Secret Societies and Fraternal Organizations

In many of the biographies, obituaries and other info on your ancestors, you may see noted that someone was a member of the Freemasons, Knights of Pythias or some other organization.  I had never heard of many of these until I started genealogy research.  I found the following information in an article in Everton's Genealogical Helper (July-Aug 1999).  The article ends by stating:

"If you are hoping to find more information on the parents of an individual, you will not find this from the lodge records.  In general, fraternal associations are likely to have dates of initiation, possibly additional lodges the person may have been associated with, and the date of death.  If your ancestor was high ranking in his fraternal organization, it is possible that you may find more biographical material on him."

I feel that in addition to helping establish where a particular person was during a period of time where you may find it hard to find other substantial information, this info could add quite a bit of "history" to your family research.

Broadly, there are about seven types of secret societies: Social, Benevolent (also Service), Ethnic, Trade, Religious (also Mystical), Political & Criminal.  The "secret" seems to be that you take an oath when you join and you're not allowed to discuss certain rituals or activities of the organization.  (Kind of like in that episode of the Flintstones where Betty and Wilma dress up as men and go to a meeting of the Royal Order of Buffalo because Fred and Barney won't tell them what they do at their meetings.)

Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus is open to Catholic males aged eighteen and up.  It began in 1882.  Father Michael J. McGivney was the founder.  He wanted to create a mutual aid society for members and families.  Because the Pope and the church had taken a stand against secret organizations, there is no oath, however they do ask their candidates to keep the rituals secret.

Knights of Pythias

This group is older than the KC's.  It was founded by Justus H. Rathbone.  Rathbone took his ritual from the (quite interesting) story of Damon and Pythias of ancient Greece.  Their constitution does include a "white male" clause.  As such, African Americans formed the Knights of Pythias of North America, Europe, Asia and Africa in 1969.  There is an auxiliary group for the women that was founded in 1888 known as the Pythian Sisters.

For more info, go to www.pythias.org

Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

The IOOF originated in England as the United Order of Odd Fellows.  Some members came to American in the very early 1800's and eventually broke ties with the parent group and became the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  

They claim to be the first mutual benefit society.  It membership was limited to white males until 1971.  The female auxiliary created in 1851 is known as the Rebekah Assemblies.

The Grange

What started out, in 1867, as an organization to help join farmers together for various reasons is now for anyone who has an interest in farming.  They were the first to admit women as full-fledged members.

The Freemasons

This is probably the most well known organization.  It began about 1717 in London.  It has ties to the American Revolution.  The Catholic church, until 1977, had issued papal bills denouncing the Freemasons.

The Freemasons of Clinton Co., IA

Past Masters

Royal Arch Masons

When trying to discover info about your ancestor who was a member, it used to be encouraged that you contact the Grand Lodge for the state in which your ancestor lived.  However, due to the large number of requests, if you know it, you should contact the local lodge and contact the Grand Lodge only as a last resort.

To find out more, go to http://grandlodgeofiowa.org/

Masonic Lodges in Clinton County has quite a bit of info on a couple of lodges.  Their link to IowaMasons.org is useful as well.  They were nice enough to send us a list of Past Masters of Western Star Lodge #100.  Rod Alexander, the current secretary, writes: 

"We have some information in several file drawers with one member on each page.  Items are when the brother joined free masonry, where he worked, and several other items."

Other Masonic links:

Link with all the Masonic Grand Lodges
It is http://grandlodgeofiowa.org/

http://www.iowamasons.com/ 
Iowa Masons

http://showcase.netins.net/web/iowamasons/
GRAND MASONIC LODGE OF IOWA
Office of Grand Secretary
813 1st Ave. S.E.
Cedar Rapids Iowa 52406-5001

Iowa Masonic Library
P.O. Box 279
Cedar Rapids, IA 52406-0279
ph 319-365-1438
fax 319-365-1439

Iowa Royal Arch Masons database
It covers the years 1878-1890 for that group of masons in Iowa
by Sharyl Ferrall

Clinton's own 'secret' society

(The following article appeared in the 18 June 1955 Centennial issue of the Clinton Herald.)

The records aren't complete, but it seems very definite that Clinton once had an association of practical jokers.

It was officially known as the "Clinton Institute."

The first public mention of the group is found in the Dec. 15, 1869 issue of the Herald, when the following notice appeared:

"WANTED--By the Clinton Institute, responsible and well-known parties to furnish the name and residence of each poor family in this city deserving, but unable to purchase, a Christmas turkey.  Also wanted, the name and residence of each person in this vicinity owning turkeys.  State where the turkeys roost or are stored, and whether the owner keeps a dog or not. CLINTON INSTITUTE, POST OFFICE."

Similar advertisements continued to appear for some years and it is said that hundreds of plump turkeys were distributed to needy families each year.  Thus it was obvious that charity tempered the group's joviality.

There is the story told about the old Methodist church bell.  The "Institute" subscribed liberally toward its purchase.  After the arrival of the bell, it was placed on the freight house platform.  When the day arrived for installation, the bell was nowhere to be found.  Diligent search was made but without success.  Suspicion had, of course, fastened upon the "Institute", but no revelation resulted.  But at last, an intimation to a prominent member of the Methodist society that the members of the "Institute" were hungry, led to an immediate invitation for the whole fraternity to banquet at one of the leading hotels.  After initiating the minister into the secrets of the order, they adjourned.  At daylight the bell was found attached to the hoisting rope in the tower of the church.

(That's the end of the article.  I have read similar stories some of the Clinton County history books but I don't know exactly who the members of the Institute were.)

See also the article Lot of Interest in Fraternal Insurance Firms in Old Days from the Centennial issue.

The American Protective Association was another group in Clinton.

Redmen

Redmen MedalThe metal shown in the attached photo has just surfaced in our family.

The initials around the top of the head say: IMPD on the left and O.R.M. on the left. The name across the top is W. Russell McLarnin (the name should be spelled McLarnan). Also, the red shield in the eagle says "TOTE".  This is also a marked on the back.  Also on the back is "No. 113 IA." as well as "REG. U.S. PAT OFF".

I did find out a lot.  Please see the links below for information concerning the  "Improved Order of Redmen".  Turns out this is a Fraternal Organization.   The "veterans" part must mean that those with this pin are war veterans, not Native American veterans.   www.redmen.org   (has photo of a pin just like ours)   Thank you all for your help and interest.  If you would happen to find out

Thank you for your help.  Laurie Mohr dlmohr97@mchsi.com

Woodmen of the World:  https://www.woodmen.org/about/history.cfm