Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Age of Fraternal Organizations

Every Saturday, for several years now, I drive to downtown Tacoma to take my son to his Tacoma Youth Symphony rehearsals (he plays the viola). As I get off the freeway I pass by the old Elks building—the local B.P.O.E building (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks). I have the same thought every time I drive by: how sad that the building is empty, old, and rundown and the poor elk head has lost his antlers. There is a great photo of the front of the building here, 3rd photo from the top:  Click on the photo to enlarge it and see how the poor elk head hasn't well weathered the passing of time. I found another image of an old postcard with a view of the Elks building:  There is another building downtown that has an old neon sign that says something about the Pythian temple on it. Every time I see it I think I should remember to look up the history of the Pythian group, but I never remember to do it once I get back home.

Today these thoughts reminded me to let you all know that I have a category on Cyndi's List for just this topic.
While many fraternal organizations are still around today, they were at the height of their popularity during the 19th century and into the mid-20th century. There are a couple of great articles about them online:
You might find that learning about your ancestors' memberships in fraternal organizations is a wonderful new source of information for your research. There are a number of different types of organizations, all founded for a variety of reasons. Many of them have their roots in community fellowship, benevolence, and charity. Some were founded for veterans of military service to continue their sense of brotherhood years after their service ended. The list is too long to post here, but you'll find several examples through links on Cyndi's List. There are several different names for these societies, which include words and phrases such as the following examples:
  • benefit society
  • immigrant society
  • brotherhood
  • fraternal
  • the order of
  • ancient order
Do you have photos of ancestors wearing pins or jewelry with special symbols or artwork that you don't recognize? Have you seen a tombstone at a cemetery with such symbols and always wondered about them? Or have you run across acronyms in documents and on tombstones that you aren't familiar with? Check out the various resources online to help you identify those symbols and acronyms in order to determine in which organizations your ancestors may have had membership. I have a sub-category on Cyndi's List for just that:

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