I love going to estate sales. Some people might find it a little creepy to go sorting through the personal items of someone who’s deceased but I’ve discovered many interesting treasures at estate sales. It shocks and disturbs me to see family pictures and possible heirlooms being sold and I’m heartbroken that I’m not always able to afford to purchase these items and re-home them.
D1, most wonderful mother-in-law and I recently stopped at a not-so-extraordinary looking estate sale and as I was browsing the items for sale I happened across this book in a box of items marked at $0.50.
The book is obviously old and I thought it had an interesting look to it so I began to peruse the aged and well-worn pages. The first couple of pages had been pasted over with recipes, which was somewhat disappointing because the title page had been pasted over so I couldn’t see what the book’s title was.
As I got further into the book I realized I was looking at a ritual for some type of fraternal organization. I knew this because I’m a member of a similar fraternal organization and the ritual read similar but wasn’t quite what I had at home so I knew it wasn’t an Eastern Star ritual. After showing it to D1 he confirmed it wasn’t a Masonic ritual.
Hmmmm, a mystery. I do love a good mystery. I must have stood in the bedroom of this house for 10 minutes or more looking at this book before I found something I could search the Internet for to help me identify what organization this book was a part of. And what D1 and I discovered was very interesting indeed.
The book I’d found was a ritual for a fraternal organization called The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as The Grange. It was an organization I’d never heard of before which was equally as intriguing for me. As I read about what D1 had found on his handy dandy smart phone and paged through the book I ended up back at the front of the book and discovered something I had missed on the inside of the front cover.
The information on the inside front cover of the book shed a whole new light on the ritual. This wasn’t just an interesting piece of history, this was someone else’s genealogy. Somewhere I’m betting Miss Sarah A. Campbell from Parkville, Platte, MO has some distant relatives who might be interested to know that she was a member of this fraternal organization. Why might this be interesting to a relative? Fraternal organizations weren’t just a way for people to be social. They were avenues for businessmen to do business, a way to pass news from town to town, and a way for new settlers to build roots in a new community they settled in. Having roots in a community was especially important when you’re looking at areas that weren’t fully settled yet. Neighbors relied on neighbors, friends and relatives to assist them bringing in harvests, building barns and other large projects in largely unsettled areas.
There is no guarantee that a fraternal organization will release information on an ancestor, but it never hurts to inquire. Many of them may not have the staff, resources or time to give much more information than a yes they belonged or no they didn’t and what chapter the ancestor was a member of. There might also be issues about releasing personal information, even if the person is deceased. However, you don’t know unless you try so this amateur genealogist says give it a go and see where you get! I personally have requested information from the Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. and have received a wonderful bit of information on my grandfather that I was able to add to my genealogy. What can I do with that information? For me, not a lot but it was something I could add to my genealogical database and something I found interesting. However! If this was an ancestor I didn’t know much about, it would be a different story.
Let’s just say I didn’t know much about my grandfather and I found out, by way of the emblem on his tombstone, that he was a Mason. I did a little research, discovered the Grand Lodge website of the state where my grandfather is buried and decided to contact them to see if they’d give me any information. So I use their contact me page to send them a brief inquiry (very important, as brief as possible is good with the basic facts you know about the person; make sure you give them enough information to actually do a look up though. Remember, there are a LOT of Smiths in ANY database) requesting to know if they have any information on an Edward B. Conwell, Jr. who was buried in Kansas City, Missouri. I make sure to thank them in advance for their time, hit the send button, and wait. A few days later I open up my email to find a response from the Grand Lodge of Missouri. Hooray! A match to my inquiry has been found. So what information did I get? Just basics: his name, what Lodge he was a member of and the location of that Lodge, that he was a member in good standing at the time of his death (meaning he paid his dues) and that he was a fifty-year member. Whoa. So I now know the neighborhood he attended meetings in, which could potentially help me place where he lived and I know that he was a fifty-year member, which could help me pin down dates that I might not otherwise know, like a birth year.
Obviously I knew the death date because I said I had seen the emblem on his tombstone. And I knew he was a fifty-year member when he died. So, if I didn’t know his death date I could do the math and get pretty close to determining his birth year. I say pretty close because what you need to understand is, although I got the information that he was a fifty-year member, that doesn’t mean it was EXACTLY fifty-years. Many organizations will make a big deal about being a long-standing member. They won’t necessarily make a big deal about your fifty-first or fifty-fifth year in the organization. Twenty-five, fifty and seventy-five are typically the numbers they’ll note in their records. Also keep in mind that different fraternal organizations have different age requirements for joining. The Masonic order is 18 but other organizations have different age requirements. But it will give you somewhere to go with that information.
Remember that dates and locations are always great finds, no matter how small or insignificant you believe them to be at the time. You never know when that small piece of information you found might tear down a brick wall you’ve been staring at. Besides the facts, information you might get about your ancestor’s involvement in a fraternal organization, in my experience, helps to give life to that ancestor and show that they weren’t just a stack of statistics. They were real people who got involved in their communities and cared about things happening around them.
If you’re still curious about The Grange, The Conner Prairie Interactive History Park has a great history of it here. The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry is still an active organization and they’re official history page is here. I was both saddened to see that Miss Campbell’s Grange in Parkville no longer exists and tickled to discover an active Grange not that far from my location. I wish I could find Miss Campbell’s family so I could pass her ritual back into the family fold, but since I don’t have much more than a name and location I’ll contact the local Grange and see if they’re interested in the book. I’d like to see this bit of history preserved because it was such an interesting read and a fun little side investigation for me.