Clues that your ancestor was a Mason might come from a Masonic symbol on his gravestone or the gravestone of other close relatives. Family stories or Masonic items among a loved one's possessions are all clues that your family member was a Mason. Although Masonic records may give you very little genealogical data, other than that they sometimes can be used to verify a death date, they will help to identify that your ancestor was living in a certain place in a certain time period. They may also help to identify other family members who sponsored your ancestor into Masonic membership.
There is not a national headquarters for the Masons, each state has a "Grand Lodge" and then there are local Lodges, so you will need to identify the Lodge that your ancestor may have attended and determine whether they have records available for your research. Start by searching the web site for the Grand Lodge or the Masonic Library for the state in which your ancestor lived. For a list of Lodges with web sites, check out Masonic Resources on the Internet. For a list of Masonic Libraries and Museums check out http://bessel.org/maslibs.htm.
While not all Masonic Lodges make available their records, some Masonic Lodges are more than willing to help you. The Grand Lodge of Texas, http://www.grandlodgeoftexas.org/, includes information for genealogists on its home page. Their web site includes a form to fill out requesting a search of membership records for an ancestor. Membership records will include the date the member joined the Lodge, which Lodge he joined, and the date the member passed away or when he left the Lodge. Other significant dates for the member may also be recorded in these records. If you are living near Waco, Texas you can conduct the search yourself at the Grand Lodge's Library and Museum. Other Grand Lodge Library's from which you can request records include the Livingston Masonic Library, (New York records), http://www.nymasoniclibrary.org/library/genealogy.htm, and Allen E Roberts Masonic Library and Museum (Virginia Records), http://www.grandlodgeofvirginia.org/research1.htm;
Often, Masonic records are available from non-Masonic sources. The company, Arkansas Research, Inc, http://www.arkansasresearch.com/desmason.html, has a series of books available that are abstracts of Masonic records from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Desmond Walls Allen has complied these abstracts that cover records from 1862-1879 and 1920-1990. These books are also available from Barnes and Noble (bn.com). Mr. Allen provides an online index to each of the five volumes on his web site so that you can verify that your ancestor is in the book prior to purchasing it. Mountain Press' Grand Lodge of North Carolina 1848 lists membership and officers for the 115 North Carolina Lodges, http://www.mountainpress.com/books/nc/state.html.
The Bellville Historical Society is located in the original Masonic Lodge for Bellville, Austin, Texas. The Lodge, chartered in 1858, archives are held by the Historical Society and include financial reports, meeting notes and correspondence. These records span the time period of 1858-1923. One of the pieces of their collection is the Bellville Masonic Lodge petition records. These are the petitions that a potential member wrote to be accepted into the Lodge for membership. These petitions provide the applicant's residence, age, and occupation. If he was transferring from another Lodge, that information is also included. Two members of the Lodge signed the petition as a way to "sponsor" the applicant. This information could potentially lead you to other family members and friends. These petitions include only those which were accepted for membership; petitions for members who were declined membership are not available for genealogical research. An online index of names for men whose petitions are available to researchers is found at the Historical Society's web site at http://www.bellvillehistoricalsociety.com/masoniclodgepetitions.htm. If your ancestor is on this list, contact the Historical Society to receive a photocopy of the petition.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, www.familysearch.org, has some Masonic records including membership, death and cemetery records. To view their holdings, go to the Family History Library Catalogue and do a keyword search for "Masonic records."
Genealogy Today's Family Tree Connection database has hundreds of Lodge records. Scroll down the list of Fraternal Organizations to see if the Lodge you are interested in is listed. Also check out web sites for university libraries, as they often become the repository for various kinds of records. For example, the University of North Dakota Library Special collections contain records from the North Dakota Grand Lodge, http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/og1088.html. Other potential transcriptions of Masonic records can be found on web sites such as Genuki, Rootsweb, and the USGenweb. For more information on Masonic records try Googling the phrase "Masonic records" or "Masonic records" plus the state your ancestor lived in.
The Masons, or Freemasons, is a group that is surrounded in controversy. Because it is a "secret society," non-members know very little and there is much speculation. The secrecy and myths about the Freemasons are alluded to everywhere, including recently in the Nicholas Cage movie, National Treasure. Conspiracy theories and anti-Masonry sites abound on the Internet. Because of this, it can be difficult researching and gathering information to use in a history of your ancestor. This is definitely one of the times where you need to analyze the data you will be gathering in piecing together your ancestor's life.