michigan Masons. This page has been setup to assist researchers in accessing information we may have available as well as assisting non-masons in understanding the various nuances to doing Masonic genealogical research. We ask that you please review our Masonic Genealogy FAQ before contacting the library with your specific question(s).
We are able to do basic named-based searches of Michigan Masonic membership records to assist you in determining if your deceased relative was a member of a Masonic Lodge in the Grand Lodge of Michigan. If we find a record for the individual, we are willing to provide you with the information associated with that record. For a vast majority of membership records, this will usually be limited to: (1) The name and number of the lodge in which your ancestor was a member; (2) The dates he received the three degrees of Masonry; (3) Masonic offices he may have held; and (4) His date of death if he was a member at the time of his passing.
If you are interested in researching your ancestor's possible Masonic history in Michigan, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and include:
(1) The complete name of the person you are searching
(2) Birth Date (if known)
For common names (ex. Robert Smith), it would be useful to know dates of birth and/or death as well as geographic location the person may have resided while a Mason (ex. Adrian, Michigan).
Your search for Masonic membership of your ancestor is only beginning at this point. The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library is your starting point. If we find that your ancestor was a Mason, there may be other places for you to look for more information. Please read through our Masonic Genealogy FAQ for more information.
Q. What is a Lodge?
A. A Lodge is the functional unit of membership in the Masonic organization. If your ancestor was a Mason, he would likely have belonged to the lodge in his home town. For instance, your Masonic ancestor may have lived in Allegan Michigan all his life. Chances are good that he was a member of Allegan Lodge.
Q. What records are you searching when you look for my ancestor?
A. The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library has access to the roll of members maintained by the Grand Lodge of Michigan, Free and Accepted Masons. This roll has been built over time based on reports of membership from individual lodges that compose the Grand Lodge of Michigan.
Q. What is your record going to tell me?
A. At a minimum, the Grand Lodge record for your ancestor will usually include his name, date of birth, dates he received the three masonic degrees, and his date of death. Sometimes they also include the profession your ancestor reported when petitioning for membership and any Masonic offices he might have held in his lodge. This information becomes sparser the older the record.
Q. Why is this the only information you have?
A. The record that we are searching (the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Michigan) only generally contains that information which was required to be reported from the local lodge to the Grand Lodge for the purposes of maintaining a basic record of the member.
Q. Can you tell me what records my ancestor's lodge may have?
A. Unfortunately, No. When we do your search, we are only able to examine the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Michigan. The individual records of a lodge are never communicated to the Grand Lodge. In some cases, the lodge has dissolved and there are no records. In other cases, the lodge still exists and may have records on your ancestor. Some lodges have records for every member that has ever belonged to their lodge. Other lodges have records only on their living members. The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library does not have access to those records. We will assist you making initial contact with a lodge secretary, but it is up to you to communicate directly with the lodge about any possible records they have.
Q. What is a petition?
A. In order to join Masonry, a person must make a request of a lodge to be considered for membership. For many years, this has been done in the form of a petition for membership. In the petition, the aspiring Mason answers questions concerning his character and life. Often they contain certain biographical information about the person at the time their submission (ex. profession, address, personal references, masonic affiliates, family information, etc. etc.). If a lodge has maintained any records on a person, it is often in the form of their original petition. Genealogical researchers find these documents useful in uncovering clues abut a person. However, the farther you go back, the less likely there is a petition maintained by the lodge or with much useful information. Early petitions were often nothing more than short handwritten notes requesting membership.
Q. Can you tell me if my ancestor was a Mason in Indiana?
A. No, in North American Masonry, each state is a sovereign Grand Lodge unto itself. Therefore we only have records pertaining to Michigan membership. You would need to speak with the Grand Lodge of Indiana to answer your question.
Q. I am convinced my ancestor was a Mason in Michigan, but your records didn't turn anything up. What does that mean?
A. There are several possible reasons why this might have happened. First, some people believe their ancestor may have been a Mason, but have no direct evidence of it. Most commonly, people find evidence of other relatives having Masonic membership and assume their person of interest must have been a member as well. That is not always the case. They might not have been a Mason. Second, there is a particular nuance to Masonic membership that makes this kind of result possible with early Michigan ancestors. The roll that we are searching is the membership roll of the Grand Lodge of Michigan. There are certain things that get a person on that list including: (1) Joining a lodge; (2) formally affiliating with a lodge; and (3) Transferring to a lodge. Most of these processes involve some sort of paperwork that would have been sent from the local lodge to the Grand Lodge generating a record of membership. If your ancestor started in another state and later came to Michigan, it may be possible that they were made a Mason in their state of origin and never officially affiliated with a local lodge in Michigan. Therefore there would be no record of their membership in the rolls of Michigan. This was very common among Michigan settlors. They would maintain membership in their original lodge, say for example in the Grand Lodge of Vermont, and after emigrating to Michigan, they would have been able to attend a local lodge as a member of the Grand Lodge of Vermont without ever having to transfer their membership. We've also found a few missing records here and there that have not shown up in our database. These often involve some of our earliest membership records. When you have compelling evidence your relative was a Mason in Michigan, yet he doesn't turn up in a search, we will endeavor to get to the bottom of that mystery.
Q. What do the degree dates mean in my record?
A. Masonic records will often have three degree dates: EA, FC, and MM. These dates refer to the three degrees or ceremonies of Masonic initiation. Anyone who was a 'Mason' likely received all three degrees. The 1st degree is the EA or Enterred Apprentice. The 2nd degree is the FC or Fellowcraft. The 3rd degree is the MM or Master Mason.
Q. I'm pretty sure my grandfather was a 33rd degree mason, but your record only tells me he was a 3rd degree or Master Mason. What about the other 29 degrees?
A. This question raises a very important and valuable point for Masonic genealogical research. There are several organizations that exist that we refer to as "appendant bodies." These organizations predicate their membership on membership in a Masonic lodge. Simply put, you need to be a Mason in order to join these organizations. They include, but are not limited to, the Scottish Rite, Shrine (red fezzes), York Rite (Knights Templar, Royal Arch, Council, Cryptic), Grotto, High Twelve, Sojourners... the list goes on and on. Each of these organizations have their own set of records that we do not have access to in our search. In some cases, the particular chapter of the organization might not even exist anymore. The references to 32nd and 33rd degrees are references to the Scottish Rite degrees. It may be possible that your ancestors local Scottish Rite organization (called a "Valley") may have an additional record for your ancestor. Unfortunately though, we are unable to tell you if your ancestor was a member of an appendant body.
Q. I've heard Masons have pictures of their members, do you have a picture of my ancestor?
A. In almost all cases, probably not. In rare circumstances, there may be photo of your ancestor available. If the record indicates your ancestor served as a Master (president) of his lodge (different than being a Master Mason), there is chance that his lodge may have a Past Master's portrait. The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library would not be able to tell you that. You would have to inquire directly with the local lodge if it still exists. It was common practice among Scottish Rite Valleys (an appendant body) to produce composite pictures of all the individuals joining their organization during their membership events (called a reunion). If you can establish your ancestor was a Scottish Rite Mason, the local Valley might have a photographic composite including a small picture of your ancestor.
Q. Your search didn't turn up anything for me, but I would like to come look through your records, can I do that?
A. No, in fact, we don't have them at the Masonic Museum and Library. When we do a search for you, we are looking through a database maintained by the Grand Lodge of Michigan, so we are not actually looking through physical records.
Q. I am genealogist and would like access to your membership database. Can I have it?
A. No, the database is not available to the public. We realize that a layer is being created here, but it is intentional. Our membership records are our own. We are more than happy to search a reasonable number of requests for you, but we do ask they be personal requests and not a laundry list of names. We have no dedicated staff to do genealogical research so the time spent doing it has to come out of hide and must be balanced with all other staff responsibilities.
Q. I have Masonic items or items I believe to be Masonic (coins, swords, certificates, books, pins, etc. etc.). Can you identify them for me?
A. We are willing to assist you in this type of research, but we ask that you limit it to items related to your genealogical or historical research. We don't do this type of work for commercial ventures (ebay resellers) and we do not appraise items. We are most interested in helping you understand your ancestor's Masonic involvements and are very happy to explain the significance of such items. Photos and descriptions go a long way in helping us make identifications. Please include them with your inquiry.
Q. I have Masonic and/or fraternal photographs. Can you help me identify / understand them?
A. Absolutely, in fact, we welcome scans of your fraternal photographs and have received scans of photos that have expanded our own understanding of Masonic history. We have a Masonic Historian that is rather adept and picking things out of photos and would be happy to help you understand the story your photo is telling you.
This FAQ will be added to as new questions come to us. Please contact the Museum and Library with any questions you might have.