16 November 2013

Where to Begin?

Researching fraternal organizations is just like any other research: you need a plan. 


What is your plan?

Where do you start? How do you do it? I hear those questions a lot, and have heard them even more since I started this series on fraternal societies. Thankfully, there is no big mystery here. You need a plan, plain and simple. This plan must be organized, done in advance, and fluid. 


A quick word on your research plan being "fluid." I believe this element is incredibly important, as you just simply do not know where any of your research may take you. You need to be able to adjust with your findings, follow the ebb and flow of history, in order to achieve success in your work.


This is not a post about how to write a research plan; I'll leave that to the numerous others who have written well on the topic. This post should take you to the beginning of the process, but where is that beginning, truly? You don't start on the journey of researching a particular society or lodge without some basic information... you need the who, what, when, where and why. 

  • Who is the ancestor involved? Do you have their individual timeline established? 
  • When would they have likely joined the organization? 
  • Where did they live at that time, and did they recently relocate there, or have they been there for some time? (And if they recently moved, where did they come from and is it possible they were involved in any other organization in their previous location?)
  • What was the motivation for joining the society in the first place? Why would they have done this?  
  • What was happening in the country, the world, during the period of time in question? Would the political situation at this time have an effect on which organization they joined, or why? 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but you get the point. Let us, just for giggles, take a look at a real life situation, and lay this out on paper. 

Meet Mortimer

Mortimer J. Lawrence
Personal Collection of Author


Mortimer James Lawrence, brother to my great great grandmother, Frances Elizabeth (Lawrence) Brown. You can read more about the Lawrence family on these posts Using the concept outlined above, what do we already know about Mortimer? 

  • Mortimer was born 8 Dec 1843, probably in Springfield, Pennsylvania. 
  • He is listed in the 1860 U.S. Census as a resident of Wakeman, Ohio, with his mother and siblings. 
  • In 1861, he enlisted in Co. B, 3rd Ohio Cavalry, and served nearly through the duration of the Civil War. 
  • Upon returning home, he immediately turned to farming. He also attended Byrant & Stratton Commercial College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1866. 
    • Clues 1 & 2: He has the ability to be in the GAR and a fraternity related to his school. 
  • Later that same year, he moved to Cleveland and began working as a sales representative. 
  • Mortimer Lawrence married Helen Irene Mattison in December, 1866; Ohio. 
  • Early 1867, he began work in the newspaper industry. He continued to work in the publication field the remainder of his life. In December of 1872, he took over the Ohio Farmer as editor and proprietor. They continue publication today. 
    • Clue 3: This time is essential in his life! Being in the city and no longer farming means he had access to many more organizations. It is likely he was an active member of a society during these years. Additionally, there is a chance he could have been affiliated with a group involved in the publication or newspaper industries. 
  • In 1887, Mortimer and his family relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he became involved in the banking business. They lived in a affluent area of the city. 
    • Clue 4: Transfer to a new location = transfer to a new organization.
  • July 1894, Denver hosted the Imperial Shrine convention, a subsidiary of the Masonic Lodge. Per the organizations' website, "At this first Denver Shrine meeting, Mortimer J. Lawrence suggested the name, EL JEBEL, which is Arabic for "The Mountain."' The charter for the 39th Shrine Temple was issued to El Jebel Shrine on June 25, 1888.(1)
    • Clue 5: Does it get any better? Here is a direct link, from the society itself, to our subject. Still worthy of further investigation, because I want more! 
  • By 1900, the family was back in Cleveland. His banking business was not successful, so he went back to the Ohio Farmer
  • 1910 - New York City. Further research is needed to closely examine this part of his life. 
  • 1920 - Mortimer and Helen had retired to Florida. 
  • 1922; Mortimer passes away at the home of his daughter in Washington D.C. on the 30th of November. 





This last twelve years of his life is an open book, and a great deal more research needs to be done. However, you can immediately see the action items here, provided by the clues within our timeline, in regards to his fraternal activity. It seems obvious that the first step should be to contact the Denver El Jebel Shrine to determine if they are willing to share additional information on Mortimer, his role in the organization and his life in Denver. Assuming they have the information on file, they should also be able to tell us if he transferred from another lodge or not, and more importantly, which Masonic Lodge he was a member of. 


(Remember, to be involved in these sub-organizations, the individual must first be an active member in good standing of the parent organization. So we're really looking for information on two different groups: the Shriners and the Masons.)


Note, this is an active research process for me. I have not yet engaged the Shriners or the Masons on Mortimer's involvement. Of course, I chose him intentionally to use as my example; I might as well get some work done on my own family while writing this series, no?  I will be contacting the state level organization of both organizations this weekend. When I know something, you will too! 


Here is my plan, based on the timeline of Mortimer J. Lawrence. I do have more information on his life than what I have included here in this post; only the essential points have been included, in order to prevent this post from becoming a novel. 

  1. Contact the El Jebel Shriners and the Masonic Lodge of Denver to inquire on any available information on Mortimer Lawrence. 
  2. Research his Army unit from the Civil War to learn of the possibility of his involvement in the G.A.R. 
  3. Contact the college, if possible, in Ohio to determine if any records still exist. There may be some background work required, in order to determine what happened to the institution. 
  4. Search newspapers from Cleveland to see if I can find him listed as a member of a lodge.
  5. We have contacted the Ohio Farmer in the past, but never with this intent. My inquiry here would be specifically to see if they ever published information on local lodges. 
  6. Our family collection does include several letters from Mortimer, to his niece, Carrie Brown. Those are just begging to be transcribed and investigated in detail. They may or may not include specific mention of his fraternal activities, but I am sure they do include other information that will be helpful to this particular facet of his life. 

You may be thinking, "but you can do X, and Y, and Z, too! Why is your list so short?" Well, yes, that's true. I could take the time to be much more specific, and I have other ideas as to how to learn more about Mortimer's fraternal life, but I also have to be realistic in what I have time to do, and how much I can commit to this particular project. I will start with the above list, I will remain fluid and open to new ideas, and I will adapt as I go. 



(1) El Jebel Shriners. "The HIstory of EL JEBEL SHRINE." Copyright 2013,  http://www.eljebelshrine.org/history/