The Freemasons have a reputation for being a very secretive an secluded organisation, but depending on the locations/lodge there can actually be a lot of information available on its past members. Generally speaking a lodge is unlikely to offer up any information relating to an Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft Mason but would be able to offer information on a Master Mason.
Before getting in to Freemason research its good to read up on how the freemasons actually work and what they do. Members of a lodge are known as “Accepted Masons” this means they have been accepted in to the lodge by its members. Freemasons in general have three degrees of Masonry: Entered Apprentice, Fellow of the Craft and Master Masons.
The records Ancestry offers include over 1.7 Million Names transcribed in both the English and Irish collections. This can help you find out what order or jurisdiction your ancestor was a part of. Finding out this information will be the most helpful data you can have on them as it will open doors to the types of records that could be available to you.
“Library and Museum is the repository for the archives of the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body of English freemasonry. Information about individual members is based on Annual Returns of members compiled by individual lodges and sent to Grand Lodge. The earliest such Returns date from the 1750s. These were used to create registers of members. Members are listed in the Registers under their lodge and according to their date of initiation or joining.”
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry offers three centuries worth of freemasonry records and artefacts. The staff here can help you search for your ancestor by name in thier digitised records but can also search outside of the digitised records pre-1750s or post-1921. There is a fee payable for staff searches in which the lodge is not known however if it is, then it is usually free.
If you know where your Ancestor lived and you suspect they might have been a Freemason then you can use google to find out what the local lodges in the area were or still are. Each lodge should have some contact details somewhere either on their own site or on the site of the Grand Lodge that they would be a part of. Each Lodge usually has a secretary that can help with any enquiries and as each lodge is relatively independent then prices could vary between them.
If you still cannot find anything, you might find that contacting the Grand Lodge will yield some answers. There are Grand Lodges in varying jurisdictions. For example in the US There are Grand Lodges in each State. However in England there is the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
The various County Record Offices in the UK hold a lot of local Freemason records, the reason for this due to the persecution of Freemasonry which in turn resulted in the Unlawful Societies Act which was effective from 1799 to 1965. Although in it’s final years it fell in to disuse. This act forced Freemasons to register their organisations and also the names of the members within them to the Clerk of the Peace and the Local Quarter Sessions. Which whilst unfortunate for the members of the Freemasons at this time, it is massively helpful to Genealogists in the modern day. These records can include: Names, ages, addresses, occupations and age and date of joining the lodge and sometimes date of leaving. Just find your local Record Office and take a look through the records available. If in doubt email them!