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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree April 2019 > A Freemason in the family

A Freemason in the family

Do you have relatives who were Freemasons? John Crawford explains how to find out about their involvement in the centuries-old society

Last spring I completed the online Future Learn course, ‘Genealogy: Researching your family tree’, delivered by the University of Strathclyde. Apart from some excellent teaching and guidance, the course also promotes and encourages online debate and discussion among students and one or two contributors sought guidance for finding out more about a relative who was understood to be a Freemason. There were very few replies to these queries so I thought I’d explain the background to this subject.

Origins of Freemasonry

Scottish freemasonry has its origins in the Stonemasons ‘Incorporations’ (the equivalent of English ‘Guilds’): organisations set up in the mid- to late 15th century to establish standards of competence, fix wages and regulate performances. Unlike the Incorporations for bakers, bonnetmakers, butchers, weavers, and leather workers and so on, stonemasons tended to move round the country and they developed a system of signs and ‘grips’ (handshakes) – the equivalent of today’s certificates, diplomas, references etc, so that potential employers (usually senior stonemasons) would know immediately how competent and proficient they were at working in stone. When a large stone edifice was being built (for example, the great abbeys across central and southern Scotland in the 12th and 13th centur0069craftsmen), the stonemasons would be allocated a building nearby (called a ‘Lodge’) where they could store their tools, hold examinations to see just how far the competence of their apprentices had progressed and, if satisfied, initiate them into the next phase of their training, as well as testing the skills and credentials of visiting craftsmen who claimed to be journeymen masons.

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About Family Tree

Do you know what your surname means and where it's come from? You don't? You've come to the right place. With the April issue of Family Tree we've got a cracking 32 guide to help you learn about your family names. From surname super-sleuth organisation the Guild of One-Name Studies, it's packed with advice to research your family surnames - wherever in the world they come from... Plus - inside the mag - we've got 10 top family history projects to help you organise your research, university research into our ancient 10,000 year old ancestor (he's the great-grandpa of us all) and the tale of an orphan, disinherited and banished into slavery - and his 30 year fight to regain what was rightfully his!