How to Do a Genealogy Search: Freemasonry Edition

At the library, one of my main duties involves the answering genealogy requests from both Brothers and the public. These requests are often trying to gain a better understanding of family members who were Freemasons, and their level of involvement.

A genealogy search in this collection entails knowing how to use and interpret the collection’s

Books, Microfiche, Manuscripts, Card Catalog

To begin such a search as this:

1. I first ask if they have the birth and date years of the person that is being looked for. As our collection has a vast amount of resources, materials used for genealogy are often separated by time periods. Thus, knowing the time period in which an individual lived in would direct me to the proper resources.

  • Pre-1900 material: Found in our archives/ microfiche
  • Post-1900 material: Microfiche/ digitized in the Online Historical Lodge Files

2. If the patron knows the Lodge from which the person derives from, I would often go directly to the files that we have on that Lodge, and physically look through the material to see if I could find their names and possible positions within the Lodge itself.

3. If the patron does NOT know the Lodge, I would start by looking in the archival material/card catalogs we have that pertains to members. In the hopes that the person might have held a position in the Grand Lodge of New York F. & A. M., I also look in our related catalogs concerning who held these positions.

Card Catalogs pertaining to Membership and Positions
  • A last resort is asking if the individual knows what particular area in New York that the person might have lived in. If so, I can usually check to see which lodges were operating in that particular area during the time frame of the person. Thus, I would be able to narrow down the number of lodges that I would look at, to find this person.
  • If the person was also part of a concordant body and I was given the year of their death, I would often use the proceedings from these concordant bodies, as their Necrology sections are often accurate and reliable sources.
Microfiche Collection

4. Once a person’s Lodge is found, using the returns that are found in the microfiche and archives collection is a good way to look for a specific confirmation of Lodge membership. When supplied with a death year, I would often use the Return from that year to find where it was notated that he died, and to then use the Returns to trace back to when he joined.

5. Further information about said person can be found in the files pertaining to that individual’s lodge.

If you are interested in having a genealogy search done, please contact

Driving in the Comfort of the Classroom

By Joseph Patzner

Whilst researching for a future library project, our Associate Librarian Jo-Ann Wong found and shared a folder containing a press release that detailed the introduction of the ÆtnaDriveotrainer “behind-the-wheel” Driving Lesson Program into the New York City education system.  The program was introduced, as the schools were finding the current driving education system to not be as financially sensible. Hence, they attempted this transition towards a portable Drivotrainer system. While the students look somewhat ridiculous seated in a classroom full of motionless cars that resemble bumper cars, one of the main goals of the program was to provide teenagers with the opportunity to acquire invaluable driving skills without the risk of injury or driving accidents. At the moment, while this material was found in our stacks, it is unclear whether or not the Masons were a major proponent in getting these programs into the school. However, the Masons are well-known for being a large supporter for the education of the youth of society.

While much of modern driving education occurs through on-the-road training, during the 1950s Ætna developed the Driovotrainer “behind” the wheel training course as a way to pioneer a safer and effective method for teaching driving skills. The system that is reflected in these photographs were loaned to the Brooklyn High School of Automotive Trades on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. The system consisted of 15 Ætnacars, with the controls of a standard automobile including pedals, a shift knob, speedometer, turn signals and a high-low beam switch, as well as a set of twenty-two films to be projected at the front of the classroom that simulate various driving situations for which the students “drive” in. As the student are “driving,” each student’s progress is recorded and printed in the rear of the classroom as to allow the instructor to track student progress and correct driving errors as they occur. It is to no surprise that the final film is a twenty-five-minute road test, to test whether or not the students are able to apply the skills gained from the first twenty-one films.  Upon successful completion of the three-hour training course, the students would receive a discounted rate from insurance providers.

These driving simulators were produced throughout the 1970s, before returning to the way they had been prior to the Driveotrainer. Although Ætna is no longer around, the concept of driving simulators still exists as a way to not only teach individuals how to drive, but as an aid in understanding driving habits.

The film “Teach Them Now,” produced by the Ætna insurance company, explains why the company developed the training system and can be viewed below courtesy of the National Archives.





Time to Press!

By Jo-Ann Wong

In our archives, our documents from the late 19th century and onward will often have an imprint, also known as a seal impression. These imprints indicate the specific Lodge or Masonic organization that the paper is originating from, and are extremely important in tracing back a Lodge’s history and their correspondence with others.

The device that was most commonly used to create these imprints are known as seal presses. Traditionally, these presses would be used to emboss wax seals, but overtime, embossing an imprint became more in fashion. It is believed that this transition from wax to embossing a seal directly onto the paper started around 1782.

In our Museum collection, we have dozens of these seal presses. Particularly, our collection contains many “Lever” seal presses. These were made out of iron, and would often have either fanciful metalwork, such as this one that includes a lion head (which was also known as the Lion Seal Press):

or have designs painted onto it, like this one:


As you can see, the name “lever” comes from the fact that this is how one would operate this device. Taking the lever, you would push down hard to create the impression on the piece of paper that is slid into the device. The harder you pressed down, the more defined the impression would be. These seal presses, because they are made of iron, are heavy, and can range between 3 to 10 lbs each.


As such, while there are no dates on the seal presses themselves, there are clues throughout that hint at their age. The first clue comes from the imprint itself. For the press that had designs painted onto it, the imprint is this:

Note the Masonic symbol of the All-Seeing Eye and the Hour-Glass

Indicating that it is from the Masonic Veterans, the imprint also notes that it was incorporate in 1872.

Similarly, the press with the lion’s head has an imprint that looks like:

Note the Masonic symbol of the Compass, as well as the outline of a mans face.

Belonging to a specific lodge, the imprint indicates that this lodge was instituted in 1909.

The other clue for dating these devices is looking at their bases. The press that is from the Masonic Veterans has a flat, smooth bottom, which is indicative of early  to mid-1800s seals. The other press has a large pour hole, which indicates that it is from the  The former is indicative of being made in the early 1900s. As such, with information from the imprint and from the base of the presses, it can be assumed that the Masonic Veterans press was made around 1860-70s, while the other press was made around 1910s.

To see more devices like this one, come visit our Library & Museum!



Early Office Museum


Masons on an Alternative Diamond

By Joseph Patzner

With the first pitch of Major League Baseball season set to cross the plate in just under three weeks, I began to explore the relationship between Freemasonry and baseball. While the Civil War hero Abner DoubIeday was long recognized as the founder of the “Modern” game of baseball, he was falsely attributed as the “Father of Baseball.” Rather, Alexander Joy Cartwright, a member of Le Progress de I’oceanie and Hawaiian Lodge, had developed the game using the rules of the English game of rounders whilst playing pick-up games of “town ball.” He soon established the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in 1842. While playing mostly pick-up games with the team throughout the early to mid 1840s in vacant New York City lots, the first official game under Cartwright’s rules took place between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine on June 24, 1846 at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey.

In addition to learning that a Mason was the founder of our national past-time, I found a number of news clippings and articles highlighting players from the early to mid-20th century that were involved in Freemasonry.  One of the most interesting clippings came from The Masonic World, which had a photograph of Charles Hostetler, Paul Trout, Harold Newhouser, and Robert Swift of Lodge 417* in Michigan, being raised to the degree of Master Mason. Similarly, in 1932, the Masonic Outlook published a story that highlighted members of the New York (Baseball) Giants team who were part of The Craft. When asked why the men joined, the players mentioned that their fathers were also Masons.

(* in our records, the Lodge’s name was not specified)

The referenced article from “The Masonic World” about the Detroit baseball players.

In addition to publishing articles about baseball players involved in Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of New York F. &A.M. contacted the front offices of multiple teams throughout the league during the 1946 off-season, asking about which players in the league were also Masons. Although numerous responses were sent, replies varied, with most replies noting that, while the information was not made available to them, the Grand Lodge of New York F. &A.M. might be better off contacting the players directly. While it is unclear whether or not the players had been contacted directly, a list was compiled by The Royal Arch Magazine that identified 275 prominent players who were also a part of Freemasonry. On this list, some of the most notable names included Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Mickey Cochrane, and Dazzy Vance. While it is unclear whether or not any players joined the brotherhood beyond the mid and early 20th century, the Masons maintained their relationship with the New York baseball clubs, by holding Brotherhood Night in the ’70s and ’80s to help promote unity throughout the city.

The cover of the “Royal Arch Mason Magazine’s” list of baseball players

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between Freemasonry and Baseball, there is currently an exhibit dedicated to the subject at the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library & Museum.


It’s All in the Case: Bible Boxes

Traditionally, Bibles were held in containers known as “Bible Boxes.” A box such as this would be used to store a Bible, as well as protect it while it was being transported. Popular in the 17th century, boxes were ornate and made out of wood, metal, or even ceramics.

However, as modern forms of mailing and transportation came about, these Bible Boxes became subdued in style, but more pragmatic for modern shipping. The boxes started to look more like what we consider today as a FedEx box.
        Our collection of Bibles in Bible Boxes.
Let us deconstruct one of our Bibles that is encased in a Bible Box.
                               Our example.
Bibles would be sold in these boxes by the publishers, which would often be indicated on the side of the box. This particular Bible was being distributed by the publisher Nelson.
                               Side of the box.
Then, as seen by this example, the top of the box could be pasted over with paper, stamped, and shipped out to another recipient. In our example here, there are two 3 cents stamps on the pasted paper, along with a postmark. The postmark, unfortunately, does not include a date.
However, on this top cover, it faintly reads (in pencil!) that the recipient is “Hon. Samuel Nelson Sawyer,” who was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York F. & A.M. from 1908-1909. And, the Bible inside the box, which is from Sea & Field Lodge No. 1 F. & A. M., is dated as being from 1918. In the back of the Bible, there is a library due card stamped with dates from 1936. As such, it can be determined that Hon. Samuel Nelson Sawyer received this Bible from between 1918-1936.

Examples like this are reminders that, not only is the object itself important, but so is the case that it came in.
                                       Top cover of the box.
And, don’t forget to visit our new display, Selections from the Bible Collection at the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library & Museum, that is currently being exhibited in the Library!

The Effects of Tape on Paper Documents

By Joseph Patzner

Recently, we received a request from a patron to digitize loose materials to aid his research about a lodge. As I was preparing the materials for digitization, I found repairs had been made to the torn pages by applying pressure sensitive tape. While the tape helps to repair damage at the moment, the tape can cause damage over time, as the chemicals in the adhesive will darken and stain documents.  As a result of the stains, text can become obscured. And, the ink can be transferred to the tape, thereby removing the text from the page if the tape is separated from the paper.

While pressure sensitive tape was once the primary solution for paper repairs upon its release in the 1930s, the use of Japanese papers with Kozo fibers has become the standard practice by conservators for mending tears within paper collection. Japanese papers with Kozo fibers are translucent and do not discolor over time, thereby preventing text from being obscured.  Despite the recommendation for use of Japanese papers, certain objects may still require the use of an adhesive. According to the NEDCC , the adhesives selected for repairs must not discolor the paper to which it is applied, adhesion should be maintained indefinitely, and the repair needs to be reversible without damaging the original object.  Most of the commercially available adhesives should also be avoided, as they do not meet the NEDCC criterion and are likely to damage the paper they adhere to.

New Acquisitions

If you are interested in history and its relation to Freemasonry, come visit the library, and check out our recent acquisitions to the book collection!

 Sworn in Secret: Freemasonry and the Knights Templar by Sanford Holst

In this book, Sanford Holst’s research details the roots of Freemasonry, when it was still operating as a secret society before 1717, and its development during this time period. Also, the book explores Freemasonry’s relations with the Knights Templar and the Vatican. Holst was able to gain access to many related documents that are not generally accessible to the public and most Masons. Thus, his research has culminated into an important text that provides new information and perspectives on Freemasonry’s history.

Loyalists and Malcontents: Freemasonry & Revolution in the Deep South by Ric Berman

Author of The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry and Schism, Ric Berman provides another important text regarding the relations between Freemasonry and the United States. Berman traces the history of freemasonry in South Carolina  and Georgia to its beginnings in the colonial era, into the end of the 18th century. As such, this text covers how the culture of the South and the American Revolutionary War would impact the development of freemasonry in this part of the United States.

Digitizing Materials from the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library

By Joseph Patzner

Over time, the materials that make up books will naturally breakdown, with the potential of accelerated degradation, due to non-ideal conditions leading to materials to be at risk of damage with regular use. Since much of the information in our collection is of value and significance to independent researchers, Lodges, and Masons, it is important that the content contained in these documents remain accessible beyond the lifetime of the physical document were it to become damaged or destroyed. To support preservation and access to information from collection materials,  the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library is currently digitizing select bound material, like Grand Chapter Proceedings, and unbound documents from the collection including Lodge Historical Files. Moreover, by creating digital facsimiles, we help to expand access to the collection.

Though it would be great to have digital copies for each book in the collection, it is not sensible to attempt to digitize “everything,” as there may not be a demand for access to certain books or copyright restriction may limit the number of electronic copies that can be created for distribution.

Current Digitization Projects:
Grand Chapter of New York Proceeding Volumes
Free and Accepted Mason Reading Course Books
Lodge Historical Files, including Lodge notices and ephemera from Lodge events

In addition to digitizing items currently in the collection, the Library also offers researchers and Masons the opportunity to have items from their Lodge or personal collection digitized.

As we continue to digitize materials, learning how and which materials patrons are using will help us gain an understanding into how we can adapt our digitization program to support the needs of current patrons, while also expanding our reach to Masons and researchers who may be unable to visit the Library but are interested in working with the collection.

For more information about digitization services, click here.

The First Reading Discussion Meeting of 2017

The Library’s First Reading Discussion Meeting of 2017 was held here on January 17th, 2017, to discuss The White Leather Apron, a paper by the late RW Spiridon Arkouzis.

The meeting was a success, with discussion held amongst a small but dedicated group of Brothers from the Tenth Manhattan District. The event was coordinated by Worshipful Michael Matsas, Master, Abravanel Lodge No. 1116.

The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York will now be holding Reading Discussion Meetings on the Second Tuesday of each month!

Please check back to see the topic for the next Discussion Topic, to be held on February 14th, 2017!