Historians and amateur researchers are often challenged when confronted by gaps in the historical record. This is not unique to Freemasonic history, but the Fraternity seems to have more than its fair share of missing information. Of course, most know that the very old history of Freemasonry – that which is older than 300 or 400 years – has many holes in it. The more recent historical record, however, is also plagued with lost pieces of important information.
This can often be attributed to the secret nature of Freemasonry. Much was not put to paper and, even when written down, there are usually not multiple copies of what was written. This makes Masonic history very susceptible to the ravages of nature and man.
My Lodge is a good example of this. I began to research the history of my Lodge many months ago and am still involved in that process. The first place I went was to the old minute books. My Lodge was chartered in 1869, but the first entry in the minutes was dated 9 May 1878. That first entry explains that there had been a fire. Minutes, charter, and even the seal had been destroyed. There is now a gap of almost eighteen years in my Lodge’s history that will very likely never be recovered.
Grand Lodges have also suffered through such disasters. During the Fire of 1838 that burned approximately a third of the city of Charleston, South Carolina, the brand new Grand Lodge Hall was destroyed, along with most of its records and furniture – as well as those of many of the subordinate Lodges in that city. Only one chest, containing the jewels and collars of the Grand Lodges officers and a small portion of the Grand Lodge’s furniture, was saved when a Brother pulled it from the flames. In this calamity, a full one hundred and two years of Grand Lodge written history were destroyed.
Thankfully, in current times, technology enables us to take measures to secure historical documents. The written word can be digitalized, copies can be made easily, and electronic data can be backed up. All members of the Fraternity, especially those Secretaries and Grand Secretaries that are tasked as the “Keepers of the Books” should be actively engaged in measures designed to preserve the history of Freemasonry for those future Masons who are yet to be born.